5/4/2020

Photography by
Claire Quirk

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Unearthed Ceramics
An Interview with Katrina Carling

Unearthed Ceramics is a Preston-based ceramics practise specialising in hand-built wares made with native-floral imprints, organic etchings and natural glazes.

Founder and ceramicist Katrina Carling designs and produces each unique piece in her garden studio, using recycled and sustainable materials wherever possible. As a former interior designer, Katrina effortlessly integrates her love and knowledge of design and colour into her work.

Prior to this unusual new time we find ourselves in, we caught up with Katrina at her ceramics studio; witnessed the creation of fantastic wares; met Katrina’s furry companions, Jedda and Merlin; and snapped some photos of her peaceful creative space.

You’ve been a Prestonite for a while now. Where are your top destinations for food, coffee (if you drink it) and general enjoyment within the suburb?

Yes, I have lived in Preston for nearly 17 years now which seems crazy saying out loud. I would have to say my favourite spot for a quiet vino with the girls is Joanies on High Street. I enjoy Shop Ramen for a hearty soup, and Sonny’s Bottega for something special. I’m also a bit of a movie tragic so Thornbury Picture House and The Westgarth are regular favourites.  I shop at the Preston Market, and love the diversity of people down there, whilst also supporting small businesses.  I always manage to have a great chat with someone I know or meet someone new pretty much each time I go there, and I think that the fact that so many different types of people use it is incredibly valuable to the local community.

How did you first get into making ceramics?

I first dabbled with ceramics back in the early 90’s when a friend had a shop called Artemis on Smith Street, and sold hand painted ceramics that were decorative pieces.  Forward to around 2014 when I met a women selling gorgeous ceramics at the St Andrews Market one Saturday, and for some reason, the penny just dropped that that was exactly what I wanted to be making!  That now was the time for change as I had been juggling family and running my own business doing interior design work for nearly 15 years, and here was a new direction that would use my aesthetic skills, and get my hands back into making. I then went to Denmark for a holiday and the fabulous design inherent in everyday life there just got the ball really rolling for me.

How has your work developed as you’ve gained experience in working with clay?

I have definitely become more experimental as my skills have developed, and enjoy working with textures and the increased knowledge you gain through trial and error with glazing. Still, often I will see an older piece that I have made, it’s kind of like seeing an old friend on someones shelf, or when you visit and are served a hot drink in one of your creations and I am reminded that often simple is best, and that those early colour combinations were beautiful. It’s heartening to be reminded of that, as those pieces are so well loved by the person that uses it every day.  That was why I wanted to make functional pieces… to bring a little bit of beauty into someone’s everyday life and moments.

Did it take you a while to get the hang of wheel throwing?

Did it ever!  Let’s make this very clear… I did not sit at the wheel and intuitively just know how to throw… it was not a lovely, gentle, spiritual awakening, by any stretch of the imagination. It took me 6 months to be patient enough to be properly present at the wheel. I would often turn up to class, and my teacher Julian would put a gentle hand on my shoulder and remind me to breathe and slow down!!! There were a few tears driving away from classes in those early days. BUT, I really did have some sort of crazy love for that messy thing called clay, and once I accepted that wheel throwing is a technical skill, my attitude started to change and my skills levels started to grow. And so you start to have more ‘wins’ than ‘losses’ and the joy for holding a finally fired finished piece is quite a a humbling moment!

Which part of the process of making ceramics do you enjoy the most?

I can honestly say that I love every part of the process. Maybe a little less love for the constant cleanup required, but seriously, no problems with the rest!

What did you study? Did you ever study ceramics or are you self taught?

I studied both Art History and Interior Design at uni, so I have a few design skills up my sleeve, I guess. I have done all of my ceramics work at Carlton Arts in Nicholson Street, which is a crazy, busy, heartbeat of a school full of people of all ages. All there for different reasons… some for relaxation, some for social outlets, some for creating a new future. Whatever the reason, it is a very warm and welcoming place that I love, and feel very fortunate to have found.

Do you have a mentor?

My mentors would definitely be Julian and Dimitra from Carlton Arts.  There have also been a lot of  other women there who have helped me with ceramics skills over the years. I would also say an unsuspecting mentor would be Marnie Goding of Elk fame, whose hard work ethic in creating a brand and business that is so well loved is also an influence. I have also been kept on the straight and narrow by friend Sheryl Haby of @kadby_kitchen_kapers. About 5 years ago I was told in no uncertain terms from an adventurous well-seasoned aunt of mine that if you don’t like doing what you are doing, change it. Tomorrow is the first day of the rest of your life.  That really resonated with me!

Where did you spend most of your childhood? What were your favourite activities?

I had a lovely childhood, spent mostly playing up trees, on an orchard in the Goulburn Valley outside Kyabram.  It was full of cubby houses, singing to the cows on my bike riding our dirt track to school, and Guy Fawkes nights with kids letting off fireworks around a huge bonfire with all the prunings from the fruit trees that my dad stacked throughout the year. Swimming with locals all summer in channels… that sort of wonderful freedom.  Life was slower, and we also spent a lot of time making things. One year I did very careful intricate calligraphy carvings of my favourite friends initials on coloured eggs for Easter—I remember I was very proud of those. Handmade Christmas cards each year, knitting rugs in winter, that sort of thing. It was the time of Countdown and The Kenny Everett Video show that we eagerly waited for each Sunday night!

