The Tasmanians [Sarah Webb]

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First in The Tasmanians project is Sarah Webb of Sea Soul Studio, who handcrafts beautiful ceramics using two different methods in her Lewisham studio with her golden lab puppy, Tilba.

N A M E
Sarah / Sea Soul Studio

M A K E S
Ceramic homewares and jewellery.

F I N D   S A R A H   H E R E
Website, Facebook, Instagram, and at Salamanca Market most weekends.

A B O U T   T H E   T A S M A N I A N S
The Tasmanians is a personal project I’m working on throughout 2016. It’s an opportunity to celebrate Tasmanians who work independently on progressive ideas. Each Tasmanian is featured in a series of chronologically captured behind-the-scenes images and an insightful interview.

See all of the Tasmanians in this project, here.

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A B O V E
Sarah’s tools of the trade.

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…I am self taught, and learning every day.

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…there are not enough hours in the day to make all the things I am imagining.

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This is my Sea Soul Studio life and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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T H A N K   Y O U
Thanks so much to Sarah and Tilba for allowing me to come into your studio with my camera and curiosity. It means so much to me to get my personal project off to a beautiful start with your story.

Five insights from Sarah…

1 :   T H E   B E G I N I N G
I’ve dabbled in many creative media and pursuits since I was a child; as a teen I made quite decent pocket money selling polymer jewellery and macrame bracelets on my parent’s stall at Salamanca Market.  Being a chef allowed me that creative outlet in my work but, all things have a season, and about 8 years ago I slowly cut back days in the kitchen and increased days in the studio. Actually, I didn’t have a studio back then, it was the spare room, and I worked off one little desk and had to fire my pieces in other people’s kilns.
I undertook two adult education courses in hand building ceramics, other than that I am self taught, and learning every day. The thing with ceramics is even though I may have an idea and can build it, there are so many factors and stages the piece must go through to become a finished product, many do not make it. Sometimes years later I may revisit a design and with more experience under my belt, nut out some of it’s problems; this is extremely satisfying. The former is extremely frustrating! When people ask me about my products and what it takes to make them I always say that the more I know about ceramics, the more I realise how little I know!

2 :   I N S P I R A T I O N 
The tag line of my business is “She lived in an old cottage by the sea”, and its true, I do! Thorne Cottage was built around 1823 by a sergeant from the First Fleet for his family, for a time it was also an inn where the soldiers travelling to and from Port Arthur would call in for a beverage. Sometimes I marvel at our worn down floorboards and marble fireplace and wonder what stories they could tell!  We find lots of amazing relics in our garden, particularly china fragments of which a lot are blue and white; many of these have sparked new designs in jewellery and homewares.  I also create items that I think one needs, living in a cottage such as ours: beautiful jugs (which double as vases), hand-built white platters, little pinch bowls for salt and sauces and of course spoons. Lots and lots of spoons!
As much as I am a homebody, travel nourishes my soul and fuels the creative fire in a completely different way. Hitting the road in our camper van named Madeline is pure joy and I always take a notebook for sketching, jotting random thoughts, pressing leaves and flowers. After a few months I am itching to get home and back in to the studio; a new collection of jewellery pieces is often born in this way and they encapsulate the freedom and gypsy wanderlust lifestyle that I live periodically.
Luckily I have never suffered a creative block, it’s like a waterfall that I can’t turn off, sometimes keeping me awake at night! I only lament that there are not enough hours in the day to make all the things I am imagining.
3 :   P R O C E S S
I use a variety of methods to create my range of wares, many people are surprised to learn that none of them are made on a potter’s wheel.  All pieces begin life either as a block of raw clay or bag of fine, dry clay that I make into slip. Mixing the slip is actually one of my least favourite jobs as it’s like mixing a giant batch of pancake batter in a 44 gallon drum with a paddle on an electric drill. It also has to be quite precise and must be weighed, measured, remixed, allowed to mature, sieved and measured again before I can use it. I have a fantastic collection of 1970’s slip cast molds and I also create some of my own.
All other items are hand-built, the thing I really love: sculpting, rolling, pinching, texturing, bringing a form to life from a lump of mud. Once made the pieces must dry slowly to avoid cracking and are then fired to “bisque”, everything receives a sanding, the fine porcelain jewellery gets a real going over with varying grades of really fine sandpaper to achieve a super smooth tactile finish.  Then its time to glaze, decorate and reload the kiln; some pieces will undergo a third firing if I have an extra special effect such as gold lustre that I want to add.
4 :   B A L A N C E
Working with clay is very physical and I get RSI-ouchy-wrist-tendon problems if I overdo it, so it’s a weird sort of blessing as it forces me to down tools and do something else after a few hours. Of course, being a one woman show means that I do all my own photography, website maintenance, paperwork, packaging etc. there’s always lots to do. I enjoy the solitude of working in my own rhythm, the flexibility of deciding the morning would be better spent paddle boarding, time in my garden or playing with my new labrador puppy, Tilba.
Most weekends I attend Salamanca Market or another small boutique market around the state and I have developed a lovely network of creative friends. The encouragement, support and camaraderie not only in the physical sense but also online, across social media inspired me, along with photographer Natalie Mendham to instigate the Tasmanian Creative Table. We invite a group of creatives/makers/producers, whose products we feel compliment each other, to gather in a beautiful location, eat, drink and enjoy each other’s company. At the same time we style the space, create vignettes to showcase people’s products and photograph it all! It’s been exciting creating something bigger than your own thing and I’m looking forward to seeing how this develops in the future.
5 :   W O R K S P A C E
My studio occupies 3/4 of a double garage, my husband is clinging precariously and stubbornly to the last quadrant! We have just purchased an adjacent property which has a dear little shed that I am hoping to convert to my office/showroom, as I often get requests from people wanting to visit my studio.
Our home, Thorne Cottage, is on a large double block across the road from the water; sometimes of a morning I’ll make my coffee in a travel cup and walk down to the jetty with Tilba, it’s so peaceful and on rare occasions there are dolphins.  Once I’m settled into “work” and Tilba is tucked into her bed with a pig’s ear I’ll open the windows, put on some music and before I know it it’s lunchtime. Friends can pop in for coffee unannounced as it’s a fair bet that I’ll be there, elderly neighbours hang bags of treats over the fence for the dog or the chooks (and send me a text saying “fence mail”!) and in school holidays my nieces like to make little pinch bowls for their Mum’s jewellery, bless. This is my Sea Soul Studio life and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Except maybe that last quarter of the shed!