Mindful Recreations

Conversations in Clay- with Steve Burton


It all started with the discovery that he could make animals out of plasticine, and, that he was good at it. That was in primary school, and Steve Burton hasn’t looked back.


Steve‘s confirmed addiction to clay is 25 years old.  He briefly flirted with the idea of sculptural work- making a robot out of tin cans; has dabbled in drama and theatrics; and once applied for a job as a window dresser. I’m glad he persisted with the sculptural clay work.


Steve’s studio sits at the back of his house, with large windows overlooking the garden. In summer the windows would be shaded by a beautiful deciduous tree that is situated in the middle of the garden. As I am here in winter I enjoy the sculptural form of the bare branches instead. Through the branches you can spy various pieces of Steve’s work.


There is a bird box in the tree; fish hanging around the fence; and a wide variety of pottery wildlife. Just when you think you‘ve seen them all, your eye catches another one.

Inside the studio there is also lots to see. The windowsills are a treasure trove full of trinkets, offering inspiration while working on the current project. There are old doilies, lace and other materials ‘stacked’ on a shelf; a box of kitchen implements awaits a new life; containers full of tools for scraping, rubbing, engraving, cutting, poking, gauging, and moulding; and my personal favourite, a collection of nail polish. I did raise my eyebrows at the nail polish collection and Steve explained that it can be great for the finishing touches to a project- eyes, nails, scales, etc.


Indeed this adaptation of unrelated tools, techniques and finishing touches to clay is a distinctive feature of Steve’s work. He is not limited by what people say you can or should use something for. It’s as if he can see, and is fascinated by, the potential in everything. Steve is able to look at a box of kitchen implements and envisage any number of sculptural ideas


He can find a piece of something lying on the ground and think “I‘ll just grab that, it might be useful one day“. Indeed Steve’s tool kit is full of many unusual things- if it has texture, or, mould, or shape clay, then you could well find it there. I should have asked what the most unlikely thing he has in his tool box.

Steve has an affinity with clay, stemming as far back as his early experience with plasticine. Many a time I have watched him take a lump of clay, pound it, beat it, and push it into shape, and then scrape, rub, and carve the detail, resulting in something unexpected. I’m sure many a person has said ‘you can’t do that’, and then watched in amazement as Steve has gone ahead and done it. Indeed he told me that one of the things he really enjoys about hand building is that “you can always add more”, and his advice is “Just do it, you can’t get it wrong”. Following his own advice Steve really enjoys making ‘grotesque’ animals- because “you can’t get them wrong”.


As we talk he is working on one, a bird. Steve is also very good at creating life-like Australian wildlife. He tells me that he has always been able to make such things. Indeed in secondary school he describes himself as “obnoxious” when they did pottery because he would finish the project really quickly and everyone else would be still busily working away. I wondered aloud if the word “precocious” might be a better description. Steve’s response was to laugh and say a little ruefully “Actually no, I think I was pretty obnoxious”. This says a lot about Steve’s sense of humour, and his ability to laugh at himself. He also has an amazing willingness to share his time and knowledge and to encourage others. Indeed, I am left wondering just how many lives have benefited from Steve’s generosity and encouragement. I know mine has.


Meet Your Maker- Allison of AllyBeeDesigns

Allison is a behavioural psychologist by training. She is also an awesome ambassador of ‘Handmade’, and the Manager of The Makers Market.


Allison makes a range of things, including hand painted chess sets, dolls, crocheted toys, and items to assist people with sensory needs (her favourite things to make, however, are replica dolls). In her previous life Allisoimagen found herself responding to the need of her clients with sensory needs. The only things on the market at the time were overpriced, and there was nothing handmade.   image imageSo Allison started to make.  It started with bean bags and lap pads, and it has progressed from there. As Allison says “I have gone from sewing squares to sewing just about anything”.

When her daughter started to play tea parties Allison “wondered how I could incorporate it into handmade- easy to wash and clean, and not breakable like Grandma”s wedding china”, and her fabric tea set was born. Allison says she shops ‘handmade’ because she doesn’t like mass produced things, rather she prefers things that are ‘one-of-a-kind’ and a little special. She particularly likes that 10 years after buying something handmade she can still remember the feeling of buying it, and the the story of its purchase.

