Inspired by the Australian landscape, particularly the flora and fauna, Adelaide based potter,  Kerryn Levy‘s work embraces the handmade nature of ceramics. Leaving her mark on her pieces, the colors and textures reflect what she finds on her weekend camping trips. The meandering shapes of her handbuilt vases almost seem to defy gravity as their asymmetric shapes veer off in different directions but still feel like bare branches of an exotic tree.

Kerryn creates both sculptural and functional pottery, but they both have the same color stories and same touch of the hand the ties them together. She enjoys how the production process of the two very different methods compliments each other. Here we talk with Kerryn about how she got into ceramics as well as how she balances her creative explorations.

What drew you into the world of ceramics? And why did you decide to make it a career?

I was first drawn to ceramics at Uni when I was shown how to use a pottery wheel. I was excited by the speed with which an object could be made on the wheel, and that I could mold and shape the clay into a functional object using just my hands, the wheel and a few basic tools. By the time I started learning about the various firing processes and was introduced to the endless possibilities of glaze-making, I was completely addicted, and spent all my spare time in the studio pushing the limits of my skills.

When I finished my degree I wasn’t quite sure where I wanted to take my practice, or what my next steps should be, so naturally, I decided to leave the country and explore Canada and South America for 2 years. I quickly began to crave a creative outlet and the feeling of clay in my hands, so while living on Vancouver Island in BC, I joined a couple of ceramics studios and started making work to sell at markets. I realised that I wanted to pursue this work full-time so I returned to Adelaide to join the JamFactory and committed to developing my practice and focusing on ceramics as a career.

Your work is sometimes quite abstract… What is your creative process like?

The Naked Clay Asymmetry Collection is the side of my practice that allows me the most freedom to play. Because this series is not necessarily intended for functional use, I have much more freedom to explore and experiment with form. I use various hand-building techniques like coil-building, pinching and slab building. My making process is very intuitive so the first piece I make will usually be a surprise to me at the end. I do tend to follow certain patterns subconsciously though, I’m drawn to particular curves and bumps that are reminiscent of the human/animal body, but also of botanical forms – that combination makes them slightly uncomfortable to look at sometimes, but I like that.

The second piece will be more planned, I will often sketch a few options that fit with the shape of the first piece, but this one too will often end up straying from the original plan as I am making it and will continuously change direction. I focus on creating forms that ‘fit together,’ cradle each other, and communicate with each other. I like seeing the different narratives and landscapes that emerge within a group of these forms when they are placed in certain configurations. I’m also interested in the shapes that emerge from the negative space between the solid forms. One of my favourite parts of the process is actually photographing the finished pieces together, playing with different groupings, noticing new shapes and relationships that become apparent only during this process.

You do both sculptural and functional work, did one evolve from the other or do you work on them simultaneously?

The functional work came first, out of necessity I suppose. I had spent some time at the beginning of last year developing a production range of wheel-thrown tableware to be sold through stockists, but I soon became disenchanted with the fast-paced, repetitive nature of production throwing. I started spending more time hand-building – I enjoyed the slower, meditative, rhythmic way of working and was drawn to the organic, imperfect forms that naturally emerged from this making method. I was also intrigued by the patterns created by my fingerprints in the clay and loved that the making process was so visible in the objects themselves. I then began creating vases that were intentionally asymmetrical but still functional. The shapes just grew more and more complex from there and I began making shapes that complemented each other and focused more on form rather than function.

It’s been an interesting journey of exploration, and this series is still continuously growing and evolving. I’m excited to see what happens next! Now I enjoy working on both functional and sculptural work simultaneously. It’s nice to just tune out and make without much thought, get lost in the process, making functional, simple forms, but then come back to working on more complicated designs that require more constant, intentional decision-making.

What are you inspired by right now?

My main source of inspiration is the natural landscape – particularly Australian flora and fauna. I go camping regularly and love exploring new walking trails where I continually gather fresh inspiration. I get ideas for forms from certain lines and patterns I notice in nature. I’ve recently been experimenting with new glazes that reflect some of the colours and textures I see on my weekend adventures that draw my attention – dry, textured, smoky blacks from charred bark or the remnants of a campfire, or the deep ochre reds, yellows and purples from the Flinders Ranges, or the dark, inky blue of a stormy day near the ocean. The inspiration is endless!

What does a typical day in your studio look like?

Oh my goodness, every day is completely different and unpredictable! I guess I will usually have an idea of what the day will look like depending on what jobs, commissions or projects I’m working on – whether I’ll be wheel-throwing, hand-building, glazing, doing admin, photographing, cleaning, or teaching. My day will invariably start with a cup of tea or coffee and a chat with whoever’s around – working in a shared studio means many distractions and cups of teas throughout the day but I wouldn’t have it any other way. So many ideas, solutions and fresh perspectives have come from conversations with other artists in the studio. The greatest thing for me about being at the JamFactory is that I’m surrounded by people who are expert in so many different fields and mediums who have experiences and insights that I would never have considered. It’s an absolute joy for me to be a part of such a community.

What are you working on now?

I have just finished developing new work for an exhibition and a couple of special commissions so I’m back to the calmer work of filling orders for stockists. It’s very gratifying to just methodically work through a list of products, see my shelves filling with work, take them through the various firing processes, decide how they all need to be glazed, see them through to the sanding station and packing table and then ship them off to their various new homes! It’s a very satisfying process. I’m also going on a residency to Japan over June and July in Studio Shiro Oni, so I’m excited to see how my work is influenced by a fresh landscape, different clays and a new community.