Windfall is mostly seen during the seasonal slide from autumn into winter or amidst the windy lashes of a storm. Pieces of foliage detached from trees, pirouetting down to decompose as part of the botanical life cycle or in a twist of fortune, sometimes foraged (by animals and people alike) to play its part in an alternate story; to provide shelter to new life, to brighten a home or to colourfully transform cloth, wool and fibre by way of natural dye. Similarity wild clay can be collected, broken down and re-worked into a new form. We decided it was important to share our process of distilling our adventures into our art. So we decided to press record as we set out to forage wild clay to utilise in our ceramics, harvest windfall to boil into dyes for the linen we use to wrap our finished pieces and of course casually explore a little bit more of our country's backyard.
Away Finally . Crisp Mornings . Broken Tents
We needed an escape plan. A plan to keep lodged in our mind as we worked ourselves into mush attempting to finish a series of large commissions due on tight deadlines. Any excuse would do. It was during one of our late studio nights we lost power, we stuck through huddling over our work benches with tea lights illuminating a row of leather hard cups patiently waiting their turn to have their clay tab handles attached. We were exhausted but we pushed on. Tab tab tab.
We had been losing weight from this crazy run of work and also sleep, however it was good work and we were excited to finish it. Finally on a Tuesday we placed our six weeks of work into a gas kiln and closed the door hoping the kiln god (Charmeleon) was kind to us and thankfully he was. Opening the kiln to rows of glittering cups, meant we could drop off our order, every piece accounted for and take a break away from clay. We're not sure which one of us came up with the idea but we packed our camping gear on top of the finished order, dropped the cups off to their designated address and kept driving onward to the Australian Alps.
The Australian Alpine is a rugged region perfect to explore just before winter regains its grip on the land. The landscape, in typical Australian attitude, stands defiant against the on-coming cool change, its snow gums burst, their trunks rippling in explosions of colours; army greens, pinks, dusty reds and oranges. The local wildlife seem to enjoy these final moments before the frost sets in, basking in the last of the autumn sunshine, before taking flight for warmer climes or settling in for the snow season.
Our camp ground mornings were crisper than we imagined, but still and quiet - except for one ruined by an over zealous camper with a petrol generator who felt the need to power floodlights at 5am to cook a large breakfast. Another camper asked him to turn it off and was met with the response we expected: "In an hour we'll be gone, so you and rest of the campsite can go back to your beauty sleep." Which we did, and it was glorious.
On other mornings we rose with the sun and spent our days on mini-adventures. We hiked, foraged for Silver Dollar foliage, Old Man's Beard Lichen and kept our eyes peeled for traces of wild clay. We watched wombats awaken to start their day at dusk and fossicked for feathers. We washed in lukewarm thermal pools, drank average coffee in the off season ski-villages and took a wrong turn driving through Australia's highest township. There were roadside brumby sightings, we learnt how to hack camp cooking without a refrigerator and of course there was bird watching the whole time. Emus were filmed and we added more arial enabled birds to our birding list - a Black Shouldered Kite and the cutest of fluffy chested Flame Robins found flittering amongst the snow gums.
Studio Fantastic . Kiln Greetings . Perfect Lamination
By the week's end our tent had broken and the autumn rain was finding ways to penetrate our sleepy sanctuary. Warming our feet by the fire, we realised we had lost track of the days. The river kept rolling by and our smoke rose in stacks before the weathered hills of the hinterland surrounding the Snowys. Whilst we were enjoying this fine outdoors moment - the storm clouds which had been lurking abruptly dumped their watery contents, dousing our fire and confirmed our decision to pack up camp and return to the studio, a few jars of foraged treasure, an inbox of unread emails and two perfectly laminated croissants wiser.
A few days later we opened the door and were greeted by a fairly impatient delivery man who had parked his truck across the entire street. We sighed and went out to see what had arrived. A large wooden box that seemed heavy according to the courier's strained face while he loaded it onto his trolley. He was gung-ho and not a small man either, using the entirety of his body's weight to get the trolley moving - momentarily he floated with zero gravity as the large box took advantage of the wheel's momentum until he came slamming down, trying to find a grip with his shoes on the street's decline. There was some sliding and wrangling but he casually regained control and steered our package straight into the middle of the studio floor, kicking the box off his trolley and turning on his heels he left - without so much as a goodbye. Excitedly we unpacked the shiniest of electric kilns, named it Pikachu (pre-Pokémon GO) and suddenly found ourselves with our own independent ceramics studio.
