The business of ceramic art

Matilda (Tilly) Foley - A 19 year old Ceramics Artist from the Mornington Peninsula. Photo Elise Unmack.
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At 19, Mornington Peninsula-based artist, Matilda Foley, has a business, making her own homewares out of ceramics. Elise Unmack reports.

Fleetwood Mac blasting through a stereo, Matilda Foley sings along with Stevie Nicks as she creates beautiful pieces of ceramic art. Plastic overalls protecting her clothes from the quiet chaos of her studio that is the embodiment of artistic passion. Her hands are covered in clay, rough from the hours she spends shaping clay on her pottery wheel. She works cautiously, thinning out what is soon to be a vase. Her blonde hair is tied messily behind her ears, and her eyebrows are knitted together, the concentration on her face is clear, but the movement of her hands is effortless, unconscious and natural. She balances her foot on the peddle as she sends the wheel spinning and continues to shape the unique vase, until, satisfied, she lifts it gently off of her pottery wheel and places it carefully in her small kiln, ready to be fired and glazed, looking content with her new creation.

From her garage ceramics studio at her home in McCrae, Matilda, 19, affectionately known as Tilly, has built a business from the ground up — at an age where most are still figuring out what they want to do in their life. Her natural ability for pottery and ceramics caught her friends and family by surprise, Her long time boyfriend, Aidan Marchesani, watched her hone her skills and develop them into a sustainable business while he sat back “pretty much amazed and envious of how easily she developed her craft, she has such a natural talent”. These skills allowed her to turn what was once a weekend hobby and an artistic outlet into a profitable business for Tilly, who sells her work to art lovers and home decorators alike.

Growing up on the Mornington Peninsula, a hub for creative culture and art, Tilly was constantly surrounded by local artists. She spent her weekends as a child perusing art and creative markets with her mum, who works as a primary school art teacher, and was always on the hunt for unique pieces to fill their home with beauty.” She believes that this constant exposure to art, and inspiring local artists, combined with her need for an artistic outlet brought her to where she is today, and the support and guidance of her mum allowed her skills to develop so completely.

“She’s always been creative, always looking for opportunities to make things and work with her hands,” says Aidan, who has a career in construction labouring and, like Tilly, enjoys working with his hands and the craftsmanship that comes with building. He continues,“growing up with an art teacher for a mum really allowed her to explore all of her creative outlets and experiment with anything she desired”. Tilly believes that her love for art was propelled and nurtured by her high school, where she completed art and creative based subjects for three out of four of her VCE subjects in year 12.

Tilly working in her at home Ceramics Studio. Photo Elise Unmack.

At 16, with the encouragement of her mum, Tilly undertook three classes at a local art studio/school in Dromana and fell in love. From there she began planning and several months on, she purchased a second hand pottery wheel and her first block of clay and created her first ceramic piece. Now, three years on, Matilda works in the studio for hours everyday creating both commissioned pieces and her own creations that are “a product of whatever she feels during a free flowing session [in the studio].” In those three years, she has slowly built a functional work space, complete with a pottery wheel, a small kiln, tens of varying glazes for her creations and all the necessary tools to create her unique items.

Like many people her age, Tilly has a continuous social media presence with a sizeable following, and she uses this to her advantage. Since beginning her business, she has used Instagram to market and sell her handmade pieces, as well as communicate and advertise to interested buyers and stockists. Recently, one store, local to the Mornington Peninsula has agreed to stock her ceramic crockery and home decor, which was “a very exciting step forward for [her] business.” She says this has allowed her potential customer base to grow, and it “really established her as an artist.”

Earlier in 2019, Tilly celebrated another “big success in her career,” when she was featured in the May edition of House & Garden Magazine Australia. The exposure in this publication allowed her business to reach a much larger audience then ever before and gave her the boost she needed to take her venture to the next level. Following the excitement from her magazine feature, she, alongside multiple other young artists living on the Peninsula, held a highly successful ‘art symposium’ at Tilly’s home in McCrae. This opportunity allowed all of the attending artists to market, advertise and sell their handmade products to potential customers that they might have otherwise been able to reach.

“I hope that my business will continue to grow and develop in the same way that it has this year over the coming years,” says TillyDespite the success she has had recently, she plans on entering into a Fine Arts degree in the coming years to assist her in furthering her business ventures and potentially expanding into other arts in the future.