This attention to surface comes from Chela Edmunds, the ceramicist behind the Takeawei line. She has always been a maker, but had a background in textile design. Chela studied textile design in Melbourne before heading to New York to work in the fashion industry, which she did for five years. During that time she discovered that ceramics gave her a creative outlet as she found textile design meant sitting behind a computer all day. She fell in love with ceramics so much that she figured out a way to make a living which included returning to Melbourne where she currently lives and works.
You used to work in textile design, what made you turn to ceramics?
I have always been drawn to making things in different materials. I started weaving in primary school, taking lessons with a local textile artist and going on to work in costume design, product design and then later going back to study textile design at uni. Once I graduated I moved to New York and worked in fashion. I found I was working on the computer designing and I wanted to get back to basics. Ceramics allows me to get my hands dirty and make something functional and immediate.
When did you decide to pursue ceramics as a career?
About 3 months into learning ceramics I knew I was hooked and I started doing the sums to see if I could make enough money from selling pots to pay for a studio. I decided to stick with classes for two years because studio rent in New York was so high. Two years later I moved back to Melbourne and started Takeawei with an ancient wheel off Gumtree (classifieds) and a bag of clay.
Do you find there are any similarities to textile design in ceramic design?
Materials are different but my design rationale is the same when working with fabric or clay. I’m all about function and enjoyment so my work revolves around two questions; does it do the job it’s intended for and does it evoke an emotional response? Working in fashion as a textile designer taught me to make decisions quickly about form, colour, and balance.
Your work is very distinctive, very painterly, what is your creative process like?
It’s very intuitive, change through repetition. I throw in a very repetitious way 10, 20, 40 of the same form and from that an occasional new form arises… I switch off and just let my body go there. My glazing is a mix of bases I experiment with, adding oxides and stains for colour. I use a combination of dipping pouring and painting on glazes to achieve layers and depth in colours. I like to be playful in my glazing and trust the flow of the work. Ultimately there is also the alchemy that happens in the kiln that cannot be controlled.
You also teach ceramics in your studio, can you talk about how teaching affects your pottery?
I love the students’ enthusiasm and seeing their self-doubt turned around through practice. Teaching others on the wheel makes me think about my hand movements, what is necessary and what is wasted energy. Glazing is always fun because people can use materials in a different way and come up with very different results. In a larger group you learn from each other what materials can and can’t do, much faster than on your own.
What does a typical day in your studio look like?
I grab a coffee and have a chat with my ‘Studio Mum’ Gill about what we are working on for the day. She takes care of the admin and I can focus on the making. I might be throwing on the wheel, attaching handles or glazing and packing the kiln. On days I unpack the kiln I generally go into a photo frenzy, excited by the new work, styling pics, photographing and getting pieces online. I worked back late tonight but I also took a few hours off for a surf in the middle of the day.
What are you working on now?
I have a couple of exhibitions coming up this year, one at Shepparton Art Gallery in August and another at Craft. I’ll be making some sculptural pieces that explore home objects like lighting, vessels, and tiles. I just bought a block of land down the coast with beautiful trees and it has me thinking about place, the spaces we make for ourselves, physically and emotionally. I’m looking forward to exploring these ideas through large-scale ceramic forms and glazes.