Asuka Mew and Anna Miller-Yeaman design and make tableware at Wingnut and Co, a pottery workshop and showroom in a quiet street of North Melbourne.
I was overwhelmed to see the simple, clean aesthetic with morning light filtering through the showroom. Even the pottery workshop behind was impressively well ordered with shelves stacked full of pieces, each facing the right way, waiting to be fired and glazed. “Washed out” played while Asuka threw pots and Anna worked on some glazing. It was a testament to Asuka and Anna’s easygoing nature that nearly every person who walked past either waved or stopped by to chat.
What inspires and sustains your work?
It is a humbling experience to see people happy with a piece we have made. We are constantly learning and this is a source of motivation. In ceramics there are endless amounts of processes to learn and areas that require continuous experimentation. We also have a growing collection of tableware by other Australian and Japanese ceramic artists that we enjoy using daily.
How do you find a balance with running your own business?
We definitely struggle when it comes to finding an ideal balance between work and time away. The imbalance is magnified by living and working in the same space. This arrangement makes it too easy to work long days and it often becomes difficult to switch off completely. It is perhaps unhealthy to pop downstairs at 4am to adjust the temperature of the kiln or discuss ‘to do’ lists over dinner but none of that really feels like work. Of course, like any job there are really hard days. Those days feel endless and laborious but they are not the majority.
We are both excitable about new pieces, glazes and projects and will talk about that over breakfast / coffee / before going to sleep. That is probably the most difficult side to turn off. But we really enjoy those conversations and as long as we are both happy, we think it is ok. For now we consider ourselves very lucky to be in the position we are, working in a way that suits us.
Finding a balance that is right for us is something we continually adjust and refine. Our friends and family are hugely important in our lives and making the time to spend with them is a priority. It has only been recently that we have come to accept how important it is to take a day off each week. On a day off, Asuka will generally paint or print pictures and Anna will read or sew.
How does your space nurture your process and work? What elements do you enjoy most?
Living where we work greatly suits the nature of ceramics. Clay often requires adjustments within small windows of time so being able to go downstairs and check how a piece is drying, or to quickly add a handle to a cup is very convenient. Executing correct timing at that stage allows for a much higher success rate through the firing process. Asuka also loves the immediacy of living above the studio. He really appreciates that he can physically throw and form a shape when an idea occurs.
In terms of the actual layout of our space, there are still adjustments we want to make to the workshop and showroom for it to operate in the most functional way. It is a small space so we like to have it as clean and organised as possible. We both find clarity in having a fresh working space. The more cluttered it becomes, the greater the chance of us being overwhelmed.
We have natural light at the front and back of our space, which is a wonderful luxury to have in a workshop.
What are your thoughts on local production?
In Victoria we are spoilt to have a large selection of skilled craftspeople that open up their workshops to demonstrate their practices. This open and transparent engagement allows consumers to develop an understanding of creation processes, origins of materials and the skills required to produce hand-made objects. These everyday items may then acquire a greater appreciation, rather than existing as disposable utilities. In choosing a handmade product, you are supporting the survival of a craft
We think it’s our responsibility to make considered choices around what we buy. We acknowledge that we are lucky enough to be able to afford these considerations. We hope through making informed decisions, we quietly voice our objection to labour exploitation, irresponsible harvesting of natural resources and the ecological footprint of ‘throw away’ imports.
How has the community developed around Wingnut & Co since starting the business?
It is hard not to feel lucky. We have met an enormous number of kind and encouraging people through Instagram, stockists and design markets in Melbourne. We are still shocked by the support we receive and that people continue to find us in a back street in North Melbourne. We are very appreciative of the community we have fallen into, both globally through social media and through the relationships we have made locally with neighbours and other small businesses.
Where do you source your materials?
All the clays that we use are Australian. We also dig clay from areas in rural Victoria and collect from Melbourne construction sites. Like most potters, we recycle clay trimmings. In this process we blend together various clay bodies, which create unique and varied finishes.
All our timber components are offcuts. We use White Oak from Pierre and Charlotte (furniture makers) that we collected from their workshop when they were in North Melbourne. Sustainable Hardwoods Australia also donates Victorian Ash offcuts from their workshop in Victoria. Any timber waste from our workshop is burnt down and the remaining ash is used in our glaze recipes.
For anyone starting a small business, would you have any advice to share?
Seek out and gain advice from other small businesses that you respect.
Be flexible and open to opportunities.
Know your strengths and ask for help with the things that don’t come naturally.
Lastly, what are your plans for the coming year?
We hope to build a wood-fired kiln, expand our shop space and represent other makers in it. We also hope to obtain a residency overseas.