You can find Allison on line by following the links below, or in person at The Makers Market at the Abbotsford Convent on the 3rd Sunday of every month.




https://www.facebook.com/AllyBeeDesigns https://www.etsy.com/shop/AllyBeeDesigns

Conversations in Clay- with Deanna Roberts


Autumn- warm sun through the window, the air chilly outside, and deciduous trees everywhere in a riot of colour.  I was on my way to meet Deanna Roberts, one of my fellow Treefern Potters.

We meet at Deanna’s house and studio- looking towards the Dandenong Ranges. I am immediately at home.  Deanna has two creative spaces downstairs and one upstairs… Oh! The jealousy, but Oh! What fun! I was there to explore her pottery studio in particular but I would have loved to explore the other spaces too. I have an inkling that her cupboards are full of supplies to make my fingers tingle, and my mind boggle.


Deanna has always been a creator of things. She used to seW with her mother on Saturday afternoons, after the family restaurant was closed for the day. I have a picture of mother and daughter pawing over fashion magazines, heading out for supplies, and returning with parcels tucked under their arms- ready for their afternoons activity. What a beautiful and special gift. It makes me think of how I could do things differently with my own children.


Deanna’s mother used to say, “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well”, and Deanna has taken this to heart. Indeed her portfolios from when she was studying her Diploma of Art – Ceramics demonstrates her thoroughness and attention to detail. I have another inkling- if Deanna turns her full attention to something it will be done well. This leads into a deeper conversation about the satisfaction of knowing you’ve done something well, which makes us feel good about ourselves. And how it feels even better when people like and appreciate what we have done. We also talked about that niggling feeling that happens when you know something is just ‘not quite right’ and you have to fix it. Ahhh….. someone who understands.


At 26 years of age Deanna had ‘the dream job’ as a Project Manager. However it was her theatrical activities outside work that were her real passion.  When it comes to pottery, Deanna said as a teenager she saw a potter demonstrating on a wheel at an outdoor market and remembers thinking “I’d like to do that”. A class at the local community arts centre many years later, and she was hooked. And by ‘hooked’, I mean ‘Hooked!’. She went on to do a series of short courses through Holmesglen TAFE, then a certificate level course (which the TAFE a ran specifically), then another. This went on for two years. As Deanna talks I realise that this remarkable event, the TAFE running a course in response to the students request, took place during the Kennett era of ‘slash and burn’ education. I wonder if the course if still going…


I have a sense that Deanna doesn’t do anything by halves. As I watch her work on the wheel she tells me about working full time, studying her Diploma of Art-Ceramics, and then undertaking first a Certificate IV in Workplace Training, then a Graduate Diploma, and finally a Batchelor of Education on weekends. Nothing like filling your spare time – I think we agreed that ‘spare’ time was sleeping. Even now, post studies, Deanna’s hands are never still. She sees inspiration in lots of different places- watching the back drop that gives a story authenticity in a movie, the choice of colours or patterns in an advertisement on TV, and she is frequently sketching ideas and thoughts into a journal. I forgot to ask to look at THAT journal. Doh!


As we talk about the busyness of working and following creative urges, we reflect on the process of getting older and wiser, and how sometimes separate roles in our lives seem to come together- the circularity of life. Deanna’s work experience, her theatrical pursuits, and her creative endeavours have all come together- she’s written a book, sets up websites, does presentations, and pots, amongst other things, and there is a huge amount of overlap. I wonder what other circularity will follow…

With my usual ability to ‘talk the leg off a chair’ I ran out of time to explore the rest of Deanna’s creative spaces. Another time perhaps. On my way out we did stop to look at a few of Deanna’s favourites on a shelf nearby. There were some tiny little bottles with a crackle glaze, her first handbuilt piece (a dragon), and in the corner, the star of her days as a pottery student. A tall, narrow necked, burnished vase made from terracotta in the gorgeous reds and blacks of a sawdust firing. Deanna said she made this at TAFE, fans fired it in a rubbish bin out the back, next to the train-line. She had to stand watch to make sure no sparks took flight. She smiles with pleasure when we talk about the amount of time spent burnishing the piece. I don’t think she’d ever part with it.

