Growing up on farming country across New South Wales, Catherine Field had a lot of fun making mud pies in dams and creeks. Years later, after gaining a marketing degree, working in tourism, television and publishing then having a family, Catherine started pottery as a hobby and quickly realised she had found her passion.
Functional simplicity is at the heart of every piece Catherine creates under her brand, Splendid Wren Ceramics. Using traditional hand-building techniques from a range of stoneware clays, the focus is on earthy glazes, natural finishes and a distinct style that has attracted gallery attention and a loyal following.
Here Catherine discusses how she started out, where she finds inspiration and the daily practices that help ensure her small business runs efficiently.
Interview by Lisa Doust
Where did you learn to make ceramics?
I took up pottery as a hobby when my boys were little. I initially studied at Bondi Pavilion Pottery Studio, then at Hazelhurst Arts Centre in Gymea, because my teacher also taught there.
Since then I’ve done other courses, including a glaze course at Hornsby TAFE and mould-making at Pine Street Creative Arts Centre. I was about 18 months into that journey when I partnered with my first stockist.
How did you start your business?
Splendid Wren Ceramics started as a way to sell some of my work to fund my growing passion for learning about and making things in clay, and it grew from there. Once I found my studio space at Sydney’s Claypool, I was able to grow the business to make more orders and commissions and invite people into workshops in my space.
How did you come up with your business name?
I remember brainstorming name ideas and writing lists of options. I definitely considered using my own name but decided I wanted to honour my late mother in some way. I called my business Splendid Wren Ceramics because the little blue wren was Mum’s favourite bird. When I was a Girl Guide and Mum was a Guide Leader, she was known as ‘Blue Wren’.
My mother was a very creative woman, always making wonderful things with her hands and working in various mediums. I feel that she would be very proud if she could see what I am doing now.
Where do you show and sell your ceramics?
I sell directly to customers on my website and via a select few wholesalers, such as the Australian Design Centre and the DEA Store.
I’ve loved being part of the Australian Country Table exhibition at Michael Reid Murrurundi and the Cup Runneth Over exhibition at Michael Reid Clay/Northern Beaches in 2021, and Art of the Garden at Michael Reid Murrurundi in 2022.
There are a couple of markets I like to do every year, and I love it when customers come back to add to their collection.
What are you most inspired by, and what keeps you motivated?
I take inspiration from so many places – out in nature, in fashion and from art, architecture and interiors. I’m always thinking of shapes and finishes I can create. I love working with clay – it’s really meditative. Every kiln opening after a glaze firing really is exciting, as is seeing how clients respond to my work.
I’ve found it motivating to have my work featured in several publications, including Australian Country Style, Gourmet Traveller, Belle Magazine, Inside Out Magazine, The Weekend Australian, Australian House & Garden, Real Living and Condé Nast Traveller.
A big highlight was when my plate made the cover of Donna Hay’s Weeklight cookbook, and I’ve really loved it when amazing artists such as Melanie Vugich and Kate Vella have included my work in their paintings – that’s motivating!
What is the most challenging aspect of running your small business, and do you have any daily practices that make things run more smoothly?
Making ceramics is very physical, which is one of the challenges. I like to be very organised in my work and love setting up systems to streamline the making, particularly when I have a big order. I write lists every day and sketch ideas, which I often refer back to when I’m creating.
I also do everything I can in my work to minimise waste and be as sustainable as possible – I use locally produced materials, recycle and reuse clay and use recycled materials when I send packages.
How often do you run workshops, and what do students learn?
I have a regular Wednesday workshop in my Sydney studio and run weekend workshops on demand. I also love going into companies and running workshops for staff and clients. In addition, I run a two-hour introduction to pinch potting class and four-week classes where I teach pinch potting, coiling and slab building, then glazing. They’re always lots of fun!
Any advice for ceramic artists who would love to run their own business?
Just get started in some small way… Try selling your work on platforms like Etsy before you build your own website. Consider selling your work at a market to get to meet customers in person and see how they respond to your work. And, once a week, do something that scares you – make a phone call to a potential stockist or contact a gallery you’d love to be exhibiting in. You won’t know if don’t try.
I would also recommend prioritising client loyalty by focusing on excellent customer service. Building strong, lasting relationships with my clients is important to me, and I’m committed to exceeding their expectations. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of having a returning customer!