21 September 2023

Have you seen this man collecting river water and sand? His name's Clyde and he makes mugs

| Travis Radford
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Clyde Arnott.

Clyde Arnott has visited the rivers around Uriarra Village in northwestern Canberra since he was a child. Photo: Travis Radford.

Clyde Arnott regularly collects water and sand from a river near his childhood home on the northwestern outskirts of Canberra – but this is just where the story begins.

A self-taught potter, Clyde combines the natural river materials and memories from his childhood with clay to handcraft mugs stocked in cafes across the capital.

If you’ve enjoyed a hot drink at INTRA in Campbell or Braddon, ARC in the city, SOME CAFE in Collector or soon Coffee Collective in Kingston, you’ve likely held one of Clyde’s creations.

“It’s the same if you’re having a cup of coffee. I’m sure you’d prefer it to be made by a person who’s thinking about it and putting time and effort into it rather than a machine pouring it out at a petrol station,” Clyde explains.

“When you’re going to a cafe with handmade pieces, every coffee you have or whatever drink you’re having is going to be drunk out of a cup that’s a little different, so it’s always a new experience.”

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He remembers being inspired to give pottery a go after handling cups in his day job as a barista, but Clyde wanted to add his own personal touch.

“I grew up in Weston Creek, which is the closest suburb [to Uriarra Village], and all my family still live there. When I was younger, we came out here swimming in the summer all the time,” he says.

“I still like to do that as much as possible. It’s quite nostalgic.” But nowadays, Clyde also comes armed with several empty milk bottles to transport the sand, water and memories he imbues in his pottery.

“I like the idea of incorporating the land we’re living on into my work. I think it gives it a special touch and connects the pieces to the land,” he explains.

“It keeps you mindful of place and where you are, and so for me, it’s worth coming out here to get the water … and sometimes the sand as well. I’ll mix it into the clay and that gives it more texture and body, makes it a bit more rustic and it feels like it’s more from the earth.”

While Clyde’s creative process (which he explains in the video above) is now well-tuned, he says when he first picked up pottery two years ago, it was a completely different story.

“I had never done it before,” he remembers.

“I was watching pottery videos on YouTube and found it really peaceful and relaxing and thought it looked like a good thing to do, so I just went in the deep end, bought a wheel and figured out how to do it just by watching YouTube videos and a family friend give me a couple of tips.

“I just made sure I did it every day and figured it out as best as I could, probably doing a lot of things incorrectly and not by the book.”

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Clyde’s first batch of cups were “very wonky and asymmetrical”, but he says eventually, his frustration and trial and error turned to pride.

His advice for others thinking of pottery? “What I tell everyone when they’re starting off is that a lot of pottery is about the feel for it,” he says.

“You could tell someone what to do all day, and it’s not until they get an actual feel for working with it that they can do what you need to do. It just takes time.”

To find out more about Clyde Arnott’s ceramics, visit his website or Instagram page.

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