It knows the hands that curl around it; shaping and moulding; guiding it from lump to ladle and clump to cup.
‘If you’re in a bad mood they’ll all turn out wrong,’ she says. ‘You have to slow down and take your time. You can’t rush it.’
Lily is clearly in a good mood; under her hands, mud turns into mugs, chunky clumps into cute wee plant pots.
I watch practised hands whack a new lump onto the wheel and am swallowed by the hypnotic swirl of the clay as it morphs into coffee cups that will transform your average jo’ into something seriously special.
I’m at Lil’ Ceramics and under the spell of Lily Weeds – the creative mastermind behind the range of bespoke ceramics in Grey Lynn. I’ve popped in for a sneaky look and was able to chat with her while she sat at her wheel, pumping out keep cups.
She slaps a new one onto the flat metal plate and as the wheel begins to turn, I get a look-see into how one winds up making pots and plates for a living.
‘I went to art school but never quite found my niche. I didn’t like painting or photography that much, but really loved sculpture. But at that point, pottery was seen as a fuddy duddy, old people’s thing to do. Near the end of my degree, I saw lots of my art school friends go on the dole or be a teacher and I didn’t want that kind of situation for myself so I went and got an office job.’
The lump of clay is now rising from the wheel. I marvel at how fluid it is – almost one continual movement from start to finish. Unlike painting, which feels like an accumulation of strokes, pottery appears as one continual transformative motion. I could blink and miss it. She dips her hands in an ice cream container of muddy grey water and depresses the clay with her thumb. It looks more like a bowl than the ten or so cups on the shelf beside her. But then, like magic, the clay follows her hands up off the plate and becomes a perfectly imperfect coffee cup.
It’s about now that I remember I’m meant to be listening to her talk and try to look like I’m making notes. Reporter style.
‘Then I had kids and life took on a different pace. I found some pottery night classes and I got stuck on it. I just kept going and got kind of addicted. I watched youtube and talked to other potters for extra tips and then found out the place where I originally learned was looking for a tutor. So I signed on and, like with anything, just got better with all the practise. But I was making so much and pretty soon I wanted my own wheel, which turned into a kiln, then the kiln was taking up space in my house and our shelves were filled with pottery.’
The keep cup is done. With a thin piece of wire, she slices it off the wheel and it goes on the shelf beside its buddies, ready to be roasted.
The kiln looks like a giant safe, not the oven in the ground I was expecting but I’m told the indoor variety is much easier to control than its wood fired cousin. However, that doesn’t mean pottery is predictable.
‘The only thing that’s certain in pottery is that it won’t be what you think. Stuff explodes or cracks and you have to start again. You have to maintain a bit of distance from what you make so that if it breaks or doesn’t work, it’s not heart breaking. And you always make extra- especially if it’s for a restaurant order.’
Cafés and eateries are among her main clients these days, though she does a lot of commissions for locals and one offs. I ask how people picked up on what she was making.
‘Mainly Instagram and art fairs. Word of mouth is another big one. It just happens, really, when you’re doing something you love, people will always be attracted to that. You just have to persevere.’
And Lily has certainly done that. From class to kitchen to owning her own store, Lily has found profession from passion and an ancient process that infuses every vessel with a special kiss of magic. They’re a bit wonky and quirky but that is all part of their charm. They honour the ground they come from by allowing the imperfections found in nature to remain.
‘That’s what I love about pottery,’ she says, whacking another slab of clay onto her wheel. ‘You’re using natural materials, there’s nothing synthetic and it hasn’t been fiddled with or made in a lab. It’s just a raw natural material and you’re moulding it into something functional.’
So is her work art or practical object?
Apparently it’s both. Art is water, mud, and motion. Form made functional.
‘I hate art that just sits on the wall, things that you like but can never interact with. People spend thousands on stuff like that and then it just collects dust. I love that with pottery, it’s useful so you’re interacting with art every day.’
In the corner, an alarm on her phone goes off signalling the start of her afternoon rush to kindy. The transition from potter to mum is seamless and natural- like her creation.
Every piece is unique, some imprinted with a thumb, others with curious spiral patterns, and some have a marbled appearance thanks to a combination of different clays. It’s interesting and it’s all different. And certainly not fuddy duddy.