Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Nelson's Column

This is a sad day for Bison as we are losing our fantastic Sydney Manager, Sarah Nelson. Sarah has been with me for 8 years and has seen the changes to our small design business up close and personal. She has been instrumental in helping me open our Sydney store and is known and respected by all who have dropped by to visit us. She is also the Queen of 'paper magic' and has created the most beautiful displays with a fusion of ceramic pieces and her lush origami forms. 

During the difficult early days of setting up Sydney Sarah would always be there, latte in hand, to give me helpful guidance on layout and product direction. Her wicked sense of humour and unerring eye for detail meant we always had a great deal to talk about! We wish her the best with her future and know that all of our customers and friends will miss her.

Photo: David Plummer. Sarah 2009. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Strand Ephemera

Sometimes preconceptions about a place can be so misleading as to make you feel foolish. I must admit that has been my reaction since exploring parts of Northern Queensland. Far from the cartoonish caricatures presented by shows like 60 Minutes, the people have a diverse arts and foodie community. Townsville has been one of the best kept secrets Australia has to offer. Apart from the occasional level 5 cyclone (Yasi) it has an amazing climate (except the wet season Dec-Feb) and views across the Coral Sea to Magnetic and Palm Island. 

Just as Sydney has it's annual Sculpture by the Sea Festival, Townsville has an event called "Ephemera".  Installations are dotted along a lengthy coastal promenade with the Girringun Artists providing the most visually arresting grouping of the event. Made by a collective of artists " Bagu Jiman " comprises ceramic forms decorated with weaving materials and metal. The Girringun community has a long history of weaving as part of their artistic tradition

Their work is shown and collected at galleries around Australia and to me incorporates the best of Indigenous figurative works with a nod to contemporary materials and colours. 

Photos: David Plummer

Monday, September 26, 2011

Texture in Nature #2

Taking our theme from yesterday's post I thought we'd look at some more images which highlight the subtlety and beauty inherent in nature. As this should be referencing texture I'll leave the images to you to examine. The interesting thing I draw from them is the visual power of repetition. Nature allows incredible diversity in the way things are displayed or formed. This principle is also applied by merchandisers in-store. We are naturally drawn to objects where the same pattern or profile/colour is stacked or in rows. 

Detail of palm frond
A palm tree can also give us a completely different, yet no less beautiful, example of repetition of form. Simply look at the trunk of the same tree to see another pattern hard at work. This also goes back to my core tenet that simplicity and elegant forms are often hidden by the 'everyday' nature of their function. (Such as this palm tree in a public park!)

Sometimes we can also overlook the power of small objects occurring in nature...simply because of their scale. The colour palette of lichen on a rock, indentations inside sand-burnished seashells, or even discarded cicada cocoons. All serve a practical purpose but each and every one of these shapes is not obvious to us on account of their scale. Perspective...dear readers... serves more than one purpose!

Moss in Tropical Arboretum
Photos: David Plummer

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Texture in Nature

I'm very fortunate to have a great photographer as my partner. While my shots are fine for general snapshots David has a great eye for composition and framing. He's also aware of my tendency to look for patterns or motifs in the everyday. These shots were taken in and around Townsville and tropical surrounds. The top image reminds me of the pattern made by blood vessels or water near a river delta.

The second photo is actually a tight shot of some moss-like vegetation but the colour and density of the plants give it an almost topographical feel. Our last image is probably my favourite. Lush colours and a contrasting sky allow the leaves to 'really pop' as they say in fashion circles! Again it's the finer details of the leaves highlighted with warm sunlight which energises this picture. I'm going to blow these up to become posters for home...tomorrow I'll share several more with you.

Images by David Plummer

Friday, September 23, 2011

Casa Hyder. San Miguel de Allende

Recently I spent time with a wonderful friend and her family at her Aunt's Holiday Villa in San Miguel de Allende. This beautiful setting is a UNESCO World Heritage listed town north of Mexico City. In high summer it's a balmy 24 - 26 degrees and the domes of the Baroque Cathedral stand proud in the night sky. Apart from the fact that we had loads of guests and family to share this with it's a truly remarkable location.

The Casa Hyder was originally a series of houses purchased and rebuilt by Elton and Martha Hyder. They started this process in 1959 and now it covers several city blocks in the centre of the town. Martha was a serious collector and this home is a testament to her vision of preserving Mexican art and history.

Vogue Australia did a shoot in San Miguel this winter. If they'd seen this house they would have never been short of locations. It balances this incredible richness of colour with a sensibility that seems completely unaffected. I went back to Australia with an entirely different insight on how tones can be layered or blocked together. I thought I'd simply share a few images of this very special place as it had a big impact on me personally as well as professionally.

All images courtesy of David Plummer

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

It's Getting Haute in Here!

I know this is another fashion video but I think it translates so many aspects of great design and fuses them with the theatre of couture. Marc Jacobs for Louis Vuitton has been a stalwart of the label for numerous years now. His tailoring is razor sharp and he manages every season to bring a different epoch to the fore. To have a budget like that of LVMH would be mind-blowingly amazing but I think I'd probably struggle to achieve the same impact with ceramics!