THE CLAY PROCESS IN PICTURES
One of the initial reasons we started this project was to find ways to share our experiences and invite people to take a step outside and explore wherever they are. To be able to utilise small amounts of wild clay from our adventures, turn it into slip, decorate our ceramics with them, fuse them together through our firing process and then finally send them out into the world to become part of other stories was a long time dream for us.
This island-continent we call home is host to an amazingly diverse palette of colours. Every bit of wild clay is different, some fire to burgundy, whilst others finish up as bright as mangoes. It just so happened the clay seam we found was extremely iron heavy, resembling a pinot noir of the earth. Although we could not be sure how it would fire when we harvested it, the colour was too lovely not to try.
There is a certain softness in leather hard pots and it's sometimes a shame they can't remain in their delicate unfired state forever - but that's all part of the process. We sieved the Snowys clay and re-hydrated it before using it to slip our wares. Sunbaked orange over dried apricots.
Shino is a blanket term for a family of feldspathic glazes. Originally developed in Japan during the Momoyama Period (1568-1600), these original Shinos were created by blending local feldspar and clay together to create a satin white glaze. These fell out of fashion as the kilns began to change and the rich green Oribes courtesy of copper became desirable. During the 1930's a group of Japanese potters are said to have developed the first modern shino - but it was a young potter from the University of Minnesota named Virgina Wirt who created the first American Shino (adding soda ash and spodumene) and is largely responsible for bringing the glaze back to fashion and introducing this glaze to the West.
We began working with a recipe based off Wirt's original and after the first test firings, we completely fell for this glaze. The dramatic variance where the application differs - copper through greys to white with a characteristic of trapping carbon from the flame and holding it between layers of glass. They say when you start to fire shinos - it's like sailing down a river. You may see something on the shore that you like, but getting back to there is a journey within itself. There could not be a more fitting glaze to continue this collection's adventure.
UNPACKING THE KILN
Opening the door to a kiln filled with ceramic pieces, all made during countless clay covered hours, induces a certain form of angst known only to potters and is fittingly called kiln anxiety. As the door swung open to reveal the first batch of our Windfall tumblers, we sighed in awe and relief. All pieces looked to be intact and had made it through the inferno with the kiln's flames licking their sides. We starved the kiln of oxygen midway through the firing forcing the flame to hunt for oxygen in our cups and our glaze, stealing molecules from the iron flecks and causing them to flux and blossom through the shino.
Our cups had now made it to the final step in their journey on our side; to a night of polishing, records and wine - where they were sanded, buffed and lovingly admired over a bottle sent from one of our favourite vineyards. Even though we will have them in our studio for a few weeks longer, it feels like our final night together. A similar feeling to saying goodbye to friends made during travels without exchanging details - knowing that we will probably never see these cups again, and if we do by then they'll have their own stories to tell.
A BELOVED BLACKSMITH
TWO ROSE FORGE - A FAMILY AFFAIR
It was another wet Sydney day when we visited Ben Rose to return a knife he had made and lent us for our field trip to the Snowys and to ask if he could do us one more favour - make a handle for a teapot we were working on. If ever a collaboration was overdue, it was this one.
We made our way through his place, jumping over kid's toys and kids alike to make our way to his tiny little shed of a workshop that occupies a corner of his backyard behind his crop of hops. As the afternoon progressed with the rain drumming on the metal roof above, we watched Ben fashion a strip of recycled brass into a beautifully refined and functional handle.
These handles have an important place in our heart and it was an absolute pleasure to work with Ben and have an excuse to spend some extra time at his place, wrestling his twins and drinking tea with his wife.
A few months ago a chance encounter with a friend's neighbour piqued our curiosity into natural dyes. She explained that Silver Dollar leaves held rockstar status in the dyeing world and described the orange hues which could be extracted from Old Man's Beard lichen. Since both were abundant in the Snowy region we harvested whilst the rain drizzled and the sun-set with plans to dye the fabric we wrap our ceramic pieces in before they are sent out to their new homes.
Both types of botanical matter are substantive, meaning they don't need a mordant to fix their pigments to the fabric. After an hour of boiling up this greenery, with the scent of eucalyptus wafting through and cleansing the air, the fabric was added to the dye pot, to be boiled over another hour before being left to steep overnight. With a quick rinse to loosen any dye debris the fabric was hung up the next morning and dried to the most delicate shades of rust ochre.