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Meet Jenn Johnston from The Gatherer Artist Collection

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Mullumbimby-based ceramicist Jenn talks clay, career and her creative process

Mullumbimby-based ceramicist Jenn talks clay, career and her creative process

The Gatherer Artist Collection is Stone & Wood merch with a twist. For the first time, we’ve partnered with local female artists and asked them to create their interpretation of The Gatherer. 

On sale in our Tasting Room in Byron Bay and Brisbane brewery, these handmade ceramic coasters by Mullumbimby-based ceramicist Jenn Johnston are founding pieces for the collection. Hand-painted and made with high-fire clay, these coasters are durable for everyday use and the perfect size for a freshly opened Gatherer can. 

Inspired by Japanese aesthetics, Jenn’s wheel-thrown handcrafted ceramics reflect her love of gardening, travel, entertaining and contemporary design. We caught up with Jenn to chat about her ceramics, switching careers, her style and where she draws inspiration.  


How has the experience of transitioning from your health research career to ceramics been? What have been the biggest challenges? 

I’ve been moving from a career in health research to ceramics for the last few years. I’m transitioning slowing but steadily to allow myself to learn the ropes of running a small business, set up my studio and establish my ranges.

Taking this time is working well for me, and I think has taken some of the stress out of the move. In saying that, not working with clay full-time yet means that I have limited time to make to meet growing demand. Although I’m not quite there yet, I can see clearly where I want to go and am excited about what’s to come.

Your work captures several different styles – from your textured pinchME pieces to your multi-toned planters. Did you start with one style and evolve or have you always produced different works?

I’ve always made a range of quite different pieces and the styles I have now have evolved over several years. I find that when an idea sparks I need to follow it to see where it leads, if it has legs and how it might evolve.

From your own works, which is your favourite style of ceramic? Why? 

It’s hard to say! I always tend to be drawn to lean towards clean lines and pieces that let the clay really shine. I have a fondness for my planters, as these are what kick-started my business. But I also love my vases and using them to display cuttings from our garden. And eating from my tableware still feels really special!

The Gatherer coasters were a challenge for me, but I’m so happy with how they turned out. I’ve loved playing with colour and patterns and will be definitely be doing more of this in the future. 

Where do you find your inspiration? How does Mullumbimby feed your creativity?

I find my beautiful home studio endlessly inspirational – my heart lifts with the possibilities every time I am in there.

Mullumbimby as a town, and the surrounding area, and the relationships I have with others are essential for my creativity: Lani (@homeinthehils) laughs when I call her a plant-goddess but she is and I love our collaborations and hatching new plans for the future together; Bec and her crew (@bakersanddaughters) fuel my making with the delicious bread and other treats from the most stylish bakery; Dede and Pauli (@archer.thestore) have an amazing selection of handmade and local jewellery, clothing, pieces for home in their gorgeous shop and have been big supporters in the creation of my new vaseART range.

And of course, our beautiful beaches and hinterland provide all the grounding nourishment I could ever need.

Who are your favourite Australian artists and/or ceramicists?

Locally, I can’t get enough of the stunning jewellery that Susie (@sunshinealley) makes in her studio just outside Mullum. A few years ago, Kristina (@inalux) swapped pots for prints. I often scroll her feed when I need a hit of mid-century inspired colour, pattern and all-round beauty. I find the ceramic pieces of @ohheygrace completely intriguing – both from an aesthetic and a technical perspective.

Tell us about your workshops – when and why did you decide to start teaching others ceramics?

I love sharing the joy of clay and introducing people to the magic of creating their own pieces. I started running workshops a few years ago and loved bringing a group of people together for a couple of hours to work with clay, have gentle conversations and time for themselves. I’m now offering private classes in my home studio and am so happy to be able to provide people with the space, time, clay and tools for them to discover the wonder of ceramics.

Do you have a particular ritual or method before you start working – of getting into the creative zone?

It depends if it is a ‘production’ day or a ‘creation’ day. On production days, I’ll have a list of things to get done and made, and it’s really just a matter getting started.

Ahead of creative days, which are far less common that productive days, I’ll be mulling over ideas and what I’m hoping to create. If I’m stuck, I try not to push it and often find the creative conundrums resolve themselves with a long beach walk with my dogs, when I can let my mind relax and wander. Then on the day itself, I generally have a pretty good idea of what I’m hoping to achieve, or at least a place to start.

Either way, music plays an important part in my studio practice and I’ll either be dancing around to my fav tracks or relaxing to classical music, depending on my mood and what needs to get done. I also listen to a lot of podcasts – two of my go-to podcasts are One Wild Ride and Hack Your Own PR – smart women, who happen to be local, speaking to creative inspiring entrepreneurs and creatives. 

What is the best thing about a creative career?

I love the freedom in being my own boss, of being able to manage my time to fit with the other ebbs and flows of life, and that the outcome is up to me and the work I put in.

I (mostly!) love the challenges of running a small business – there’s always more to learn and an ever-growing to-do list. I also cherish the friendships that have grown from being in the creative space, particularly here in a regional area and small but vibrant community.

How do you best enjoy The Gatherer?

At the end of a productive day in the studio – straight up in a glass so I can enjoy the pretty colour and rested on a coaster, of course!


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