Meet the Maker

What do archery, pottery and our ceramic planters have in common?  Potter Deb Taylor knows.

Deb Taylor is a founder of little white dish, the dynamic pottery studio that turns out our hand thrown hanging pots. Robin Powell asked her a few questions.

You’re a passionate archer as well as an accomplished potter.  Are the two skills connected?
I think they are connected. I liken the pot to an arrow. In both throwing something on the wheel and in shooting an arrow you are creating a template with your body and head. The speed of the wheel forces the clay to go into shape; and in the same way you set your body into the right position for the arrow to fly. You should be able to do both with your eyes closed, using muscle memory and feel.
Could you really throw a pot with you eyes closed?
Absolutely. I don’t, but I can. One year in the studio we had a throwing Olympics. Everyone was blindfolded and there were different competitions against the clock –tallest pot, widest pot and so on. That was great fun.
Is Throwing Olympics really a thing?
No, that was a one-off, but I used to put people I taught into teams and give them a challenge to make a pot in, say, five minutes.  It helps overcome nerves in front of strangers and the terrors some people feel in front of a lump of clay on the wheel.
You used to teach at East Sydney Community College. Where do you teach now?
I do one-on-one, or small groups, or corporate classes at the studio. When you watch a potter at the wheel, it looks like the easiest thing in the world. But when you sit down at the wheel with a lump of clay, it’s not.  It’s wonderful to take people through the process of learning and watch them progress.

Deb Taylor in her studio in Surry Hills, doing what she loves.

Deb in creative mode

Your practice is very varied – from pots and planters for Garden Life, to tableware, jewellery, sculpture and lights. You also turn the nurturing earthiness of clay into beautiful and tactile cremation urns, which sounds like challenging, but very satisfying, work.

It is very sad and sometimes difficult work, but it has great meaning.  I have had the most touching emails from people when they receive the urns.  Of course they are as much for the living as the dead – they are about honouring and remembrance and celebration of life. People really spend time deliberating about what they want to write on the urns. What is it about that person, how can you reduce what you want to say to just one sentence? It’s like a tattoo – how to make your mark? What you would like to say?  
What part of making a pot gives you the most pleasure –working with the wet clay, glazing, or seeing how it all turns out when the kiln is opened and the vagaries of temperature and timing are revealed?
Throwing is my favourite part.  I also love the fact that I still feel anticipation – even after 26 years! – in opening the kiln. We invest a lot to get a piece ready for the final firing and as ever the kiln will have the last word, so it’s always quite a humbling process. Seeing the light dance on porcelain… there are quite a few things that make my heart sing. While I still get excited by these things, I will continue to get up in the morning and be a potter for the rest of the day.
Find Deb Taylor’s work at Garden Life, and check www.littlewhitedish.com.au for details of other stockists. Call to enquire about private classes. Information about her cremation urns can be found at www.theporcelainurncompany.com.au
Robin Powell
Pictures: Deb Taylor; Nicholas Watt; Luke Byrne

More for you