Poetry in Clay

Kylie Johnson is the owner and creator of Paper Boat Press, a boutique ceramic studio in Ashgrove, Brisbane which she opened in 2004. There she sells her own work, holds exhibitions and conducts classes for adults and children.

Tell us a little about your current work
My life is currently a marriage of three disciplines: commercial, exhibition work and artistic.
Everything I make is unique and follows my basic philosophy. I strive to make pieces with integrity that are both meaningful and beautiful. I am a writer and poet and so my work is a combination of the two.
My current style is mostly ornamental which is about 80% jewellery and 20% vessels.

What have you found is the best form of marketing for your work?
I have been using mainly Instagram for the last five or six years and it has been very successful.
I have only recently joined Facebook. Instagram is good because you can post something beautiful and small and people feel part of your journey.
The quotes I use as part of my work, are what I believe in. I want people to be moved by this marriage of words and clay.

How did you get started in ceramics?
Both of my parents were potters so they were the early influences on me.
Then I met a group of artists and potters at art school in the 1990’s and became part of this group known as Amphora.
I started with house shows and then markets for a while. From the valuable feedback I had gained at the markets I created a saleable range.
I also approached shops and as I gained more exposure they contacted me. All this was before the Internet!

Who were your major influences?
In my 20’s and 30’s I worked with Monica and David Usher and Clairy Laurence. When I was studying at Southbank TAFE I was working under the guidance of Ray Cavill.
What are the 3 things that helped you turn from hobbyist into a professional?
I think the first thing was the publication of my poems by Murdoch Books.
Secondly, I opened a gallery with my work and the work of other artists in 2012, so learnt the art of curating. The work exhibited had to be very well made with no compromises. All the exhibitions were near sell-outs.  
Thirdly it was the valuable experience I had gained from the markets and the wholesaling of the work.

Are there common marketing mistakes you see others making?
Mistakes make us better!
If you are really keen to sell in this environment you have to be conscious of what is the trend but without being a slave to it.
I believe that you should create a body of work which is true to who you are. If things are not running out the door you have to be prepared to change something and not be too rigid about your commercial work. It could be as simple as the price point and you may have to consider making a range that most customers can afford.
Go to the markets to get a feel for what is selling, look at design blogs to see what the trends are. Keep an eye on what is on TV, fashion clothing and interiors.

Can you describe your current commercial works?
My work at the moment is pared back and simple in its boldness. If using colour, it is used sparingly. I want my work to be beautiful, truthful and tell a story. I believe there is boldness in simplicity.

How would you describe the current state of ceramics in Australia?
I really think that there is a resurgence of the ‘handmade’ which is really good. There is a better energy when eating off something handmade as long as the thought and care has gone into creating the piece.
It would be wonderful to see hand made at the level it is in Japan where the work is seen as an integral part of daily life.

In your experience, who is a typical buyer for you or do you think there is such a thing?
I would have to say that for the ‘bread and butter’ range it is mostly women.
The vessels are purchased by both men and women or men buying something for their partners – especially from the exhibitions.
They seem to be in the 20 years+ bracket.

What is the role for groups such as CAQ in professional development?
New potters are a derivation of existing potters, copying and being inspired by them as they are learning before developing their own style.

Any last thoughts?
People are daily bombarded with products but I strive to produce work that is real and gracious, which is how I live my life.
I am very grateful for my life.

You can see more of Kylie’s work at Paper Boat Press by visiting her website at:

“A Sentence of Teapots” 2014 Photo: Richard Stringer

Kylie Johnson