Location: Brisbane, Queensland, Australia
Ryan Foster Smith | @foster.ceramics
I’m a ceramics artist living in Brisbane, Australia, though my roots reside a little further south, in the beautiful country of New Zealand. Growing up, I was lucky enough to be surrounded by a wealth of creativity in a country overflowing with talented artists and makers. Some of them hail from my own family, such as my grandmother, a painter who can quite literally paint anything you put in front of her, and my dad, an extraordinarily talented man who has built everything from vehicles to aircraft.
Over the years, I tried my hand at countless creative pursuits in search of the perfect medium. I dabbled in wood carving, costuming, painting, photography and more until I eventually found clay, which made me feel right at home, it being somewhat of an amalgamation of all the skills I’d learned previously.
I design and create all of my ceramics right from the living room of my apartment. I don’t have the luxury of my own studio quite yet, but what I do have is a benchtop, a small box of tools, and a cheap canvas sheet to keep things tidy.
For years, I’d thought of ceramics as an expensive hobby and had put off doing it for that reason, believing that you must have several pieces of expensive equipment to be successful. But I’ve come to realise that you don’t need much at all to get started, and as you learn, you begin to find new and different ways to create and build efficiently in a small space with very little equipment. It also helps that I live only a short distance from a pottery supply store and a kiln firing service, both of which I’m hugely grateful for.
I had always thought of pottery as almost an end goal for me or a hobby to take up in my later years, imagining myself as an old man sitting in a shack somewhere, collecting dust alongside all of my other finished and unfinished projects. It wasn’t until I discovered the huge community of potters and ceramics artists on social media that I realised that my dream of becoming a potter was far more achievable than I had once thought. So, much like my other creative pursuits, I dived head-on into the world of ceramics and absorbed as much information as I could.
Although I had taken one or two pottery classes in the past, I prefer to learn slowly and at my own pace. I began watching hour after hour of online tutorials, like how to throw on a wheel and all the tips and tricks on how to get started. It wasn’t long before I purchased my first bag of clay; shortly after that, I bit the bullet and ordered my very own pottery wheel. While waiting for the wheel to arrive, I got my hands dirty and taught myself how to hand-build with clay. I began experimenting with different techniques like stamping, to add textures, and testing the limitations of what could be achieved by hand with clay. This soon led me to bigger ideas like carved linoleum pressings.
These carvings started out as relatively simple designs that quickly escalated into larger and more intricate pieces. I’ve since experimented with them on different types of tableware and various other functional vessels. The tricky part was trying to incorporate more and more detail into my carvings without losing any of the finer details once pressed into the clay. By now, my pottery wheel had finally arrived, but my imagination had been captured so intensely by hand-building by this stage that I haven’t used my wheel since.
I take much of my inspiration from nature, which is apparent in many of my pieces. I spend a lot of time hiking around Queensland’s tropical rainforests, and I love the idea of nature imprinted onto clay, given that clay is from the earth itself. It’s a cycle that feels right and seems almost respectful in a way.
I take a pretty minimalist approach to the shape of my pieces, with clean-cut lines and straight edges adjacent to the curved and flat spaces onto which I press my carvings. I prefer to use matte glazes, as these feel more natural and highlight the finer details in my pressings without the distracting reflections of an overly glossy finish.
It’s still very early days for me and my ceramics journey, but I’m excited to see where this road takes me, and I’m overwhelmed by the response my work has received so far. Along with the process of building by hand, pottery has become my meditation. It’s given me a chance to slow down and create not only something beautiful but also something that I’m proud of and proud to send out into the world.
In the future, I hope to try my hand at a few larger pieces, perhaps a few more vase designs or even some less functional wares, like sculpture. It’s always been a dream of mine to design a feature piece that I could showcase at an exhibition. But for now, you’ll find me tinkering away at my desk on a new carving, driving to and from the local pottery stores, or exploring some of the beautiful hiking trails that Australia has to offer.
Photography: ©Ryan Foster Smith