Studio Visit - Wingnut & Co.
Wingnut & Co. were established in 2013 by Anna & Asuka in Melbourne, Australia. They blend inspirations including traditional Japanese ceramics and contemporary craftsmanship with a commitment to utilising natural and discarded materials. We visited their impressive studio space to find out more...
Can you tell us a bit about Wingnut & Co. and how it started?
We met helping each other out with our respective projects in the workshop of the Victorian College of the Arts in Melbourne. We graduated with a degree in Fine Arts in 2010 and continued our separate art practices. This lead Asuka to sign up for a short course in wheel-based ceramics. A friend then gave Asuka a potters wheel and from then on it was hard to get him off it. A 3-4 hour throwing session after work, in our then backyard shed, only ever felt like an hour and never enough.
Asuka was working full time as a furniture maker and I (Anna) was working as a picture framer. As we gained more knowledge about working with different materials and how a small creative business can operate successfully, we started to consider starting our own studio. Trips to visit family in Japan provided Asuka the opportunity to learn from a potter in Northern Kyushu. Asuka’s focus on pottery was unwavering and ceramics became central to our range when we launched Wingnut & Co. in 2013. We currently have a workshop and showroom in North Melbourne, where we make tableware, vases and planters. We work predominately with clay and timber. Asuka is the primary craftsperson and wheel based potter for Wingnut & Co.
What does the name Wingnut & Co. mean? Where did it come from?
Asuka has always been a collector of antique tools. Wingnuts (the hardware) are a part of his collections. We used to sift through old tool boxes at early morning markets, looking for distinctive Wingnuts. They remind him of trips to the hardware store as a kid and he has always had a fondness for their slightly odd and zoomorphic shape. We both appreciate them as a tool and how their design is a direct response to their purpose. They are simple, practical and satisfying to use. These are elements we have always wanted to reflect in the work that we make.
What does a typical day in the studio look like? Do you have a routine that you follow?
Keeping a strict routine as to what and how much we make is difficult, as drying time is significantly altered by temperature and humidity, and we have famously unpredictable weather in Melbourne. Timing is crucial with ceramics, but living above the studio and showroom gives us an advantage of flexible work hours. However, we do try to keep a reasonable schedule, as it does often happen that we get pulled back downstairs by some exciting development or disaster and end up working all hours.
On a weekday we like to be in the workshop by 8am. Typically, Asuka will be either throwing pots for orders or trimming pots formed the day before. He always tries to make at least a few pieces each day that are new ideas or individual pieces. I will be either working on the slab roller/ hand building or packing orders and admin work. On a non-firing day, we try to end the day by 7pm. We fire our kiln 2-3 times per week. We unpack a bisque load generally in the late afternoon, then glaze the pieces that night and reload the kiln ready to start the firing around 6 the following morning. Asuka likes to make at least one new test glaze every firing. An incredible amount of work and research goes into making and testing glazes. But trying glazes from old books and making up your own recipes is very rewarding. It means that each time we open the kiln there is something new to observe and analyse, which is always exciting regardless of their results.
You use a lot of discarded materials to make product, what is the most random item that you have re-used to make your product?
When we first started we were making fly swats from rubber/cork tile rejects from an industrial flooring company, which was a pretty strange place. The swats did work surprisingly well! But that was quite a random product made with an odd material, in hindsight.
How long does it take to make a piece, a Donguri for instance?
Despite being one of our smallest products, our Donguri are the most involved piece we make. They demand extra care from start to finish. Asuka firstly throws their ceramic body on the wheel while ensuring that the opening is perfectly round and that it doesn't warp as it dries. Once they are leather hard, their base is trimmed to shape. Dried pieces are then fired to 1000 degrees, glazed and fired again to 1280 degrees. They are then ready for their timber lids. Each piece has their opening measured with a calliper and then Asuka turns each lid from mostly American Oak timber off cuts supplied from Furniture Makers. The lid is then sanded and oiled twice with a natural oil/wax blend.
Where do you take inspiration from?
Museums and art galleries, ancient and antique pots and sherds, contemporary craftspeople and Ceramicists who share their discoveries and suffering, Japanese Pottery which reflects their food culture and seasonality, materiality derived from nature.
What is your favourite item that you've made?
Favourites appear periodically, sometimes it is an instant attraction straight from the kiln or an unexpected fondness for a piece, that gradually over time, makes its way upstairs into our home. Recently we made a new gloss green glaze - Wakaba. It’s not often that we are both completely happy with every aspect of a glaze or a piece. But we are so pleased with this new finish, how it looks and feels to drink from. We tested obsessively to achieve this seemingly simple glaze. One of its final tests was on a small sake cup, which when we pulled it out from the kiln, we just knew - yep that’s it.
What do you think the future holds for craft and ceramics in Australia?
Australians are increasingly investing in locally made products. Handcrafted ceramics are experiencing a boom, as people are developing a further appreciation and understanding (via platforms like Instagram) of the processes involved in how an everyday object (cup, bowl, plate etc) is made. This has allowed a young community of makers to feel supported in establishing their practices. It's an exciting time of growth that will undoubtedly develop and influence a maturing Australian style over the next decade and we feel lucky to be a part of it.
Future plans for Wingnut & Co?
We recently acquired the components for a woodfired kiln, which we are really excited about building. We are currently in Japan to catch up with a few potters and get some advice around constructing it on a friend’s property in Country Victoria later this year.
Shop Wingnut & Co. below