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Hayden Youlley

Creative People

7th March, 2014
Lucy Feagins
Friday 7th March 2014


A selection of beautiful pieces from the Sydney studio of Hayden Youlley.  Photo – Phu Tang for The Design Files.


Pieces from the Paper Series White in the Sydney studio of Hayden Youlley.  Photo – Phu Tang for The Design Files.


Pieces from the Paper Series Coloured Rim in the Sydney studio of Hayden Youlley.  Photo – Phu Tang for The Design Files.


Hayden in the Sydney studio.  Photo – Phu Tang for The Design Files.

It’s always polite to credit your sources, so I’ll tell you when I first discovered Sydney based ceramicist Hayden Youlley. I received the most beautiful beeswax candle, handpoured in one of Hayden’s exquisite handmade vessels, from fashion designer Lee Mathews and her staff just before Christmas. We had recently profiled Lee’s amazing home in Sydney, and I guess I somehow very fortuitously ended up on her Christmas list – lucky! The candle was part of an exclusive Christmas collaboration for Lee Matthews, and though we didn’t have any space to share his work at the time, I popped Hayden’s name away in TDF’s proverbial filing cabinet for future reference. And so, a couple of months and one beautiful photoshoot later (thanks Phu!), here we are, finally sharing a studio visit and profile on the beautiful work of Hayden Youlley!

After finishing high school, Hayden spent time working as a house painter before choosing to undertake a bachelor of design at The College of Fine Arts in Sydney. Things really started to click in his second year, when he found the ceramics department. Inspired by the freedom and immediacy of this new medium, Hayden was hooked, and he hasn’t looked back.

Hayden’s refined, delicate vessels, crafted with meticulous attention to detail, speak of his personal design philosophy – that good design relies on realising function with aesthetic integrity, and without unnecessary complications. 'I believe that design has the power to make everyday reality easier, more enjoyable and more beautiful’ he explains below - ‘I try to create each piece with that purpose in mind’.

With assistance from an ArtStart grant in 2013, Hayden has been able to build his passion into a profitable little business. From a shared ceramics studio in Marrickville in Sydney’s inner west, Hayden works solo to produce his popular range of ceramic vessels and lighting.  His work is now stocked at over twenty stockists Australia wide.

Tell us a little bit about your background – did you always want to be a ceramicist? What did you study, and what led you to what you’re doing now?

Having experimented unsuccessfully with visual art and woodwork at high school, I left school, like many teenagers, feeling disillusioned about pursuing a creative career, unsure about the next phase of my life and with no idea what to do with my creative energy.

I spent a few years working as a house painter before I felt an urge to be more creative. I wanted a challenge. I enrolled into a bridging course at UNSW, and considered a Bachelor of Science, before settling on a Bachelor of Design.

Things really clicked when I found ceramics in second year. It was the freedom to create in the moment, and the ability to explore whole ideas from start to finish with my hands that captured my attention. The endless possibilities malleable clay offered to explore notions of surface, scale and volume really sparked my interest.

Once I started working with clay, I realised straight away that it appealed not only to my fascination with materials and process, but also to my sense of independence as a designer. It’s the only medium I have worked with that I can use to make a product by doing each step in the process myself – from design and prototype to realising and manufacturing. For me, the process of designing, prototyping and producing ceramics, both sculptural and functional, involves the right mix of instant satisfaction, challenge, surprise, problem solving and beauty to keep me interested in exploring all its possibilities. That’s the fanciest way I have found to say that it is a really fun and rewarding way to get your hands dirty and throw mud around all day.


A collection of pieces and glazes in the Sydney studio of Hayden Youlley.  Photo – Phu Tang for The Design Files.
How would you describe your design aesthetic, and what influences your work?

My work is clean, refined, delicate and minimal. I believe that design has the power to make everyday reality easier, more enjoyable and more beautiful. I try to create each piece with that purpose in mind.

