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September 13, 2020 5 min read

Britt Leach Clae Studio portrait on Makers' Mrkt Makers MArket Melbourne
Interview by Tully Walter

There is something enigmatic about Clae Studio’s handcrafted ceramics. The organic forms, speckles and earth drawn textures found in the studio’s vessels and candle holders, balance poetically with notions of history and design.
Both an inherent modernism and heirloom quality embody each unique Clae Studio piece, richly underpinned by the hand of the maker. That Maker is Britt Neech, Melbourne based ceramist and founder of Clae Studio. We spoke to Britt about her process and practice and how she’s approaching work and self-care during Melbourne’s period of lockdown.

Hi Britt! Thank you for being part of our Meet the Makers series. First things first, what is it that you make? 

I hand-build sculptural ceramic vessels in my Melbourne home studio.

Please tell us about your journey to Clae Studio. Did you always know you wanted to pursue this line of work? Did you study ceramics? 

I was studying Fashion and Textile Design at Uni and didn’t feel that I could fully articulate my creativity through that medium. I took a wheel throwing ceramics class at a local studio in Sydney (where I lived at the time) and fell instantly in love with clay! I became so obsessed that I bugged the studio owner to give me access to the studio more often and she very kindly left me a key so I could come in when I wanted to. I did lots of initial experimentation and found that I preferred hand-building to wheel throwing because of the size I could work in and the range of outcomes I could create.

Clae Studio tools Makers' Mrkt Makers Market Melbourne

The Maker’s Mrkt community can’t get enough of your hand made pieces. In this age of technology, devices and digital lives, what is it about clay pottery that feels so relevant today?

As a maker, you are totally immersed and present in the process. Clay is a material that comes from the Earth that you can mould in your hands into whatever you want. The process is creative, meditative and grounding. Once a piece is fired it’s a permanent record of the time and the place it was created and is imbued with the maker’s sentiment.

Please tell us about the processes behind your beautiful sculptural pieces. What drives you to create and where do you get things started?

All my pieces are hand-built using the techniques of coiling and slab building. I have a range of pieces in my Core Collection which I recreate in small batches and I also have recently started a new range called Clae Plae. The latter are almost like ‘clay sketches’ which I create without any plan. The Clae Plae range is an opportunity for me to have fun and experiment playfully with new forms, clay bodies and glazes.

What role does colour play in your work? What colours are you drawn to?

My all time favourite is matte white, which is probably clear to anyone who follows my work. The matte white glaze that I hand mix and apply with a brush has a textural finish which adds a lot of interest to my pieces. The natural colours of clay are all really beautiful so I do tend to stick to a neutral palette. In saying that, I have recently started to experiment with introducing a pop of colour in my work - I am loving Yves Klein Blue.

Clae Studio Valley Vessel on Maker's Mrkt Makers Market Melbourne
You design and make each piece in your Melbourne home studio. What are some things you need to have around you to feel inspired and productive.

A clean workspace is key for me to be able to feel productive throughout the day as I move between projects. I have minimal objects in my current studio but I have kept a few pieces that I made early on which I felt were ‘turning points’ in designs and remind me of how far I’ve come since I took that first class in Sydney.

You took a leap of faith and turned your art into a business. What piece of advice would you give your 2015 self or an emerging maker looking to start their own business?

Advice I would give to an emerging maker is to just give it a go! It’s scary and hard but you’ll work it out. Ask for help if you need it - the ceramics community is very friendly!

We are obsessed with your beautiful vessels. It’s the first month of Spring - what are your favourite things to put in in them?

I love my pieces styled with a really simple and bold branch - I’ve been obsessed with cherry blossoms this year. I have also designed my pieces so that they can sit in a space as a sculptural object without flowers.

Tell us about the new pieces we have coming at Maker’s Mrkt.

More of my popular Heirloom Vessel in matte white are coming soon and maybe keep an eye out for a pop of colour!

Clae Studio Heirloom Vessel on Maker's Mrkt Makers Market Melbourne
It’s been five months since Melbourne first locked down amidst this global pandemic. How have the restrictions impacted the way you work? 

I’m so lucky to have a home studio as I’ve been able to continue making through the stage 4 lockdown. I think the impact for me has mainly been that I’m not able to go to new places, visit galleries and talk to people from the creative community face to face. It’s an overall stagnant feeling when all I want to do is move!

What does a typical work day now look like for you?

I’m usually in the studio by 8.30am where I start working on recent orders and then move on to experimentation and resolving new ideas. The main struggle during stage 4 lockdowns has been accessing a local firing service. Luckily I have my very own kiln coming soon!

How do you stay focused at home?

It sounds lazy but I promise it’s not - when I feel like making I do and when I don’t I take a break! Maybe I’ll do some work on the admin side of things or maybe I’ll just go for a walk. I think it’s really important that we all take time to listen to what we need right now and not be too hard on ourselves.

Ceramics by Clae Studio Melbourne on Makers' Mrkt Melbourne

What are some of your favourite self-care practices and mood boosters?

During the lockdown I’ve been going for walks, eating lunch outside in the sun, checking in with friends and family and ordering the occasional UberEats for some excitement!

Sometimes being a creative isn’t always synonymous with keeping organised! How do you stay organised and on top of your business?

I’m a pretty organised person. I often find that if there are too many outstanding emails or things to tie up I can’t focus on bigger projects - so I just get them out of the way asap!

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