As I drive away the image of the gorgeous vase with its hours of burnishing and glowing colours, speaks to me of Deanna’s passion and dedication, and her mother’s phrase “if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well”.


You can find out more about Deanna and her endeavours at http://www.thinkinpictures.com.au. Or on the Treefern Potters website.treefernpotters.com.au

Tea with the Artists- An Afternoon with Robyn Burne

Robyn and I met at the Alcove Art Shop. She and I regularly have shifts on the same day so it seemed natural to arrange for our interview to take place there. Robyn brought some supplies and something to work on while we chatted and drank our tea. There is something very relaxing about chatting to someone, tea in hand, while they create.

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Our beverage was called “Harmony”. It is a herbal tea blend of organic cinnamon, lemon balm, rosehip, apples, cloves, ginger, and cardamom- manufactured by a company called “HUSK”. When I closed my eyes and took a deep breath it brought to mind the Middle East- fabulous aromas, tastes to make your mouth water, and the sound of a busy market. A few more deep breathes and I could understand why it was called “Harmony”. Robyn’s daughter keeps her ‘in tea’. It all started when Robyn’s son had open heart surgery and her daughter turned up with a packet of “Harmony” to help Robyn relax. Indeed it did help, and still does. Robyn told me that she loves this tea as it makes her feel relaxed and cared for.

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At about 9 years of age several things happened to Robyn. She remembers seeing a picture that someone had drawn and thinking “I want to do that”; she had a new art teacher (Mr. Wilson at Camberwell South Primary School)l who gave his students lots of freedom; and she won an award in an art exhibition. We ponder the significance of Mr Wilson, and wonder what it would be like for him to know his part in Robyn’s journey. We also talked about how important it is for children to be exposed to different ways of doing things, and how sometimes it is a simple, inadvertent comment or way of being that can make a big impact. Just by hearing or seeing something different creates the possibility of an alternative, and without that difference we would be at risk of becoming a homogenous society. We both shiver at the thought. I have an inkling that Robyn might be a little like Mr. Wilson to some of her students. She makes statements like “Paint is not dirty” and “there is no such thing as mistakes” and there’s ‘freedom in them thar words’. Indeed as we talk it becomes clear that Robyn very much enjoys working with children. She told me the story of a “Noah’s Ark” mural that she was asked to do for her local church. Robyn set out a rough plan but let the children’s thoughts and ideas flow into the work. We had a chuckle at the idea of Jesus with dreadlocks, and spots appearing where they really didn’t belong. Robyn then told me that to finish it off they tipped paint all over the concrete floor. Mr. Wilson might have a lot to answer for, and so will Robyn.

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This process of “seeing where things go” is a strong theme in Robyn’s work. She likes to crochet as she is able to ‘build’ anything she likes, and then she enjoys putting it into the washing machine and seeing what comes out. She developed this process when she had little children. Occasionally one of the woolen things would end up “a little smaller than it was when it went it”. Robyn kept these items and has turned them into various different bags, hats, broaches etc. Now she deliberately puts her woolens into the washing machine in order to make them into something else. For Robyn, the process really only just begins when she takes things out of the washing machine. What she does with it after the felting process is intriguing.

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This process of ‘ornamenting’ things developed as a response to one of her children. I love how children have such a huge impact on their parents- often in strange and unexpected ways. They were out shopping when her daughter saw a hat she liked. Robyn decided it was overpriced and not very well made. So, she told her daughter that she would make her hat that was far better than anything they could buy. And she did. A rainbow hat covered in sequins, beads, and textures. As she tells me this story I can see an impish little face with a grin as big and colourful as the rainbow hat on her head.