His use of powerful music, along with a forties sensibility, gives the whole production an edge of modern glamour. I think shows such as these stand out so much because of the mass-offerings in stores around the world. Although Vuitton caters to a top-end clientele it still shows the inherent value in a well-edited collection. This premise actually applies to all stores...not just fashion chains, where beautiful forms are obscured and underwhelmed by poor merchandising. We'll save that analysis for another day...enjoy!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Hello Melbourne!

Every time I go back to Melbourne I make a bee line for the assorted Laneways in the CBD. There's something really inviting, even 'grounding' about them, which invites your gaze as you view their eclectic offerings. The great thing about the Laneways, other than the fact that they put some individuality back into retail, is that they support so many emerging designers. Sure, people are renting these spaces but they attract a large number of unique businesses who collectively help Melbourne with it's reputation for innovation.

The roofed arcade where my Melbourne Bison store resides (Howey Place) is one such location. It has a smattering of chain brands but these are overshadowed by people like fashion designer Nevenka, Swedish Bookbinder, and soon an exciting culinary addition!!!! I must admit it's great to go down and walk in on a cold night and have a glass of red wine in Solarino next to my store. I think it's actually the appeal of a village lifestyle, and the relationships you build with people in your neighbourhood, which makes it feel so welcoming. If you ever are in town go and take a leisurely walk through the Block Arcade and look at the architecture. It's well worth it.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Swept Away

The Sorcerer's Apprentice. The broom army and Mickey Mouse
Unlike a particular movie of the same name (directed by a newcomer called Madonna) I'd like to talk a little about brooms. This ubiquitous everyday item cleans the cobwebs from our eaves; the lawn clippings from our footpaths, and the dust piles fresh from our renovations. It crosses cultural and geographic boundaries without exception and lasts for an eternity despite being made from straw. It has featured in still-life paintings and advertisements throughout the globe...particularly when celebrating the happiness that a clean home and domestic bliss offers. Hogwarts wouldn't be the same without them and Samantha would have no mode of transport if it wasn't for this humble utilitarian workhorse.

How to dress while cleaning your entry vestibule.
Something many of us overlook is the beauty of such simplicity. There's something 'honest' about this object and how they keep our most private world clean and orderly. The traditional methods of binding the broom together, some involving antiquated skills, allows the value of this humble piece of home life to be more fully appreciated. I should know... I just used mine to clean the path before the fluff of Spring blows through my yard like clouds of tawny cotton.

Brooms as art?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Breaking the Mold

Oil flask molds banded and drying prior to use

One of the joys of making ceramic vessels is that you are not restricted to only one form of manufacturing. During the fourteen years Bison has been in Canberra we have utilized three main production methods. We have thrown many of our pieces individually, used a hydraulic press for our flatware, and now are creating a new slip casting division. Generally you can throw objects on the wheel when they are simple round forms. Pressing is done to give consistency and strength to objects which are stacked such as plates. Slip casting is generally utilised as a means of producing forms which have irregular profiles or attachments. This would include such shapes as oval or rectangular plates, jugs and teapots, or objects such as candlesticks or lidded forms. 

Slip casting involves the use of professionally crafted plaster molds. We pour liquid clay, the same body as we use for throwing on the wheel, into the molds and allow them to form. After they have attained the correct thickness we trim the excess off and then open the molds and remove the cast forms. Once they have had some time to become firmer we then turn them on the wheel and form or carve spouts by hand.  We prefer to use two or three piece molds as they offer greater quality in terms of the shapes they produce. We also ensure that the weight and finish of each piece is checked before allowing them to progress to the glazing/firing stage. 

The above image illustrates new holds banded for pouring. I'll show some samples of poured pieces in an upcoming post. Image: Brian Tunks

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Eye of the Beholder

Linda Evangelista for Barney's New York 1991-1992 by Steven Meisel. 
Advertising and editorial are two very different creatures. One is the tool of marketers (or business owners) seeking to promote a brand or product. The other is the reflection of current design and taste through the eyes of stylists and/or editors. I thought this evening I'd pick three advertisements which I have always found either elegant, directional, or simply visually arresting. Interestingly two of the three hark from the 1990's and the third is from 2011. As a designer I look for elements in images. By this I mean colour, objects and their placement, and the 'intent' of the framing. I know that quite often I find a picture appealing but it's only when I dissect the components that I realise the focus and line of vision are what draw you in.

In the Barney's campaign it's primarily the shot on the left with Evangelista and the butterflies which I love. There's a direct freshness with this image and the butterfly on her nose has the potential for childlike exuberance. At the same time it's a very simple shot but incredibly unaffected.

Campaign featuring Monica Bellucci for Dolce & Gabbana. Meisel 1992
This image is pure va-va-voom! It's La Dolce Vita meets mafioso. It's a strong shot with a woman seemingly in control, aware that all of the attention (including the camera) is focused on her. It's also a surprisingly innocent expression on her face...considering how she's placed.

