Handcrafted cups by Dawn Vachon - slab-built, stoneware clay with various stains and clear glaze.

Plates, bowls and cups by Dawn Vachon -  wheel thrown stoneware, straw coloured scalloped glaze.

Dawn Vachon in her Coburg home studio

We discovered Melbourne ceramicist Dawn Vachon via Instagram! True story. Instagram is our secret new research tool – watch out!  If you can avoid the ubiquitous cafe latte and pet pics there are some gems to be found! Kidding kidding… (kind of).

Anywho Dawn Vachon. What a talent! I have immense LOVE for those super sweet teacups up top (blue / pink / white)… there’s something special about those just slightly wonky shapes and joins. Also love the flecked stoneware clay and unexpected details – like handpainted polkadots and imprints hidden secretly on the underside of each vessel…cute!

Ms Vachon is Canada-born but Melbourne-based, and therefore has an extremely great accent. As you are reading her responses to our questions below, imagine a friendly Degrassi-esque twang for the full effect.

Hi Dawn! Tell us a little bit about yourself and your craft.

I graduated from Emily Carr University in Vancouver, Canada with a Bachelor of Visual Arts in 2008, and moved to Melbourne shortly after. Upon migrating to the Southern Hemisphere it took me a little while to reacquaint myself with the world of ceramics again. This ‘ceramic drought’ finally ended when I was invited to compete a one-year residency at the Incinerator Arts Complex in Moonee Ponds, which finished this time last year. Now I spend my days either making fruit pyramids and kale forests at an organic vegetable shop in QV markets, making glazes at Northcote Pottery, or working with clay in my home studio in Coburg.

What path did you take to become a ceramicist?

I was working as baker in my early twenties and loved being creative in this manner, but disliked that everything I made got eaten straight away! So I decided to go to art school to explore something that I could sink my teeth into that was less ‘delicious’, and ended up discovering ceramics.  My creative crisis was averted – I was able to produce work that was great to eat off, but not to actually eat!

Has the film Ghost has tainted the world of pottery and ceramics forever!? Can you give us an accurate insight into this world – what stages and processes are involved to create one of your incredible works?

The other day I heard someone ask “which clay did they use in Dirty Dancing?” Hilarious! I don’t have a kiln or a car, so my situation may differ from many others, in that I take my work to and from the kilns (at Northcote Pottery) with my bicycle and trailer.

I implement varied techniques that are dependent on what I am making at the time, but briefly here’s the processes involved when I construct serving platters: Wedge clay; center and throw clay on the wheel (this would be very tricky with Patrick Swayze’s hands in there!); allow the piece to dry out enough to flip it over (could take from one to several days, depending on the weather); trim up the bottom using sharp tools and the wheel; cut and smooth the top edge to create the ‘handles’; when dry, pack it onto the bike and take to the kilns; once fired, bring back to the studio; sand item smooth where necessary; dip into a big bucket of glaze (which I usually make from raw materials); bring it back to the kilns for a final firing; before finally bringing it home and sanding it again where necessary.

Dawn’s studio shelves
What are you experimenting with at the moment?

I’m currently experimenting with adding coloured stains to clay. This concept is not new, having been masterfully pioneered by ceramicists including David Pottinger, it’s just new to me. In my uni years I used to spend ages glazing each piece, waxing and inlaying multiple glazes. I still do a bit of that (for example the pieces with the speckled brown scalloped tops) but mostly I’ve been simplifying my glazing partially due to the rough way that I transport my work to the kilns. So in looking for new ways of adding colour and interest to my pieces while still keeping the glazing simple, I tried colouring the clay body itself and having each section of the cup be a different colour. And? I like it!

Dawn has a sweet though sparse little blog over here.  You can buy her beautiful pieces at SMALLPieces which is at Northcote Pottery (which is actually in Brunswick East, go figure).

She could do with a couple more stockists I reckon…!  Get on it people.

‘Cups with nubs’ by Dawn Vachon - wheel thrown with pinched nubs and multiple glazes.

Ceramics by Dawn Vachon.  Left – serving Platters, wheel thrown and altered, stoneware, clear glaze inside. Front / right – stoneware bowls with scalloped glaze and sweet details underneath (note Dawn’s signature stamped on the underside of each vessel with vintage letterpress pieces – ‘dAWn’ !)