Our latest range, Terra, was created with the help of gritCERAMICS; a small ceramic studio owned and operated by solopreneur Leia in the Northern Rivers region. Leia is a talented powerhouse of artistry, and working with her was an illuminating experience. The results created were beyond our expectations, with pieces that are architectural in structure and artistic in design. It’s her eye for application in home design that made this partnership a pleasure.
We were able to sit down with her and pick her brain on everything from her ceramicist beginnings to her inspirations. Grab a cup of tea, and sip away as you read about Leia, her inspirational story, and how her path led to working with us at Marz Designs.
Let’s start at the beginning; What initially inspired you to become a ceramicist and what was it that led you to start your own business?
The origins of ‘inspiration’ really fascinate me. To inspire, to take or breathe in is the literal meaning. An intangible thought gets brought inward and becomes a part of who we are. Are these moments of insight part of a written plan or contract that we negotiate before we enter into this life? Because they are ideas that begin to shape who we are and the path of learning we take. Or can we say that it’s all chance? Who knows. But, all of a sudden we have this idea that we draw in, and that idea grows into something. It’s amazing that we are always planting seeds of interest, not all of them develop into a life-altering activity, but those that do we can trace back to a moment in time where we made a choice to engage.
At university, my dorm room window had a direct view of the school’s pottery studio. I used to distract myself from studies by watching the students throw on the wheel, and the fumes from the kilns firing were a familiar scent. After I graduated, I re-enrolled as alumni into the pottery course offered only to art majors. Instantly in love with the process, the alchemy, the challenge – I was hooked.
No matter where I worked in the snow, I always made sure to join an art centre to keep up the practice. I am a bit of a self-proclaimed introvert, and while I thrived off the adrenaline of the action sports lifestyle, I needed something to pull me back down from the extreme nature of that environment.
"Clay grounds me, and wheel throwing in general calls for complete presence. There is no other way – your hands need to listen to the finest of detail and one tiny wrong movement can destroy the shape. And this can happen at any stage of the process; potters forever dance in the space between action and surrender.”
You are originally from the US, when did you make the move to Australia and what made you choose the Northern Rivers region as your home?
Without going too deep into a very long story of my landing in Australia, let’s just say a unique series of events have unfolded in my life up to this point. A truly divine blend of beauty and tragedy. I would like to write an autobiography one day – sometimes looking back I find it hard to believe so much can be packed into just 36 years.
In the early 2000s, I went to the University of Vermont and received a bachelor’s degree in Exercise Science. Living in the mountains my entire life, it was only natural that snowboarding was a huge part of my existence. I launched headfirst into a career in the industry right out of University, and every moment of every day made me more and more confident that I was doing exactly the thing I was put on this planet to do. My deepest passion aligned with my work and because work was play, every day was full of positive energy and extreme levels of stoke. I quickly moved up the ladder. I was a sponsored rider, as well as involved with the research and development of the women’s market in both hard goods and soft goods. I was an event coordinator, team manager, and shop girl. I travelled the world with my snowboard, lived out of a suitcase and the “never summer” lifestyle was the perfect fit for this little gypsy shredder. In 2009, I was recruited to coach an elite-level all-girls freestyle comp team, the first of its kind at a private academy. It was a stepping stone to the US Olympic team and I am so proud to say some of my athletes have since made it all the way. Life was amazing, I was at the top of my game and living the ultimate dream.
Then, as the story goes, a freak accident in 2012 left me with a debilitating traumatic brain injury. I moved to Australia far away from the snow to begin the long road of recovery. As chance had it, I lived right next door to a woman, who was a master potter and was recovering from a serious stroke. We used to sit and drink tea, talk about clay and ponder life’s meaning, and although she wasn’t able to pot anymore, she convinced me to begin again. So I purchased a block of clay and it became my therapy.
I was given the gift of purpose at what truly was the lowest point in my life, I was able to light a little spark again. The gratitude that I have for that period is so immense, and it was the birth of gritCERAMICS.
Do you have any daily routines you do to boost your creativity or keep you grounded that you can share?
As a solo artist, alone time is an absolute luxury. I often work in silence – I love to be a witness the voices in my head (we all have them!), watching my mind & body’s habitual patterns, to really be an observer of my environment. I see my extreme sensitivity as a worthy trait, but with that, I often feel overstimulated and very much overwhelmed by the world around me. Sometimes I just feel that external sounds can clutter my personal creative flow and in this modern world, silence is something that is very hard to come by.
I am constantly on the pursuit of understanding life’s purpose and meaning – I have asked the ‘big’ questions since I was a small girl and never really seem satisfied with the answers. So the adventure continues in constantly observing and readjusting. After my accident, it became apparent that taking care of my physical body is a non-negotiable. We each have our own needs that need to be nurtured, and it is so important to tune in. Pottery is extremely physical and the days are very long. Luckily the minerals, working with the earth, the spiral nature of the wheel, fascination with the elements, science, alchemy, all keeps my feet on the ground. I have been both a student and teacher of yoga and meditation for a very long time and when I do fall out of regular practice, everything around me suffers.