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Textile work is not Robyn’s first, or only, passion. Painting is. In particular, oil painting. Indeed Robyn tells me that she “paints with a smile on her face”. It’s a pity we are not in her studio so I could get a photo of that smile. I’m sure it would tell a thousand words. Robyn is drawn to the “buttery texture” of oil paints, and the smell of the linseed. Several images pop into my head simultaneously. A used palette of oil paints, thick and ‘buttery’, full of mixed colours, almost an artwork in themselves- telling the story of the artist’s journey; my close encounter with a Van Gogh painting- I was captivated by the texture- almost as if the sky was real; and my first set of oil paints- having coveted them for what felt like an eternity, getting them home, the smell as I opened them up, and then a sense of the ‘seriousness’ of oil paints. Oil paints demand that we slow down; demand that we give them time to do their thing, which in turn gives us time to go on a different journey. In a world full of rush and bustle, they are a lovely reminder to “take your time”.

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As I drove off in a hurry after the interview the ‘oil paint reminder’ resonated in my head. I took deep breathes. I pondered our discussion. And I promised myself that I would “take my time” more often.


You can find Robyn online at

Meet Your Maker- Maxine from Jolly Decent Cards

Maxine comes from the UK, where the culture of craft markets is, as she said, “very different”. She says she has fully embraced the “camaraderie” of the Melboure markets, and says she constantly admires the talent of her fellow stall holders.


Maxine makes 3 dimensional decoupage cards. Most of her cards have multiple layers, all cut by hand with manicure scissors. But the process starts long before that. Maxine searches for various images, and then creates a collage of these images on her computer. A typical picture might have 10 different images.  Only once she has got this right does she start to layer the picture.

imageimageimageIt all started 6-7 years ago when Maxine needed an operation. She told her boss she’d be back in 2 weeks, 3 months later she was going “stir crazy”, and her husband went out and bought some bits and bobs for her.  Maxine told me “I looked at decoupage and thought I don’t think I have the patience for that”. Then she tried it and now she doesn’t Just do ‘decoupage’, she does 3 dimensional decoupage!  She says the trick is to have a good pair of manicure scissors, and good magnifying glasses.


Her favourite thing is finding new pictures (that are flat), and then working out how to make them 3 dimensional- what to cut out, what to leave, and then how to accessorise them. She also likes that her pictures can come from all over the world.

You can contact Maxine via her facebook page

Or come and see her at the Maker’s Market, at the Abbotsford Convent on the third Sunday of the month



Take Some Time to Look Around


Have you ever gone for a walk and found yourself back home before you know it? No recollection of what you saw, what the air felt like on your face, or the scent of the rain washed world you’ve just walked through? Just a realisation that you have been somewhere physically, and another place entirely in your head. I started my walk like that today. Intent on the ‘doing’, and totally absorbed.

imageI’m not sure what made me stop, maybe it was the autumn leaves I’ve been admiring every day for the last 6 weeks and meaning to take a photo of; or the feeling of freedom as I left the house at my own pace, without children. But something did make me stop. And I’m glad it did. I realised that the sun was warm on my face, that the air was still and cool, and that there was a world of inspiring life going on around me. Flowers blooming, leaves uncurling, autumn colour fading, buds preparing, and I was about to miss it all. I didn’t. I stopped, breathed deeply, and felt grateful for the opportunity to reconnect with the natural world.


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  After a tough few days a little bit of play time helped to heal the soul. It reminded me that all moments pass- even the ones that feel like forever. 

I took my collection of surf polished pebbles and some polymer clay. As I kneaded it I thought of the many lessons I have learnt from my children- patience, the importance of fun, that moments do indeed pass, and that wrapping things is an intriguing process (to name a few). 
So I played. I wrapped. I took my time, and enjoyed being in moment.


A morning with Cathy Tillotson of Melting Moments



As I drove home from a lovely morning with Cathy Tillotson of Melting Moments, I felt privileged to have had an excuse to spend time with such an amazing and inspiring woman.

Cathy and I had arranged to meet in the Alcove Art Shop, at the Box Hill Community Arts Centre. I was there to be trained in the various policies and procedures for working in the shop, and Cathy was my mentor. What a lovely morning it was. Surrounded by the inspiring, unique and eye catching offerings of various artists associated with the shop, Cathy and I chatted about creative journeys; the development of handmade from survival to lifestyle to luxury; how we each came to be at the Alcove Art Shop; the ‘parenting’ of children; and the similarities between sending our children out into the world and sending our art pieces out into the world. As we talked Cathy’s face was alight and smiling. She clearly loves what she is doing.

