Behind the scenes with Sonja of Sole Ceramics. Sonja produces her minimalist range of ceramics in her back garden. We went behind the scenes to get to know a little more about Sonja and her brand.
Photos by John Tan.
Sole Ceramics studio, Bassendean, Western Australia.
How would you describe Sole as a brand?
I think it’s pretty personal, the name is pronounced ‘Solé’, which was my nickname when I was young, my Serbian family still call me that.
You own a branding agency, an espresso bar, as well as run Sole Ceramics (!!), how would you elaborate on juggling three very different, albeit creative (and beautifully branded), endeavours? Does one feed the other? How is your time split?
They are all kind of connected, John and I started Nude 2008/09 with the intention of doing really nice design, and we always thought it would be nice to have a café. Have friends pop in, you know European style - maybe more like Eastern European style - sit around, drink some coffee… have a chat… do some work… all kind of connected and part of everyday life. Our friend Helen (who now runs the cafe) was a barista, and together we thought, what the hell, lets just do it!
Together we thought — what the hell, lets just do it!
So now we have a little coffee shop. When I was designing the space for the café, (named after Franz Kafka) I really really wanted some handmade cups, so I popped into a little craft shop in Galleria, and bought some clay, and stared making some little espresso cups by hand, and that’s pretty much how Sole started.
At what point did you know Sole was a business and how did you know? When did it go from dabbling or experimenting to full business mode?
I still treat it as 'dabbling or experimenting'. I like the idea of keeping it as a side thing. A thing that I do for the love of it, or for fun, more than trying to grow it as a business or have any pressure to make money from it.
How would you describe the state of your workspace at the moment? How important to you is environment in the creative process?
I haven’t really thought about it much, but I do like to surround myself with things that make me happy, plants, artwork, so in that sense I really like being in both the studio and home, and the cafe too.
Tell me more about the productive process of an item, let’s say the cup?
It’s pretty full on, I’m still surprised I’m doing it, I’m not really a patient person :) With the cups, I start off with white clay, then wedge some black speckles into it, throw the basic shape on the wheel and make some handles while the clay is drying. It’s a lot of waiting for things to dry, once the cup is bone dry I sand it with steel wool, let it dry even more, bisc fire it for the first time at 1000C, wait for a day, then another for the kiln to cool, then glaze the little fucker, then wait for it to dry then fire again, then wait another day. So it takes ages, but is pretty exciting opening the kin. When I first started I was like “how hard can it be, you just put in the the kin and turn it on”. Yeah my first few loads were explosions, it was kind of funny.
I like the idea of keeping it as a side thing. A thing that I do for the love of it, or for fun, more than trying to grow it as a business.
What is your standard working day like? Are you institutional with your time, or do you wait for moments of inspiration? Is there such a thing as a standard day?
I have two little boys, so when they are in daycare/school I work at the design studio, with the clay, I sometimes make things at night, sometimes while the kids are playing outside or having a nap. Its definitely not structured. Whats great about is that you don’t have to go thought that emotional creative process like you do with design, its more like woodwork. You make something with your hand, and if you don’t like it, you just squish it down and that’s that, its really refreshing and liberating. I don’t feel stuck for ideas or inspiration and I put no pressure on myself creatively either so its really great.
When you do have a day off, do you feel like you’re constantly working? Are you actively, or subconsciously, scouring the environment for the next idea? Or are you able to detach yourself from this?
Yeah I would be straight onto the wheel, or making things, or gardening. I think I’m great at ditching now from design, but I still have a long way to go with pottery or other renovations/making things. I’m trying to consciously tell myself to stop, and chill the f. out Haha! There are too many ideas all the time, and I’m trying let go a little and be ok with not doing everything.
Do you aim for, or are you conscious of, an overarching style or common aesthetic of the Sole product range? Is it important each design is identifiable as a Sole design?
No I think its really relaxed, but over the years I have developed a certain style both in design and branding and now ceramics that just comes naturally, so I think people will probably be able to tell if the work is mine. I don’t know if its really important but I do like it when you look at an artist’s work over their lifetime and see the style and directions change over the years, I think it gives you more opportunity to come up with something new.
Do you ever feel any restraints being a creative business located in Perth?
I think generally being a designer in Perth can be hard. Particularly in the branding world, it’s devastating seeing really great creative studios not being able to survive. It’s soo sad. It probably comes down to education, and just trust in the designers and appreciation for art.
How important is it to you to have your products presented in a brick and mortar store and not solely online?
It’s really nice to be able to pick up and hold the object, so in that way its pretty important, and also to reach a different audience and show support to the shop owners too.
What would be a tip you'd give to someone that's wanting to start out their own product design and manufacturing business?
Don’t do it. Haha! I don’t know, it’s a tough industry to break through, design in general, maybe try and collaborate with people who have networks already set up, instead of going the grass roots/bootstrap method, which are good but take ages to get anywhere. I wouldn’t really do anything different in regards to ceramics, I’m pretty happy plotting along and experimenting in my own time without any real pressure.