Talented people magnate to this part of the world. Most bring their experience and their passion, others find it… Jenn Johnston is the latter.
Working from an open-air studio in a quaint side street of Mullumbimby, Jenn is a local ceramicist. Spending her time turning, throwing and creating clay into unique ceramic pieces, she also runs workshops in the local area and helps coordinate the annual North Coast Mud Trail.
Jenn hooked the team up with beer steins as a part of our Christmas present last year and when you come to the brewery, you’ll see some sitting on desks acting as flower vases, others being held preciously in meetings, filled with hot coffee and a few being sipped from by the crew having knock off beers in the arvo.
Inspired by her craftsmanship, stunning ceramics and way of life, we spent some time catching up about all things clay, local life and the simple joys of creating something that’s handcrafted…
So, how did your love for creating and working with clay come about?
I had been drawn to ceramics for a number of years, particularly the mesmerising rhythm of the pottery wheel. In 2014, I visited some studios on the North Coast Mud Trail and met my first teacher, Karen Jennings. A few months later, my sister-in-law gave me a throwing course with Karen for my birthday and I was hooked!
Have you always found joy working with your hands?
Yes, but it took me a while to find my thing. I have always craved a creative outlet and in recent years I’ve experimented with various mediums - painting, paper work, cooking, gardening – most of which I don’t have time for, now that I’m obsessed with clay!
What excites you about being a ceramicist?
Clay is amazing. The endless possibilities excite me - what you make is really only limited by your imagination. Opening a kiln after a glaze firing is exciting, and nerve-racking – there’s no guarantee about how pieces are going to turn out. Working to create the pieces I see in my mind excites me, and nutting out the challenges along the way is really rewarding.
Where do you source your clay from?
Northern Rivers Pottery Supplies in Lismore – Madeline and Ove are great and have been really supportive of me over the last few years. Their business got smashed by the floods last year, so it’s great to be able to support them. They’re an important part of our local clay community.
Pursuing a creative career, what are a few challenges you have overcome/faced?
I’m trying to learn to love the paperwork and keeping on top of all the admin is a challenge; and there are definitely challenges in learning how to run a small business. I’m lucky to have some good friends and mentors who I can turn to for advice and guidance as my business grows.
Are elements of your life away from work influenced by pottery’s ‘slower more simple’ nature?
Working with clay has taught me many things, and has helped me to slow down and be more aware of my intentions and how I live my life. Living simply and thoughtfully is also made easier in the Northern Rivers – by the Farmers’ Markets, the creative and supportive community, the climate, the beautiful beaches and hinterland, all of which encourage us to slow down and appreciate what we have.
How often can you be found in the studio?... Do you stick to a 9-5 regimented schedule?
I work at the University of Sydney’s Centre for Rural Health 3 days a week, but pretty much any day I’m not there, I’m in the studio. The flow of my studio days depends a bit on what stage I’m up to in the making process. Most mornings, I’ll try to do an hour or so of admin or paperwork first. Once I’m in the studio. I’ll be on the wheel or hand-building, packing or unpacking the kiln, glazing, or packing pieces ready to be shipped to my stockists.
Talk to us about the North Coast Mud Trail and how it has grown over the years?
The North Coast Mud Trail is part of the national Australian Ceramics Association open studio weekend, held every year in August. The Northern Rivers has a big (and growing) community of potters and the Mud Trail is a great way for people to get out and see potters in their studios, participate in workshops, see demonstrations and buy pieces directly from the makers.
Do you have any secret projects lined up for the year ahead we should know about?
Well yes, but they’re secret so…
Share with us what inspires you most…
I have so much love for clay and what it has brought to my life. This is felt by people as they use my pieces and this, in turn, brings them joy.