My Paper series is about combining the binaries of hard/soft, fragile/strong light/heavy, and using raw porcelain to create a tactile experience and a functional piece. The random distribution of creases in the paper surface of the objects creates complex patterns of light, shade and texture that disturb the smooth surrounds and invite study and touch.

The Tessellate series was inspired by an exploration of relationships and connections. It was designed as set of functional porcelain bowls that explore the intricate and unique grouped relationships created by their playful arrangement. Tessellate is a series of geometric modular shapes able to be assembled, repeated, clustered and connected.

In terms of conceptual direction, I’m intrigued by the way some of our greatest personal strengths can be found only by delving into, understanding and overcoming some of our most vulnerable personality flaws. I explore this by distilling the memories of some the defining points in my life down to their essence, and projecting them into objects created through a process of destruction or rough manipulation, while always maintaining a recognisable form and function.

I also look for this kind of inspiration in everyday textures and forms that often discarded or ignored. I’m fascinated by the transformation of seemingly mundane elements into something remarkable, and I think that goes back to watching my mother make amazingly beautiful quilts out of scrap bits of fabric.


Tesselate series by Hayden Youlley. Photo by Amanda Pryor.
Can you give us a little insight into your creative process? Do you work alone, collaborate or outsource any significant aspects of your practice?

When I’m prototyping my process starts with surrounding myself with images, videos, songs, random objects, trash, twigs, just about anything that I can see beauty in, that could turn into a new series or artwork. It gets pretty messy, but I have never thought of the creative process as a particularly tidy or organised business.

One thing that I really love about working with clay is that you need little else besides clay, your hands and a kiln to create something – I only use a few tools around the studio. My favourite is a small piece of yellow plastic called a mud tool. This thing is genius. It saves me countless hours of mind numbing sanding, and I use it to hand polish each piece to perfection.

I share my workspace with three other brilliant ceramicists in a small space. We get along really well and enjoy exchanging tips and ideas. Apart from that, while in the studio I mostly work alone. I still do all production myself by hand, I don’t outsource any design or production, but I have a wonderfully supportive family and friends that lend a hand with marketing, event planning, bookkeeping and any other hurdles I come up against when I’m running short of time. I wouldn’t be able to do what I do without their support.


Hayden Youlley pieces fresh out of the kiln ready for stamping. Photo by Phu Tang for The Design Files.


Hayden Youlley's tools of the trade in pieces from the Paper Series Coloured . Photo by Phu Tang for The Design Files.
What does a typical day at work involve for you?

My day usually starts with opening a clean fresh bucket of clay, and ends once a significant amount of that clay has ended up on the floor!

The bulk of my time is spent slipcasting pieces to fill orders. Slipcasting is a technique used for the accurate reproduction of ceramic work, and especially for shapes not easily made on a wheel. A liquid clay body slip is poured into plaster molds and the finished piece is formed once the plaster has absorbed enough liquid from the slip contained within leaving a hardened clay skin around the interior of the mold. The remaining slip is poured off for later use. The cast piece needs to dry over night and then this is usually when the cleaning begins.

If I’ve made pieces the day before, then I’ll need to hand polish them all with a sponge and burnishing tool, then stamp them with my logo and dry them out to get them ready to be fired in the kiln. When they come out of the kiln, I give them a quick sand and paint some glaze on so they can be fired a second time.  After their second firing  they come out smooth, shiny, finished and ready to be filled with food.


Hayden Youlley's in his Sydney based Studio. Photo by Phu Tang for The Design Files.
Can you list for us 5 resources across any media that you turn to regularly for creative inspiration?

1. I love Grand Designs. The host, Kevin McCloud, can do no wrong in my opinion.

2. The Journal of Australian Ceramics is a great source of creative inspiration, information and opinion. It’s at the vanguard of Australian ceramics and a great resource for practitioners.