My parents then traded the orchard for a Paddlesteamer up on the Murray at Echuca in the mid 80’s. It ran 2 day/2 night cruises and this was at a time when a TV series called All the Rivers Run was telecast and it was particularly popular in the Scandinavian countries… so I got the unusual exposure of meeting lots of international travellers on my weekends and school holidays when I was working on the boat. It was a hugely fortunate experience to have as a teenager. We also got the incredible added bonus of living in a Glenn Murcutt home right on the mighty Murray River that was built by the previous owner of the boat.  All windows and light and louvres after growing up in a mudbrick home on the orchard.

What were your electives in high school?

Oh that’s an easy one… all arts/music subjects. I am not sure where I was for science… staring out the window most of the time I think! I have zero recollection of any maths science subjects so not sure what I was doing!! I seriously learnt a computer subject by following flowcharts on a blackboard in 1985! I am ANCIENT!

Are your family members creative?

We had a lot of musicians and makers on my mother’s side, as well as my father’s mother who was a seamstress. All my dolls had handmade clothes! My grandfather was a trumpeter and my grandmother played the piano at the theatre during the breaks. My mother is also a lovely pianist and lucky for me, my own children are all creative beavers… the eldest son making crazy creative vegan cooking his specialty, my second son is a practising artist and skilled musician, and my youngest daughter is now studying sound production as well as pursuing her own musical journey.  Music is such a gift to have in your life, and nothing makes me happier than listening to our old Thurmer piano having her ivories played!!!  That’s ivories… not ovaries, just to clarify!

Do you have a studio dog, cat or other pet who keeps you company while you work away?

I have a very fine 13 year old kelpie called Jedda who keeps me company, and a handsome silver Tonkinese cat called Merlin, who likes to saunter into the studio and make himself known.

What do you normally eat for breakfast?

I fear that I am a little behind the times with this one… I am happy with some muesli and a cup of tea. On a good day, I might make a strawberry banana smoothie with all the ‘right’ things, but invariably, I don’t! I tend to just have breakfast and get moving, rather than a slow start to the day.

What is your favourite item of clothing, or wearable accessory? What is the story behind this item? Why is it your favourite? Please submit a photo of this item.

I am going to say that my favourite item of clothing is a super colourful woollen kimono that my mother bought me when we were holidaying in England in 1987.  I spent more than two years travelling in Europe when I finished school, doing the usual antipodean jobs and just generally growing up, and this kimono was bought from a little studio in rural England that was the Kaffe Fassett English studio. It is really precious, as he is the guru of textiles, wool and all things great about colour!!

What is your most treasured possession? What’s the story behind it? Why is it significant to you? Please submit a photo of this item.

This is a hard one… my life and home is full of mementos of moments in time, but I have chosen this little piece of calico that my eldest son embroidered on when he was 11 years old. I had two sons then and two nieces in between their ages. On the winter holidays, we would put them all along the couch up at Moama and have them working on knitting, sewing projects by the large winter open fire.  It’s a fond memory and I can see them now, so this little embroidery piece reminds me of when they were all young!

Is there anything in particular you like to do to get your creative juices flowing?

I’d have to say that just getting out into that studio is enough for me.  I try to spend nearly a month each summer in East Gippsland, and that gives me the room to think and ponder and work out where to for the coming year. It’s my time for  balance and space, and time for our family to touch the earth lightly. This year was of course different, so we shall see what lies ahead.

Do you listen to anything while you create? 

I definitely love listening to my music out in the studio… a lot of Laura Marling, Sarah Blasko, Menahan Street Band, my son’s band Karate Boogaloo and Worldwide FM is great for getting exposed to new music. I do enjoy listening to podcasts like Acts of Greatness, though I find I have to listen to them numerous times as I get caught up with work and lose focus on it.  I also enjoy a bit of Leigh Sales and Annabel Crabb banter.

In what ways has having your own business connected you with your community?

Oh, I have had so much support and love from friends in the area… it blows my mind really. It’s great working locally as if you feel you need a break from making, I can go down to the market to grab some lunch and just be around people. I can walk the dog to break up sitting at the pottery wheel, and enjoy the garden which is our family haven really. I have also met other lovely local artists who are all working away making in their home studios and that’s a nice feeling to be part of a greater community that way.

What is your number one challenge when it comes to running your own business?

Oh the paperwork is a killer! I need to work way harder on a strategic plan for the year! I know it really helps, and that it is a true way of making clear progress…I just seem to find it hard to sit down and make it happen. Inspiration is never a problem… there are not enough days in the week to make all the ceramics I’d like to make!

Where’s your favourite destination in Melbourne and why?

I am going to say that my favourite place is walking by the Merri Creek with my dog Jedda. I also love going out the Heide Art Gallery and its gorgeous surrounds…such an awesome asset to have 10 minutes away from here. I’m also going to squeeze in Edinburgh Gardens as well. A clear morning swimming laps in the outdoor pool at Northcote is also hard to beat… when you live so far from the ocean.

What is your idea of a day well spent?

Hah! Great way to finish up Claire. I’m going to say a great productive morning in the studio, with a few wins with unexpected glazing surprises… followed by a swim in an empty pool and then dinner around the table on the back deck with my family. That’s a day well spent for me!

Connect with Katrina Carling at Unearthed Ceramics on Facebook and Instagram. We’d like to say a massive thank you to Katrina for inviting us into her studio and sharing her story with us.

Browse a range of Katrina’s beautiful handmade ceramics below. We’re offering free contactless delivery to all locations within 15km of our gallery in Preston.