Keep your hands to yourself and don't go running around!
I'm pretty sure this was a phrase we've all been told by our parents whenever we follow them into ceramic or tableware shops when we were kids. Ceramics have long been traditionally thought of as a fragile and delicate medium because... well, they break.
So when we first saw the paper series by Hayden Youlley, we were so pleasantly surprised. By recreating the texture of his products to mimic the appearance and feel of paper, he was somehow pushing the notion of ceramics as a delicate medium ! We got in touch with Hayden to find out more about him and his brand.
How did you get you first get involved in the wonderful world of ceramics?
I’ve always been passionate about design and craftsmanship, but I didn’t find ceramics until I enrolled in a Bachelor of Design at the College Of Fine Art (COFA) at the University of New South Wales in 2007. Things really clicked for me as a designer when I found ceramics during my second year. I felt that in ceramics I had found a creative outlet that allowed me to express myself fully.
Just check out those rims! Photography by Amanda Prior
As a full-time potter, how does a working day look like for you?
My day usually starts with opening a clean, fresh bucket of clay and ends once a significant amount of that clay has ended up on the floor! The bulk of my time is spent slip-casting pieces to fill orders.
If I've made pieces the day before, then I'll need to hand polish them all with sponge and burnishing tool then stamp them with my logo before drying them out to get them ready to be fired in the kiln to 1000℃. When they come out of the kiln, I give them a quick sand and paint some glaze on so that they can be fired a second time to 1280℃. They then emerge from the kiln the second time smooth, shiny, finished and ready to be filled with food!
In total I spend an average of 40-60 hours per week on ceramics and running the studio.
That is really quite a lot of time spent at the studio. Do you have a systemic creative process?
When I’m prototyping, my process starts with surrounding myself with images, videos, songs, random objects, trash, old pieces of wood, broken glass, just about anything that I can see beauty in that could turn into a new series or artwork. It gets pretty messy, but I have never thought of the creative process as a particularly tidy or organised business.
His cute plane logo is an actual drawing of a plane he did when he was four years old, when he was obsessed with being a pilot. Luckily for him, his mum not only kept it but had it framed hence it was pretty well-preserved.
From there, the process should start to form a clear concept and sometimes, even a shape in mind. This gives structure and direction to what would otherwise be a chaotic creative decision-making process.
There is a single point in the whole process where the act of creation and reflection interact to give birth to new amazing ideas and possibilities. That’s when a creation can start to take a form of its own.
Major decisions then need to be made about either rearranging the original idea to fit your new creation or whether to pull back and stick with the original plan and save the new idea for a different project. It can be very hard to make these decisions and I often found myself getting distracted by new possibilities.
It seems like getting distracted to explore new ideas is a big stumble for a lot of creatives. What about inspiration for new ideas - what inspires you?
I take inspiration from the city around me for the binaries evident in my work: broken/functional, discarded/valuable, rough/smooth, subtle/blatant. I find the sprawling development of Sydney to be a living and evolving combination of the natural and manmade.
For example, I draw inspiration from places like our beautiful built-up city beaches with crystal clear water, vines clinging to and scaling tall buildings, river systems that have been polluted beyond use or even life that is regenerating and beautiful once more and tree roots cracking and destroying the pavement around them.
We love your Paper series, what’s the story behind it?
The Paper series is specifically about combining the binaries of hard/soft, fragile/strong light/heavy and using raw porcelain to create a tactile experience and a functional piece. The random distribution of creases in the paper surface of the objects creates complex patterns of light, shade and texture that disturb the smooth surrounds and invite study and touch.
Some potters love the creative process of pushing the boundaries of ceramics while others find that pottery has a very therapeutic effect on them. What do you love so much about pottery?
The best part of the process is crafting by hand every day, which gives me a satisfaction that I have never experienced in any other job. It gives me a feeling that I am somehow fulfilling my intended purpose and that the idea of who I am as an individual and what I am doing with my life are aligned.
The shape of his egg cups is starting to grow on me. Perhaps for our next order?
The simple feeling of enjoyment I get from using a piece of my own work to eat breakfast from every morning and knowing that there are more and more people who appreciate and enjoy my pieces too. Knowing that objects I designed and created have in a small way made someone else's life a bit more fun is very satisfying.
Having said that, I do not like doing everything else that goes into running a small business. Sales, marketing, social media and bookkeeping.
How is the creative community in your local area?
I have been fortunate to have close relationships with many Sydney ceramicists throughout my career. When I was starting out, I shared a studio space with established Sydney ceramicists like Deb Taylor of Little White Dish, Murray Topham and Szilvia Gyorgy. They were incredibly supportive and offered advice on techniques to use, markets to try, stockists to approach and were great to bounce ideas off.
I currently share my studio space with fellow ceramicists, Louise Martiensen of LouiseM Studio, Naomi Taplin of Studio Enti and Asher Abergel of Dezion Studio. I keep in touch with the growing wider Sydney ceramics community - people like Helen Hay from Kanimbla Clay, Sarah O’Sullivan, Bea Billingham, Erin Lightfoot, Cath Fogarty and Milly Dent.
We are in almost constant contact through social media, regular events and markets, always exchanging ideas, trouble-shooting casting problems, exchanging ideas on kiln firing temperatures and timing, letting each other know about second hand equipment that is available, and exchanging business and marketing tips. I’m lucky to be part of a very friendly and open creative community.
I think part of what makes the community so cohesive is that as ceramicists and business people in Sydney, we face a lot of the same challenges and frustrations in a difficult market. The support of a community is really invaluable in the face of that.
Although we come from different backgrounds and may be a different stages of our careers, we all value design and craftsmanship and we want to support each other to benefit the whole ceramic community.
Are there any ceramicists that you admire?
I have collaborated with Rod Bamford on a project he was working on to make a 3D printer that printed with porcelain. It was an amazing project with unusual results. The printer, while being accurate in placement, was clumsy with the material and it found a balance between exact replication and practical errors to create a visual language all of its own.
We can just imagine your workload! With such a schedule, how do you overcome a creative block if you are having one?
My creative process is aided by curious exploration. If i am struggling with a creative block, I will sometimes wander from my beaten path or simply slow down and focus on bringing my awareness to the things most people, myself included, disregard or fail to see. I love to discover new areas, details, sights, sounds, emotions, thoughts, paths and experiences.
I slow down to engage with the life that is just out of reach of my everyday attention. Mostly, the stuff we fail to see is not worth stopping for usually but every now and then I find something that surprises, excites and brings a smile to my face. It’s these valuable discoveries that I strive to embody in my work. This has been reflected in the conceptual direction of my I m light (image below) and The Paper Series.
Enough about pottery! If you weren’t a potter, what do you think you will be doing?
I would be a professional surfer or football player although I think the time to achieve those particular goals may have passed me by.
What do you do for leisure when you’re taking a break from pottery?
I surf, I play tennis, I play golf and all of the normal stuff like binge netflix and hang out with friends.
If you were stranded on an island, what is one item that you must have with you?
Definitely, my surfboard. Hopefully there would be an excellent surf break just off the island that I would be able to surf all by myself.
You can find Hayden Youlley's paper series here. Enjoy the rest of the photographs below!
The Paper plane pot
We had a hard time choosing from his colour palette! After much deliberation, we chose these 3 as our main colours (on top of the classic white).
And we're liking how it looks!