For our next Maker of the Month, we introduce you to another of our founding potters Brooke Thorn.
Brooke makes beautiful functional tableware design to be used every day and passed down through the generations. She recently started her own little family (welcome to the world tiny Arthur!), so you won't see her face in store as much at the moment, but rest assured she worked tirelessly in the lead up to make sure there would be plenty of her dreamy works lining the shelves.
Can you please tell us a little about yourself and your craft?
I grew up in the Barossa Valley in South Australia and studied Interior Design in Adelaide at UniSA. I’ve always loved drawing, painting and making things, so design seemed like a natural progression. My first introduction to ceramics was visiting an uncle who worked from a shared artist studio in Hobart – I was in awe of the big kiln he used and how scary it looked. That experience has always stuck in my mind.
When and how did you first get started in ceramics?
I worked for ten years as an interior designer in Melbourne, mostly on high-end residential projects, as well as hospitality and retail. As interior design wages are pretty dismal, I also worked on the weekends in a furniture store that supported Australian designers. This is where I came across the work of Gregory Bonasera and Sophie Moran and fell in love with contemporary Australian ceramics. After ten years as a designer I was getting really bored with just being on the computer all of the time and so I enrolled in a night ceramics course as a hobby and creative outlet. Over two years I learned skills and process and finally got to the point of being able to make stuff that looked somewhat close to what I actually wanted them to look like.
What has the journey been like since those early days?
Having a design background I always had a really clear vision of what I wanted to make. Initially I was just making ceramics for myself with no intention of selling it, but friends became interested in my work and it grew from there. It took me a year to develop my range and launch my brand, and then once I had interest from shops I finally decided to make a go of it full-time. This was a big leap for me but I was fortunate enough to have come across Elm Place Studios where there was a collective studio of potters with a range of experience levels. I found this a nurturing and inspiring place to be and everyone helped with advice and encouragement.
What does a typical day look like for you?
At the moment I’m on maternity leave with my two-month-old son, but before that I was at the studio about six days a week. I liked to start early as the studio is usually quiet then and I can get a few solid hours in before other people roll on in. I love being in a shared studio – I find being around other people to be a good motivation for me and I would get incredibly lonely if I worked solo. But I also like to have a few quiet hours here and there to find my focus. When I’m not at the studio I love pottering around at home – I’ve always got a craft project or two on the go and a big ‘to-do’ list of home improvements. My favorite place in Melbourne for relaxation and inspiration is Heide Gallery. It has the most amazing energy there and I always feel invigorated after a visit.
Can you give us some insight into your creative process?
I start the process by sketching my ideas using pencils and watercolours. Then I go into the prototyping phase where I test out the forms in three dimensions by wheel-throwing them or hand building. This is to iron-out any technical issues – especially important if the shape is to be made into a mould. The prototyping process takes time, but it is worth it to get a strongly resolved product in the end.
I use wheel-throwing techniques to make my larger pieces and plaster mould-making for my smaller pieces. They are two very different ways of making ceramics and I enjoy the diversity. I’m largely self-taught with mould making – YouTube is a wonderful thing! The process of creating and casting moulds really keeps me on my toes as it is such a technical way of making ceramics. As a contrast to that, wheel-throwing is like learning an instrument and you have to build up the skill and co-ordination over time. You have to be relaxed and in a little bit of a zen-state for everything to work out on the wheel – the more impatient and stressed you are the worse the results!
Do you have design philosophies that guide your practice?
I aim for my pieces to go beyond a trend. The shapes are designed to be aesthetically strong and functional. I like the idea of them being used and loved and handed down in the family to the next generation – I think of them as future heirlooms and people can add more pieces to their own collections over time.
Where do you draw inspiration from?
I’m mostly inspired by the visual arts. Sculpture, graphic design and illustration really float my boat, as well as the modernist design movement generally. The Biennale of Sydney always blows my mind when I visit and I got a little giddy when I visited LACMA last year in Los Angeles. If I had my time again I would love to have studied fine arts. My favorites at the moment are the sculptural work of Emily Floyd and the illustrations of Nigel Peake. As predictable as it is, I am also in awe whenever I see work from Del Katherine Barton.
Can you name another maker that you admire, whose craft might be different to your own, but you find their work or methods inspiring?
I have always admired the work and working methods of jeweller and sculptor Kim Russell. She used to work from a studio space at Elm Place and her intuitive and highly creative way of working was always an inspiration to me. It is almost the complete opposite of my creative process, but I always aim to put a little bit of her free spirit energy into how I work, even if it is just a small sprinkle.