Once the ‘business’ of my orientation had occurred, we got down to ‘real’ business: our interview.

Cathy maIMG_1557kes glass beads. She melts glass rods over a gas flame; exposes them to various amounts of oxygen to reveal different colours; then she anneals them in her kiln (this strengthens them). One bead can take up to an hour to make. Some have a metallic sheen, some a spiral of colour in the centre, and others have fabulous nobbles of colours on the outside. Her obvious skill in being able to manipulate her chosen medium is evidenced by her pieces in the shop.

The theme of this series of interviews is “Tea with the Artists”, so Cathy brought along her favourite hot beverage to share with me, Chai Latte. It is a sweet drink, almost a honey flavour, with a hint of cinnamon and star anise. It is perfect for “the evening, when everything is done for the day”. I have to agree.

In identifying the honey sweetness, Cathy explains that she likes honey, on toast. She also reveals that she loves the smell of bees wax, and often has a piece somewhere in the house- “My father was a bee keeper” she offers by way of explanation. As we talk further the theme of ‘honey’ is returned to. This time as part of the bead making process- Cathy uses it on etched beads, mixed with a little oil, to give them a glow. As we ponder this theme I am reminded of a pot I threw on the wheel only last night that someone said looked like “Winnie the Pooh’s hunny pot”. The circularity of life makes us both smile.

There is a similarity in Cathy’s creative journey and my own. We both made a decision to “just say ‘yes’ to whatever opportunities came up”. That is how we each came to the Alcove Art Shop. That is how we each came to be putting our creative ‘children’ out into the world (and thoroughly enjoying watching other people discover them- Cathy’s face lights up again as she remembers some favourite customers who make her day); we both come from families who made things, and we both work across different mediums. Indeed Cathy told me that she has a tub of wool, a tub of cross stitch, and a tub of card making things. This lead me to ask what else her cupboards contained. “Latch hook kits, craft books, parchment craft and tubs of supplies”, she is also exploring making pasta and bread. We didn’t even touch on the glass supplies!


Cathy saw a glass bead making course advertised about 15 years ago. She thought it sounded like fun: it was. She’s been having fun since- and you can tell by her face. As she talks about how she wraps silver wire around some of the glass to get little silver bursts in the beads; how she loves a particular glass because if you expose it to the right amount of oxygen it turns metallic; how she can pick the different glasses in an old chandelier; and shares the story of how the Venetian Glass Makers were both revered but also held captive on their island (so they couldn’t share their secrets); the love affair becomes apparent. She shares another story, this time of a Syrian Princess’s burial mound (circa 2400AD), that revealed a skeleton and her glass beads. This story encapsulates what is so appealing about glass- it’s enduring nature and colour. Cathy knows that her children will have her jewellery forever.

I asked Cathy what creative advice she would give. “When playing with hot glass wear tops with high necks made of natural fibre (they are fire retardant), also have burn gel handy and make sure the family pet is NOT under foot”. She also told me that she makes time for making, and time for playing, and that the mistakes can be the real fun- although she doesn’t recommend making the mistake of putting your hand in the flame, as it really does hurts.

As we continue to chat and I attempt to ensure that I’ve asked all my planned questions (such as what is your favourite glass?- “It’s too hard to choose, almost impossible, but Double Helix is one of them”; what is your latest project?- “Egyptian inspired beads”; and what inspires you?”- “1950’s and 1960’s kitsch jewellery- cherries and polka dots”) I am continually struck by the beads on Cathy’s necklace. They are clear with a pinky/ purple swirl around the centre and little spots of silver. They are truly beautiful, and made by an artisan who is both skilled and passionate about what she does.


I think I want to go and play with glass now, and I know just the person to talk to!


Welcome to a little inspiration


I take great delight in our world. Both the natural and the human. Everywhere I go I meet interesting people with stories to tell. Stories that send a ripple through my own life.  When I pause and look around me I find the beauty in the everyday life- an autumn leaf on the green grass; rain drops suspended from a twig; the sun streaming from behind the clouds. It takes time to notice, time to listen. I hope to share some of my time with you- my listening, my noticing, and probably my making as well.