Michelle Young-Hares had never been to a hot place before she arrived in Canberra for a three-month artist residency at the Watson Potters’ Society. She felt the first weekend was a scorcher – it was 26 degrees.
The closest Young-Hares had been to a warm climate was opening the pottery kiln in her ceramic studio in Scotland. That has all changed now that she has lived through our extreme summer heatwave, where on some days Canberra was the hottest place on Earth.
“I haven’t needed most of the clothes I brought,” she said. “I just couldn’t imagine packing for a long time and not needing a cardigan even once.”
In Scotland, and in Canberra, this artist makes work that is based in nature. Fantastical forms are inspired by spiky seed pods and luscious leaf shapes. “Plant forms really excite me. All that potential life enclosed in a tiny, dry seed pod. It is amazing really that a tiny, black seed can explode into greenery. I was so excited to come here and see the plants. Everywhere I look there is something quite inspiring!”
Despite the crazy temperatures during her time in Canberra, she’s gone on daily walks to find new forms in nature. She has then used those forms to make dozens of whimsical pots, cups, teapots and sculptural forms.
“I have realised you need to start work early in the heat”, she says. “And the clay dries out very fast, so you can get a piece made, turned and dried in a day. That is unheard of to me. My studio in Scotland is quite damp, and things take weeks and weeks to dry out.”
Churning out ceramics has been Michelle Young-Hares’ daily bread for many years. “I work fast and I am used to working a long day, seven days a week to make a living,” she says.
“At home, I’ve been working away on a bit of a treadmill making pieces for shows and galleries. My studio is rural, away from transport, and I’ve been doing the school run with my daughter for years, which has just finished, so this residency away from home really came at the right time for me.
“It has been so very freeing to just make work and explore ideas and look forward. I am trying to challenge myself, and work faster and even leave some finger-marks in the clay as I go. It is wonderful to have a fresh start and fresh ideas.”
She has made an impressive amount of work in just a few months, but Young-Hares has squeezed in time to explore Canberra too and found the locals very friendly. “Potters do speak the same language of ceramics, the world over,” she says. “But actually, everyone I’ve met in Canberra has been wonderful and so helpful.”
She has even been pleased with Canberra’s buses. “I think they are amazing – you can get anywhere with google maps and the bus – even almost to Pine Island!”
Sadly the three-month residency is almost complete, but Young-Hares is leaving a large amount of ceramic work in Canberra. She will donate a large piece to the Watson Potters’ Society for their garden, and leave enough work for an exhibition to be held in March.
As an artist who is inspired by nature, our bush capital has provided a wealth of material. “I’m just amazed at how many different shapes of gum leaves there are,” Young-Hares says. “Everything is so different. All of these new influences will come out in my work when I go home too.”