For someone who’s training is in medicine (and works part-time as a GP), it’s an amazing achievement to become an Etsy award finalist for what essentially began as a hobby in her backyard studio. Having always had a love of crafting earthenware clay, Bronwen Holding has perfected the art of making life-like ceramic flowers that are so beautiful and delicate they demand being on display centre-stage.
Come and meet Bronwen and find out about her love of clay …
You say on your Etsy site that you discovered clay about eight years ago at an evening pottery class. Tell us about your background and how you’ve ended up where you are today.
I am a mum to two boys, a part-time GP [in Perth, Western Australia] and full-time maker of clay flowers. I started pottery classes as a means to cope with life’s stresses – trying to complete my GP specialisation and being a new mum to my second child. I have always been crafty since I was very little. I used to have a craft stall at the local market when I was at university, selling my hand-sewn goods to make pocket money. The pottery hobby gradually evolved into a small business over the past two to three years, without any real intention of making it happen.
What’s the appeal of working with clay? And why specialise in flowers when you could make anything at all?
I always fancied experimenting with clay and the potter’s wheel was my first love. But there are only so many bowls one needs in one’s home, so I branched out into ceramic flower mosaic tiles, which eventually evolved into the 3D flower form. I love the clay medium, transforming essentially a hunk of wet mud into anything you want. It is so forgiving – if you mess up, you just mush it back together and start again. I love a challenge and after making many flower mosaic tiles, I began experimenting with how to make a 3D life-like flower. My first attempts were very amateurish and I have managed to perfect them (I think) but it took a few years. I’ve always been a gardener and particularly love the traditional messy English cottage garden with masses of colour, which is why I ventured into ceramic flowers. I can’t remember ever making a conscious decision to do so; it just sort of happened.
Your Protea flowers, in particular, are very detailed and look fiddly to make. Tell us about your creative process – how do you like to work, what inspires you?
Again, I have always loved all things fiddly. The Protea in particular were another challenge. I use pictures of flowers to get the detail required and while Protea have always been an ambition, they seemed too complex. I grew up in South Africa, so Protea have always been special to me. But once I had made a few, I found they weren’t as complex as I originally thought, so the sky’s the limit. My latest super fiddly flower is the Foxglove.
I have a small workshop off our garage at home. It is my own personal place. It is very quiet and cool, overlooking my garden and allows me to completely switch off and get immersed in clay. It is the only place where nothing is required of me and is, therefore, a haven.
What’s your favourite flower and why?
My favourite flower is the Delphinium. It is magnificent when in full bloom and when you examine it closely, it is remarkably detailed, with beautiful colouring and a gazillion tiny parts making up the whole.
Is there a flower on your wish-list to make?
I have a head exploding full of ideas but not enough time to try them all out sadly. My current idea is to make the perfect bunch of cottage garden flowers as a bouquet.
What are some of your important tools of trade?
Pottery requires very little in tools. I source my clay locally, have a long rolling pin to roll clay out with pacers to make it the correct thickness. I have accumulated a few hundred cookie type cutters, to make some of the flower/leaf shapes I make but also use a sharp craft blade to cut the clay free-form. Some of the flowers (eg lavender) are formed by hand, so I use cake decorating tools to help shape these. I have a set of stainless steel mini scissors which are extremely useful in cutting into wet clay for surface markings. They were my original scissors used at medical school for anatomy dissection class, which have been autoclaved since then! And then obviously, I couldn’t do any of this without my little kiln, paint brushes of all sizes and lots of glaze colours.
It’s not very cool, but I really like…
Listening to 80s music on Spotify in my workshop. Simply Red and the Petshop Boys get me in the ‘zone’.
Have you ever had a ‘who’d have thought’ moment?
I often have who’d have thought moments! My career path has taken a few turns over the years, but I would never have thought I’d be running a successful small business making ceramic flowers.
Thanks so much, Bronwen! You can find Bronwen’s beautiful wares on Etsy.