Studio Visit

Chef Turned Ceramicist Claire Ellis’ Amazing, Experimental Practice

Melbourne-based ceramist Claire Ellis honed her skills while she was a junior sous-chef at internationally acclaimed restaurant, Attica.

After taking ceramics courses religiously on her days off, her affinity for experimenting translated from cooking to ceramics. Now she’s developed her own techniques and a closed-loop clay system to create her stoneware containers – with stunning coloured lids made from eggshells, glass bottles and plastic clay bags!

Learn more about her amazing process below!

Christina Karras

Claire Ellis’ impressive Loop Containers and Solace Containers! Photo – Annika Kafcaloudis

Her process starts with creating the wheel-thrown stoneware vessels. Photo – Annika Kafcaloudis

‘I think my affinity for experimentation comes from cooking, recipe development and creating new dishes. My chef experience has taught me that things take a lot of tweaking and a few tries before they’re just right and that you won’t know if an idea works until you try it,’ Claire says. Photo – Annika Kafcaloudis

‘Ceramic sink trap waste (aka sink sludge) is pretty unusual to use even though its full of potential,’ Claire says of her recycled material. Photo – Annika Kafcaloudis

She left Attica in 2021 to focus on ceramics full time. Photo – Annika Kafcaloudis

Claire washing plastic clay bags before she turns them into lids for her containers! Photo – Annika Kafcaloudis

She says the process was inspired by Douglas McMaster from the zero-waste restaurant Silo who made bread plates for the restaurant from recycled plastic. Photo – Annika Kafcaloudis

A close up of her melded materials before they become a lid! Photo – Annika Kafcaloudis

Claire’s passion for sustainability permeates across her entire process. ‘It’s a small kind of activism and a good place for me to channel difficult emotions about climate change.’ Photo – Annika Kafcaloudis

‘The way I make my lids is inspired by pulled candy and Nerikomi methods,’ Claire adds. Photo – Annika Kafcaloudis

The patterns are reminiscent of marble or onyx! Photo – Annika Kafcaloudis

‘My goal is to elevate the plastic and add an artistic quality to it,’ Claire notes. Photo – Annika Kafcaloudis

A swirling sea of colour. Photo – Annika Kafcaloudis

She’s also created a mix of sizes. Photo – Annika Kafcaloudis

Some feature glass at the bottom of the container. Photo – Annika Kafcaloudis

Anything old becomes new again in Claire’s practice.

Claire Ellis. Photo – Annika Kafcaloudis

The enchanting range! Photo – Annika Kafcaloudis

Christina Karras
18th of May 2022

Claire Ellis got her start as a ceramicist making custom tableware for Attica’s tasting menu, with encouragement from owner and chef Ben Shewry.

She had been working at the fine-dining restaurant as a junior sous-chef and pursing her love for ceramics on the side when she suggested the idea to make a crocodile skin textured plate for a new crocodile rib course.

She says Ben ‘let her give it a shot’, and later (after a successful first attempt) helped her set up a small studio inside Attica’s ‘plate room’ – where the collection of tableware not on the current menu was stored along with some equipment and ferments.

‘I found a piece of scrap wood to put on a small stainless bench, we had a 15 amp power point installed for a small used Tetlow kiln Ben found on Gumtree, we found new homes for everything on the built-in shelves and took a trip to the pottery supplies shop to stock the space with materials and tools,’ Claire explains. ‘It was lo-fi but it worked!’

She left Attica to focus on ceramics full time in 2021 and has since racked up a long list of impressive achievements, including two solo exhibitions, a feature in Melbourne Design Week 2022 and opening up her own online shop!

‘My focus on material is influenced by the way chefs start their menu planning based on what ingredients are seasonally available or need to be used up. I started planning my ceramics the same way, with what materials are available and need to be used to keep them out of landfill,’ she adds.

This approach has also helped the emerging ceramic artist generate a sustainable system that reduces her waste and contribution to landfill by utilising waste that already exists or that was created during her process and salvaging old, broken ceramics.

‘My recycling experiments started in the Attica studio with glass bottles and eggshells from the restaurant, which I’ve carried into my current work. I use the eggshells as the source of calcium in my glazes rather than the mined alternatives and I decorate the inside of my Solace Containers with pools of crackled recycled glass,’ Claire says.

‘Since starting ceramics full-time my focus moved to studio waste like plastic clay bags, which I turn into lids, and ceramic waste (i.e. failed pieces) that I crush and mix with sink trap waste to create a new material I use to make clocks.’

Claire’s clever new range of containers features lids inspired by pulled candy with a stunning stone-like quality to them, a result of her practice-driven thought that’s equal parts innovative, beautiful and practical!

Shop Claire Ellis’ ceramics online now here.

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