3. Books! All kinds of books. My mother read to me as a child and it helped me develop a very vivid imagination.

4. Instagram. I’m on there all the time when I should be doing other things in the studio. I like browsing but I can also spend ages just scouring through specific hashtags like #handmade #tableware, #streetart and #fineporcelaingoods.

5. Last, but certainly not the least is the world around me. In particular cracks, crevices, generally overlooked or discarded areas and items are creative gold and provide great insight into life and how it’s shaped by the choices we make.

Which other local artists, designers or creative people are you liking at the moment?

Thea Fortmann, jeweller – I’ve been friends with Thea since we studied together at COFA. I’ve never met someone as talented, fearless and capable as Thea. While we were studying, she would always run headlong into every project, to develop a new set of skills and find random materials – she would totally disappear only to reemerge just before the due date with the most beautiful and unique objects that everyone fell in love with. She now has her own jewelry studio and a stunning range.

Sarah O’Sullivan, ceramic artist – We first met while working part-time at a furniture store in Surry Hills and both went on to finish studying and start careers in ceramics. We reconnected while looking for studio space and have been working in close proximity ever since. Sarah also utilises slipcasting techniques. She creates beautiful one-off pieces of art by pushing the medium in incredibly creative ways using multi-coloured layering, carving and amazing illustrations.

What is your proudest career achievement to date?

Being awarded the ArtStart grant by the Australia Council has been massive highlight. The ArtStart program has been created to give financial assistance to recent arts and design graduates to help them make the transition from studying to having a professional career in the arts. That support allowed me to try new ways of marketing that were otherwise financially prohibitive, which pushed my work into new markets and raised my profile.

I finished in 2013, and my business has grown noticeably and substantially as a result. The ArtsStart grant helped me maintain and expand my business into its second year, and I’m really proud of how far the business has come in that time. Being able to pour all of my time and energy into developing my techniques and creativity into a career has been really fulfilling. I always knew I would enjoy working for myself in a creative endeavour, but I didn’t realise that I could also thrive on the organised chaos that running a small business involves.


Newer pieces from Hayden Youlley's Tesselation collection. Photo by Amanda Pryor.
What would be your dream project?

My dream would be to collaborate with Gelato Messina to design and make ceramic ice cream, sundae and milkshake cups. Hopefully this would require spending a lot of time taste-testing their product… for research.

What are you looking forward to?

I look forward to travelling! I’d love to go to New York, London, Berlin and Barcelona sometime soon.


A collection of pieces and glazes in the kiln of Hayden Youlley's Sydney studio. Photo – Phu Tang for The Design Files.


Your favourite Sydney neighbourhood and why?

Bronte/Tamarama – my two favourite beaches in Sydney and where I learnt to surf. It’s a beautiful place to be, and although they are crowded city beaches I have always felt relaxed and comfortable there.

Where do you shop in Sydney for the tools of your trade?

I go to Kerrie Lowe Gallery, a ceramic gallery in Newtown, with a great little selection of quality tools for making things out of clay. Conveniently, I pop next door to Barnes, a casting supplies shop, for plaster and everything I need for mold making.

Where / what was the last great meal you ate in Sydney?

Amazing Tapas, cocktails and churros at Foley Lane.

Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?

I used to be up at sunrise and down to the amazing beach breaks around Sydney’s East and North to catch the best morning winds, but now you’ll more likely find me at a cafés in Redfern, near where I live. My surfing is now all done in the afternoons.

Sydney’s best kept secret?

Don’t tell anyone but just in front of the 13th green of at the NSW private golf course there is a perfect left-hand reef break that works only on certain south swells. One of the few places left in Sydney where you can still get a wave to yourself.


Details from Hayden Youlley's Sydney studio. Photo – Phu Tang for The Design Files.

The Design Files acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the lands on which we work, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. We pay our respects to Elders past and present.

First Nations artists, designers, makers, and creative business owners are encouraged to submit their projects for coverage on The Design Files. Please email