What’s your workshop like?
After 3 years in a studio a little further up the Tweed Coast, I recently moved into a new space into my hometown of Pottsville, NSW (fitting…right?). I feel so blessed that I can walk to work along the beach and there are friendly, familiar faces from our little village community to greet all along the way. Real face-to-face human connection. It’s so potent and essential. I have shuffled things around in the new studio around a billion times since I arrived.
My space is so cosy. I could really live in it! There’s the sound of the waves and kookaburras, beautiful aromas coming from the natural medicine clinic next door, a rainforest vibe out the back, and I am just surrounded by beautiful people who are on the same page as me in terms of what is important in life. I do my best to keep it organised – when I need to get messy its okay, but it also feels great to clean up at the end of the day and know that everything is starting to have its place. Balancing multiple custom projects, classes, eCommerce, firing and production all at once is a huge challenge. I come face-to-face with stress daily, so the environment around me needs to be still and organised so I don’t get sucked into the vortex. I’m getting better at understanding what its really going to take to run a proper business and make grit a successful brand, and a huge part of that is really creating a zone that I wake up and look forward to coming into.
"Creativity does not always flow – while the spark is infinite, learning to tap in and call it in at an instant is where the true magic happens. It can be quite a challenge, especially when there are very tight deadlines and it’s with a very unpredictable medium."
What kind of environment do you try to create for your workshops & classes?
Along with potting, I am a yoga teacher. So I really strive to bring an element of mindfulness into my own practice so that I can share from personal experience. People come along thinking that they are just going to get messy on the wheel and before they know it we are deep in breathwork and a group meditation! I can’t help myself to merge these two passions, in my opinion, yogic philosophy and clay are a perfect fusion. The coach in me is strict, but I get so much out of sharing kindness and a soft heart, and watching the practice and skills unfold is extremely rewarding for me. Students come for all sorts of reasons, but 99% come for an element stress relief, and to do “something for themselves for once”. So it really is my responsibility to deliver on that – pottery has changed my life for the better and to gift that to someone else is my current dharma.
What’s the process for creating ceramics?
In how many words?!? This is a tricky one. I actually use a huge variety of techniques to get to the end result, but each process has dozens of steps and can take multiple weeks from start to finish. I crave variety, so learning new skills is essential to keep me motivated and to continue to push boundaries. Aside from a course I took over a decade ago, I’ve really just had to put in the time to learn the ins-and-outs as I go along. A great majority of the skills I have acquired have come from making mistakes; some of them quite major disasters! This is where ‘grit’ comes in. Perseverance, tenacity, personal strength. Every. Single. Day. Honestly, when something actually works the way that it is meant to, I go hunting for the thing that went wrong; it seems like successful outcomes are that rare of an occasion! It’s teaching me to soften my edges a bit too, and learn to let go. There is still a river of tears flowing past my studio though!
Jokes aside, it is this resilience that the customer is investing in, whether or not they realize it. It is the daily challenge we as humans have of just getting out of bed in the morning to keep on keepin’ on and face another day, despite all the suffering that surrounds us in the world.
This year I am starting to make more of an effort to celebrate the true wins and become really fascinated with the miracles that exist ordinary, everyday moments. Its like quantum science and fractals, this whole clay thing, the smaller and finer you go, the more that complexity and vast levels of awe unfold. In simple terms, we take mud and melt it in an element of fire that is hotter than the inside of a volcano and know that we will get a product on the other side. I mean, how crazy is that?
What are your go-to resources when seeking inspiration for new designs?
When you begin to train your mind to slow down and notice the details, literally every single thing the senses settle on is an inspiration. And nature, of course, is a forever a huge one for me.
I have spent the past few years digging into clients’ minds to facilitate bringing their vision to life, so there hasn’t been a lot of time to develop my own collections. I have so many ideas marinating and am excited to see which of them become a reality in this new chapter of gritCERAMCS.
Who are you most inspired by locally and internationally and why?
In the world of clay, I am forever in awe of the team at Gaya in Ubud, Bali. An Italian husband and wife team started with a dough mixer and a dream, and to see what they have created is really a superb model of what is possible. Malcolm Greenwood, one of my teachers, is an Australian master potter that I truly look up to and know I still have much to learn from. And in general, the Northern Rivers Region is just a fertile mecca for creative activity. You can’t help but be inspired everywhere you turn. Athletes and their discipline and hard daily grind towards greatness will forever inspire me, they are extraordinary people who push boundaries of human capability. And just regular people that have known the space of heartache and grief and loss. We have so much to learn from each other – we are really all we’ve got and need to step into the responsibility we have to be of service to each other. I am still navigating the process of self-identity and purpose, I am still putting back the pieces, rebuilding my brain and riding lines in a brand new direction.