Nicolette Johnson’s Brisbane Home and Studio Is as Unique as Her Ceramics
Welcome to The Makers. Each week, we’re celebrating innovators, artisans and crafters of all types, taking you on a private tour of their creative spaces. For this instalment, we tour ceramicist Nicolette Johnson's eclectic rental home meets art studio.
Achieving success in any creative field is notoriously difficult. Those who succeed in the arts are almost always both naturally talented and highly determined. At least this certainly seems to be the case for Nicolette Johnson, who has established herself as a highly regarded ceramicist within just six years.
Before discovering her passion for pottery, Nicolette completed a Bachelor of Photography, and worked as a freelance photographer. Then, a struggle with depression and anxiety led her to enrol in weekly pottery classes in an effort to improve her mental health and learn a new skill. A natural in the art, it only took a year of lessons for her to change course and start making ceramics full-time.
Five years later, Nicolette's work is displayed in multiple galleries and even at the Powerhouse Museum in Ultimo, Sydney. She was also the winner of the 2021 Siliceous Award for Ceramic Excellence, put on by Ceramic Arts Queensland.
Inside Nicolette's home, it's easy to see her artful eye at work. Her art-filled rental abode and studio is eclectic and filled with secondhand and vintage pieces. It's home to a mix of fabrics, objets d'art, and art that has been bought from and swapped with other artists. "...Everything in our home brings me such a warm feeling and I highly recommend being surrounded by things you find beautiful," she shares with the Bed Threads Journal.
The overall aesthetic is almost as unique as her ceramics which merge the traditional with the experimental and explore symmetry, esoteric, and surrealist motifs, and the way we assign meaning to objects. The beautiful thing about Nicolette's residence is that it doesn't fit neatly into one specific style. It exudes a look and feel that is entirely individual and showcases her creative self wonderfully.
Ahead, Nicolette shares her creative process, the crucial lesson she has learnt in her artistic journey, and her top tip for a well-styled home.
Hi Nicolette! This series is called The Makers. What is it that you make?
Hello! I am a potter and I make pots!
How does the act of “making” relate to your personality and who you are?
I think making is the best way I can express myself and understand myself better.
Tell us about your career journey to date. Did you always know you wanted to pursue this line of work?
I always wanted to do something artistic. In high school I thought maybe I’d do theatre, but ended up studying a Bachelor of Photography at university and working as a freelancer in that industry for a few years after graduating (while also working the odd retail job to help pay rent!).
In 2015, while struggling with depression and anxiety, I decided to enrol in a weekly pottery class at my local studio in an effort to improve my mental health and learn something new. Turns out it was one of the best decisions I have ever made. Pottery doesn’t cure anxiety but it sure helps! After a year or so of learning the basics I decided to change course and make pots full-time.
Talk us through your creative process. Where do you start?
Sometimes with sketches, other times with just a ball of clay on the wheel. I like starting without a clear idea of what I will make—it feels almost like automatic drawing—and the clay moves and I’m just responding to it moment by moment.
What’s been the single most crucial tool or strategy you’ve used to further your business?
What’s been the most challenging lesson learnt so far in your business?
Figuring out that I work best as an independent artist was a crucial lesson for me. Being represented by commercial galleries has some incredible advantages, but there are drawbacks as well. Ceramics is a fickle and precarious art form—you can never count on anything to turn out but part of the magic is when things do!
Having the freedom and time to work at my own pace, to fail, and to experiment with new work are things I value highly and they were why I made the difficult decision to leave the galleries at the end of last year. However, if I could go back I would do it all over again because it was an invaluable experience and I learned so much about myself in those couple of years!
What’s been the best thing that’s happened to you since you started your business?
I have had so many incredible opportunities in the short time I have been working with clay, but by far the most exciting thing has been recently winning the 2021 Siliceous Award for Ceramic Excellence, put on by Ceramic Arts Queensland!
Do you have a single piece of advice you’d give to your younger self or someone looking to pursue a similar line of work?
It is okay to be bad at something you are just starting to learn. If you enjoy it, just keep going!
Now, the home stuff. How long have you lived in your home?
We have rented and lived in this home for almost 6 years.
How did you initially know this was the space for you?
All the trees. The house backs onto a creek, and we get so many animal visitors—parrots, possums, snakes, it’s heaven. It’s also 5 minutes from my local pottery supply store!
Did you do any renovations or make any big changes after moving in?
Nothing structural as it’s a rental. I put less offensive contact paper over the red laminate counter tops in the kitchen. Hung lots of art. Put up curtains. I’m of the 'school of asking forgiveness', not permission. Wood filler was made for a reason!
What was the thought process behind the way you’ve styled the interior?
The style of our décor has changed quite a lot since first moving in and it has been a slow, considered process. The best part of that is wherever we live, the interior décor will never be finished, just a flowing transition of adding things we love to the space. This iteration is a result of collecting lots of objects, sourcing second-hand and vintage whenever possible, and buying from and swapping with a ton of great artists—many of whom we are lucky to call friends!
What are your favourite pieces in the home?
I love our antique silky oak dining table that I found on gumtree for the cost of a nice dinner for two.
Do you have any special décor pieces you’re looking to add?
Not particularly. I tend to be drawn to something, whether it’s an object, an artwork, or a piece of furniture, and fixate on it until I cannot fathom being without it. I think if you love something you will find a place for it. Healthy? Good for our savings? Maybe not. But everything in our home brings me such a warm feeling and I highly recommend being surrounded by things you find beautiful.
Which is your favourite room in the house?
Our living area. It gets the most gorgeous light in the late afternoon, and I love being in there that time of day.
What are your top tips for a well-styled bedroom, and home generally?
Fill it with art! Whether it’s art you make yourself, art you swap with your friends, or art you purchase from galleries or directly from artists, small or large, outsider or professional, living with art is one of the most fulfilling things I can think of.
Do you have any projects coming up you want to talk about?
Some of my recent work is now on display at the Powerhouse Museum in Ultimo, Sydney in their exhibition Clay Dynasty, which spans six decades of Australian studio ceramics, and is the first major exhibition to chart the wide diversity of ceramic practices across the country.
For more from Nicolette, follow her on Instagram @nicolette__johnson