A chef turned ceramicist - Manjula Walker, a Melbourne based artist

Gratitude Interview Melbourne

We have all seen the movie Ghost, and got mesmerised by the part where Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore had an intimate scene in creating a pot. (Please do us a favour and watch the film if you have yet seen the movie!). That is correct, pottery can be sexy; but really, people love it because it can be therapeutic.

In this fast-paced and digital heavy era we live in; we find it important to constantly remind you that self care is essential. Take some time to relax and step away from all the chaos. Recharge your mind with calming activities and help yourself to slow down a little. This is where pottery comes in the picture for some. It can assist in soothing your mind; but also let your creative self to be born again.

Manjula, a Melbourne based ceramist couldn’t agree more. She is a very hands on person, who is hopeless on a computer finds pottery very therapeutic. We are very grateful to have crossed path with her and explore this industry a little further.

Manjula, tell us more yourself and your baby, Sapphire Ceramics. What is the meaning behind it?

Sapphire Ceramics came from my birthstone, sapphire a precious gem. My ceramics are all so precious to me and it can be very temperamental. Much like a precious gem, I can make an amazing piece that I absolutely love, but it’s another story after putting it in the kiln. It can come out cracked, broken or warped, which is devastating.

We know that you used to be a mad chef; what skills are you able to utilise in your pottery business? Also, do you miss the hospitality industry?

It's amazing how many of my chef skills translate to pottery as well. Mixing of glazes is much like mixing ingredients. A little too much or too little of an ingredient can drastically change the end product! Rolling out the clay for slab work is very similar to rolling pastry. To avoid from drying too quickly and warping, you must be firm but gentle, quickly but carefully. 

I was a chef for 20 years and worked front of house for quite a few years too. I loved it, because really, you have to love the industry to remain in it for that long. But I don't miss it at all. I am so happy doing what makes me happy without any stress or constant pressure that the hospitality industry puts on you each and every day.

It is a very daunting process to start anything new. What would be your top five tips for anyone who is yet to give new things a try?

1) Just do it, you won’t know till you give it a go. It is always worth trying, either it will work or you will learn a valuable lesson!
2) Don’t take on too much. Something I have always done is always saying “yes". I have learned to say no to things rather take on more than I can handle or manage.
3) Utilise offers of help! Never be scared to take offers from friends and family. No matter what it is, say yes and appreciate people wanting to help you out
4) Keep things simple and don't over complicate your business. Have a clear view of your product, what you can achieve and where you want to head.
5) Start small, don't try to do too much too soon. Be patient, keep things manageable and allow your business to progress slowly to a positive direction.

You are more than just a small business owner; you teach pottery too! It is amazing how you manage your time; tell us the secret. What is your routine like?

I absolutely love teaching pottery! Being able to others create beautiful pieces by passing on my skills and knowledge is so rewarding. Clay is very therapeutic and most of our students come for the therapy side of working with clay. We all live in a such busy, stressful life nowadays, everyone should have a creative outlet!!! 

My days are extremely busy. As I teach morning and evening classes, that gives me the middle of the day to get my work done in the studio. I also squeeze all the other chores, walking my dog, going to the gym and cooking up a storm in that period too!

We do find the pottery business a challenging industry to be in; especially in a diverse city like Melbourne. What is it that kept you going to have the success today and how do you differentiate Sapphire Ceramics from the competitors?

Yes pottery and ceramics have had a massive resurgence in the last few years, which is fantastic! I find people are moving away from using plastics and wanting more natural products. As I said earlier, people live in a very busy life now and seek out creative activities to destress. They love the fact that they can hand make a bowl, cup or vase that has a purpose and function.

There are many ceramicists, especially around Melbourne. However, I find that the pottery community is very supportive and encouraging. I don't find it competitive at all. Everyone seems to have their own style and special touch. There are no two pots the same!

Lastly, there are so many different kinds of chefs; take Gordon Ramsay and Jamie Oliver as an example… Two incredible chefs with their own unique style. If Sapphire Ceramics was a chef; what kind of chef would it be and why?

What a great question! I've been thinking about this for a long time. If Sapphire Ceramics was a chef, I think it would be exactly like I was a chef! Always keep an open mind, do a bit of everything to keep my options open, but always have a soft spot for cakes, pastries and desserts!

Technology may be taking over the world, but we don’t let it forget how it makes us feel when we touch. There is just something about pottery that calms our souls. More importantly, it reminds us to be childlike again and go wild with our creations.

If Manjula’s story has awakened your inner creative soul, share it with your mates.
If you fell in love with Sapphire Ceramics’ products, follow her.

As Elizabeth Gilbert once said

“We don’t realise that somewhere within us all, there does exist a supreme self who is eternally at peace.”

Perhaps taking on a pottery class can guide you to find peace within yourself, especially in this busy world today. Who knows?

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