for the love of clay
When local artist Paige Northwood found ceramics she felt completely fulfilled
If you’ve stumbled across ceramicist Paige Northwood’s stunning tableware at Earth Walker & Co in Coledale or Moore Street General in Austinmer, you’d be forgiven for assuming that this Stanwell Park girl has been a potter all her life, such is the quality of her imperfectly perfect pieces. But the truth is, ceramics was not Paige’s first trajectory – she studied a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Design, and began her career in the interior design world. “I always knew I was an artist but I didn’t have my proper medium yet,” Paige says.
Sitting at a computer designing spaces all day caused Paige to feel not “like a real human anymore”, and she went on the search for something more tactile. It was actually Paige’s mum that introduced her to ceramics when they went to a class together. “I instantly fell in love with it,” Paige says. “It was just so natural, so right. Ceramics is so hands-on… you’re just really experiencing life.”
From there, her artistic path became clear. “I just had to jump off the cliff and go for it!” she says. “I couldn’t not do it.”
And since making the leap, Paige has experienced much success – although, she admits the life of an artist can be “financially testing at times”. Her tableware is in demand, often selling out on her online store, she’s received wonderful feedback, and held her first solo exhibition at Jerico Contemporary Gallery in Woolloomooloo earlier this year.
What makes Paige’s work extra special is that so much of the clay she uses is sourced locally from Sandon Point. Along with a group of potters, she’s been granted permission from the tent embassy at Sandon Point Beach to dig for clay in the area. “It feels really natural to move what you’re standing on and create from that something to drink out of or eat from…” she says.
The detailed process is a lengthy but worthwhile exercise, taking about a month from start to completion. “I collect large containers of clay and soak it in water for a week or two, then by hand I break it all up or use a drill to turn the clay into a slurry, before leaving it to dry in the sun on large plastic sheets,” Paige explains. “Once it’s sticky, I wedge the clay to remove all the air bubbles. I get a lot of help from my friends… we like to think of it as ‘clay therapy’.”
Following her true north has also allowed Paige to create a life for herself that allows spontaneity and enables her to soak up the beautiful surrounds in which she lives, starting most days slowly with a swim before squirreling away in her home studio in Austinmer to play with clay. Inspiration, she says, comes from nature and “what I’m learning in life then transferring this into my work. It’s an inner journey.”
But this journey also surely comes with frustration – ceramics is certainly a lesson in patience. After months of working on pieces, then firing them in the kiln, they can often come out cracked, or not as Paige imagined, but she takes these losses with her signature grace: “That’s the pain of it! It’s like a metaphor for life – everything is breaking and impermanent and you have to accept what’s happening… but sometimes it’s hard,” she admits. “Ceramics teaches good life lessons.”
Paige has also surrounded herself with a group of local potters and spends time at Hazelhurst Gallery in Gymea, where she’s had a teacher for the past four years. “Everyone there is very supportive and it’s a wonderful community to be a part of,” Paige says. “There’s a lady there, who’s going on 80 and she’s so amazing at throwing. She has so much knowledge – it’s just great to be able to ask questions.”
As for the future? As well as continuing to create gorgeous tableware and building bodies of work to exhibit regularly, Paige and other local ceramists have plans to open a communal studio together to offer ceramics classes to budding artists and hobbyists. “To be able to work collaboratively with the community would be beautiful,” she says.