If you've been to Sydney, we're pretty sure you know this famous strawberry watermelon cake! Dubbed the world's most instagram-ed cake, Black Star Pastry has served over a million slices of this cake to date!
And you know what they say, below every instagram-ed cake lies a beautiful handmade plate. Yes yes, we totally just made that up! We got in touch with Louise Martiensen of LouisM Studio, the maker of that plate in the photograph above, to learn more about her and her craft.
Her watercolour plates look like they are frozen in time.
I fell into ceramics almost entirely by accident. Back when I had to choose university courses, I decided on a general design degree, but with a rough idea of working in furniture and product design.
When we had to choose our workshop studios for our practical sessions, I had one choice left and couldn't decide. Alas, I ended up choosing ceramics because it was on a Monday and suited my timetable best! After a couple of classes, I was in love with the medium and it has driven me ever since. Now, I'm a full-time potter based out of a studio in Sydney.
We've been to Sydney and we have to say it is really quite a creative enclave!
There is a fairly sizeable creative community in our building. I share my studio with two other makers and am right next door to a large pottery studio and teaching space. There are also textile artists, photographers, wood-workers, painters and jewellers in a building just a short walk away. It's really inspiring to be surrounded by other creatives and seeing them make their beautiful pieces and go through their own processes.
Pottery can be such a lovely, yet frustrating process. If you have to point out one thing you love or hate about pottery, what would it be?
There are so many things that I love and hate about pottery, but I suppose the big one that keeps me going is the magic that happens behind the kiln doors. It's both the single most rewarding yet frustrating part of the process.
What goes on in the kiln can literally make or break your pieces and it's always exciting to open the kiln doors and see what's inside! (If you are wondering what can go wrong in the kiln, this is a minor mishap she had to go through.)
Working as an independent potter is tough work - you have to juggle between production as well as branding and marketing on top of other administrative work.
Indeed! For me, a 'normal' working day can look very different from each other. I have a small study at home where I do most of my admin work, but in the studio I could be doing any of a number of things. Casting from my fleet of molds, decorating vases, fettling cast pieces, putting kilns on, glazing, colouring, packing orders, and a whole lot more cleaning than I'd like to be doing!
We have noticed that some makers will sketch it out whenever a new idea pops into their head while others would prefer to just get straight to working with the clay / wheel once a new idea hits.
My creative process usually starts with an idea. It might be something that I've seen that sparked something in me, or it might be through my experimentation with processes that I've developed a new idea or technique that I want to try.
I usually try to sketch things out and work through my ideas on paper for a bit before I proceed to doing physical tests and developing prototypes. Ideas change and mature along the way so I don't always end up with what I had expected at the start of the process. It's an ongoing thing as I'm always tweaking and improving my works.
What do you do if you face a creative block then?
I can't remember the last time I had a creative block, honestly. There's not enough hours in the day to keep up with all my ideas! However, when I am in the design or prototyping process I do often come up against problems that need to be worked out that do slow my process down.
When I come up against such a problem, I find it is best to not keep butting myself up against the issue, but to do something else. While I'm doing that, I know the problem is actually being turned over at the back of my mind. Solutions often come to me when I'm engaged in another activity.
Most of your works are made using the slip-cast method, would that be your go-to method currently?
Yup, I mostly work with the slip-casting process. It's a technique I learnt at university and I love its possibilities for creating things that are the same, but different. I occasionally throw on the wheel for some commissions, and sometimes even hand-build. But mostly, it's still slip-casting.
I usually use a porcelain slip that gets fired to 1280 degrees and add colours using stains. As I get most of my colours by using body stains, I use a lot of clear glaze but have recently been moving into different glazes which has been really interesting.
It seems like pottery seems to be gaining quite a bit of traction these days.
Most definitely. I do find it hard to precisely pinpoint why ceramics has been gaining in popularity in recent years, but like anything, it's probably a combination of a lot of different factors. With an increased emphasis on being conscious consumers, a lot more people are having a bit more of a think about where and how their products are made.
Also, for a ceramics practice, you don't need hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of equipment to get started. It can be quite small so you have plenty of people trying their hand at it and turning to pottery as a hobby. These new potters are popping up all over the place which feeds in to the 'buy small and buy local' ethos.
There's just been an explosion of creativity in this area in the last 10 years which expands what people think ceramics can be, I think it's lovely!
Functional or decorative?
Functional. It has to be beautiful too, but something that is useful is very beautiful to me, so I think for my work, the function comes first.
Are there any ceramicists or creatives that you follow?
I really appreciate a sense of fun and play in the work of other potters, like Sassy Park and EJ Son, but I am also super impressed when I find other potters who are highly technique-driven and doing it really well, like Denise McDonald and Stephanie James-Manttan.
To end it off, what do you think you will be doing if you are not a potter?
If I wasn't a full-time potter, I think I would have ended up in some other creative field. All my life I've loved making things and it has consumed my spare time. But outside of that, I have quite a caring bent to my nature and I think I might have ended up as a counsellor or social worker.
What's a handmade piece without the potter's mark?
P.S. Some of the photographs used in this article were taken by Louise herself.