Chela Edmunds aka Takeawei grew up on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, and spent time living in various spots up and down the east coast of Australia before studying textile design in Melbourne. After this, she moved to New York, intent on finding a job working for a large fashion house. She slept on friends’ couches and attended job interviews every day, and her tenacity paid off – Chela landed a job working as a textile designer in Manhattan, which she held for five years.
It was in New York that Chela stumbled across ceramics. In what sounds like a sweet rom com movie scene, Chela walked passed a little ceramics studio in Brooklyn on her way home from work one night. She still thinks of this as one of the most romantic scenes, with people throwing pots in the window, bottles of wine on the bench and music in the background. ‘It made me think what have I been doing on the computer all day? I need to go put my hands in some clay and have a good time!’ says Chela. She started classes, and quickly became hooked.
These days Chela’s life couldn’t be more different from those intense five years working in New York. Chela works for herself, creating ceramic vessels in her North Melbourne studio, under the name Takeawei. She works intuitively, rarely sketching a pattern or plan before she starts each piece. Though this practice is quite a change of pace from her early career, Chela still has an seriously impressive work ethic, making around 20-40 pots per day. She regularly collaborates with other local creatives, and still dabbles in textile design when inspiration strikes – she has designed a print for the Spring / Summer 2015 range of local label Dress Up and is excited to see it on the garments later this year!
We love Chela’s distinctive vessels with their bold patterns and glazes – you can check them out at stockists including Happy Valley, Kuwaii, a Quirk of Fate and Mr Kitly in Melbourne, Koskela and Incu in Sydney, Nook in Brisbane and many more national stockists listed here. Of course, they’re also available in Chela’s online shop!
Tell us a little bit about yourself – what did you study and what path led you to what you’re doing today?
I have always loved making things. As a kid I would get mum to buy me every ’70s craft book she found at the op shop, and work my way through from dream catchers to bedazzling jackets.
When I was 20 I moved to Melbourne and studied textile design at RMIT TAFE. I worked for a few years in product development after that. The pay was terrible but the perks were buying trips to NY, London, Paris and Tokyo. I hadn’t been overseas much and I thought it was all very glamorous. After a few years I became disillusioned with the amount of copy ‘design’ that went with the job, buying samples overseas and researching whatever was popular to present to clients only to have them ask for exact replicas. I went back to uni, completing a degree in textile design and moved to New York. It was constant job interviews and applications for over a month while sleeping on a friend’s couch but it turned out for the best and I landed a good job in the end. I stayed in NY for 5 years working as a textile designer in fashion. I designed patterns for DKNY, Vera Wang and Siki Im, amongst other great labels.
It was in this time that I became interested in ceramics. I never thought of ceramics as being a career, it was simply something I came across and one thing led to another.
How did you originally become involved with ceramics? What drew you to it initially?
On my way home from work I passed a ceramics studio called Choplet. It is a little place in Brooklyn with shop front windows into the studio and a little gallery attached. I still think it is one of the most romantic scenes, people throwing pots in the window at night with bottles of wine on the bench and music in the background. It just made me think what have I been doing on the computer all day? I need to go put my hands in some clay and have a good time! I started classes and became hooked pretty quickly, until I was spending every spare moment there.
How would you describe the style of the work you make?
My work is a reflection of things that interest me, nature, the ocean, fashion, food! I think that my textile design practice and ceramics are closely linked. They both allow me to explore ideas in form, colour and texture. I often leave an area of raw clay showing, with bright glazes and decorative techniques to highlight the natural and manmade aspects of my work. Ultimately in my functional ware I like to create fun, useful pieces that will become someones favourite mug or a memorable gift.
Can you give us a little insight into your creative process? Do you work alone, collaborate or outsource any significant aspects of your practice?
I work in a very hands on way, exploring ideas through working with the materials. I very rarely sketch an idea, usually only to show someone else what I am talking about, or if I am away from the studio and don’t want to forget an idea.
I work alone for the most part, all the studio work, website, wholesale, there are quite a few different areas! I have a friend that does my graphic design and I recently saw a bookkeeper which has helped. I do outsource the soy candles now, they are made in Melbourne and I don’t think I would do them if they weren’t.
Throwing pots all day on the wheel can be very solitary so I love to step out of that mind frame and collaborate with other artists if I love their work, and we have a common vision. I am currently working on a collaborative project with ceramicist Lyndon Sendeckyj. It is in the very early stages but Lyndon is basically throwing large organic forms and I will be covering them in pattern. I’m looking forward to seeing where the process leads us.
What does a typical day at work involve for you?
Last year I was working ridiculously long hours and thankfully my typical day has changed since then. I now give myself weekends, and a fairly regular 8-10 hour days. I check emails over breakfast at home before riding my bike to the studio. I prepare the clay into balls for throwing on the wheel, usually 20-40 pots per day. As these are drying I move onto any pieces that need trimming or carving. I might also mix some glazes or pack shop and website orders. I dedicate two whole days to glazing and packing the kiln, which I fire over the weekend. Of course there is always something to do, the book work and website updates are usually a late night every few days.
Which other Australian designers, artists or creative people are you loving at the moment?
Jeweller Melanie Rice makes bold bangles and hoop earrings in candy coloured enamel and copper that have me addicted.
Sunday, small batch fashion products designed and made in Melbourne.
Tessy King works in ceramics and enamel metals to create surreal landscapes that are playful, peaceful and bring me a lot of joy.
Can you list for your top resources across any media that you turn to when you’re in a need of a bolt of creative inspiration?
I feel like my inspiration is more of a technical nerd out but here goes!
1. Ceramic Arts Daily – great tips from other artists, its like sharing a studio with hundreds off potters.
2. Pinterest – I look here for inspiration on styling, merchandising, checking out glaze recipes and generally fawning over artworks.
3. Northcote Pottery – Technical tip sheets, the best part is they stock everything that you need to do the tutorials.
4. YouTube – build a kiln, fix a wheel, digging your own clay? There is nothing you cant learn on YouTube.
5. Instagram – It’s such an inspiration to see people from all over the world connect in a shared interest of creative pursuits and a camera.
What is your proudest career achievement to date?
Making the move from a corporate job to working for myself.
What would be your dream creative project?
I want to build a little house, handmade everything, including the kiln out the back and a studio that overlooks the beach.
What are you looking forward to?
Dress Up SS15/16, Melbourne fashion designer Stephanie Downey makes such beautiful pieces and I have designed a print for this collection and I can’t wait to see it on the garments.
I’m also looking forward to speaking at the Craft to Consumer series, Selling Online in April. I’m so happy to be able to share my experiences with other craft based businesses and you can find more info at craft.
Your favourite Melbourne neighbourhood and why?
I love Brunswick, it has a laid back vibe with great restaurants, groceries and cafes. I am just around the corner from Merri creek and CERES, which is like a little bit of country in the city.
What and where was the last great meal you had in Melbourne?
I love the Kale and quinoa salad at Sun Moth Canteen on Niagara Lane, it may not sound like the most complex dish but because I eat out all the time I like well prepared food that is simple, healthy and tastes great. When I’m feeling a little less saintly they have a great selection of wines from small batch wine makers too.
Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?
Ideally at Point Lonsdale back beach surfing. If the tide is low, I will be exploring the rock pools which are truly magical.
Melbourne’s best kept secret?
The Japanese bath house in Collingwood.