This final shot is by Jardan Furniture from their 2011 product range. I really admire their design aesthetic (and they are one of the few companies which actually produce their range in Australia!) and their use of bold colour is fantastic. Even the chaotic arrangement of the pieces isn't jarring. Over the next month I'll start working on some interesting campaigns myself...along with the fiercely gifted Melinda Ashton-Turner. Watch this space!

Sunday, September 11, 2011


After watching the non-stop coverage of the 10th anniversary of September 11th I thought it would be good just to draw breath and reflect. The sense of sadness and loss for so many people on that day is truly heartbreaking. The consequences this has wrought around the world are too many to mention. What I do know is that this event directly or indirectly changed the way we all live. I felt that posting about something humorous would be inappropriate and that just for tonight you are all excused. Go and make yourself a cup of hot chocolate, cuddle your significant other (pet is also fine), and collectively count our blessings. 


Saturday, September 10, 2011

Industrial Evolution

I spent Friday evening with two incredibly talented friends and their daughter in Sydney. They, along with my long-suffering partner, have caused me to rethink my future plans. I am in the process of instigating huge changes in both my collection and personal direction. While it's undoubtedly rewarding to work closely with my studio it can detract from my creative input. The long and the short of it means I'll be spending a lot more time evolving Bison and really getting the opportunity to enjoy this process. I have been a long-time secret e-stylist...collecting pieces (and elements) which to me contribute to the integrity of an image.

I thought for today's post I'd pick a few objects and place them together in a shoot based around a workbench and some vintage and contemporary tools. Imagination is a wonderful gift, so when I describe how I'd place the pieces together just humour me and politely agree. (Joke!) Firstly I thought we'd start with a rustic long table with the appropriately faded wall behind it. Amber bottles give it a simple charm which we'll exploit as we go on. 

Next we'll insert a vintage oil can. I'd probably place it to the far right of the amber bottles.

Finally I think we need a tool box. One which appears modern but could have a slightly retro reference. This could be placed on an angle next to the stool (to the right)...or further under the table. 

I think these colours would really pop (to use a fashion term) and would work with the slightly 'old masters' feel that I love about this composition. Watch this space as shortly I'll be posting some images I'll be working on together with my talented friends.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Vintage Glass Insulators

Glass has always been one of my favourite media. It's translucency and texture can work in tandem to make mundane objects appear really beautiful. It strikes me as odd that there's such a fascination by some photographers for assemblages of detritus from beaches and riverbeds. I prefer even more obscure pieces such as industrial tools and rolls of rusted wire to give a sense of nature reclaiming some of the materials we have taken to produce objects. If you look at domes on buildings in Europe you'll quite often note that they can be covered with a green patina of verdigris. This oxidation of the copper gives us the sense that time is smoothing down the impact of our handiwork. Maybe it's natures way of showing who's the boss!

Back to glass...I used to see glass insulators on the top of telegraph poles in rural NSW. You'd watch them pass by as you lay on the rear seat of your parents car willing yourself to finally arrive at the next town. Ours were predominantly white but I have since discovered that in the USA there's a plethora of colours to choose from. If you troll the dark recesses of Etsy (or simply search under glass insulators) you'll see how diverse these relics of our technology are. Yes, the light shining through them is beautiful. Yes, the colours look enticing. My question to you is what would you use them for (other than bookends) in your home? I'd be interested to hear your thoughts.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Swing Wing

Once upon a decade (namely the 1960's) some genius invented the children's torture device known as the 'Swing Wing'. Apart from causing long-term cranial displacement and permanent dizziness, this device looked more at home in a psych ward than on the head of your infant! In fact, it has more in common with shock therapy than as a means of entertainment. Add voltage and play! As I was born at the end of 1964 I can but give thanks to the almighty that I lived in the country. The fact that we were restricted from watching television meant that we were protected from the evils of the 'Swing Wing'. 

I was alerted to this homage to cinematic excellence by the talented Vicky. Vicky works with us at Bison and has a wicked sense of humour. The Gruen Transfer was the medium for this discovery and for that we are eternally (or should that read..infernally?) grateful. If you shake while watching this video it appears a lot less nauseating. R rating applies!

Monday, September 5, 2011

My Own Private Floriade

One of a series of groupings of colour-blocked hyacinths in my garden
For those of us living under a rock the inescapable scent of Spring is upon us. The first clue is the wafting cloud of Daphne which cloaks the garden in a fragrance more enduring than the finest perfume. Then the camellias come to life with flashes of white and pink, along with the traditional red of the sasanqua. Next appears the hyacinths with their thick heavy heads which seem to open almost over night. They represent to me the real coming of Spring. They also have a significance for me in that they open on around September 1st (my late father's birthday). Their scent and vivid colours remind me of how energised the atmosphere becomes at this time of the year. 

It's as if every plant has a timeline and a specific purpose. Regardless of what that may be I'm proud to admit that gardening is one of my guilty pleasures. Apart from the odd asparagus fern at university I never had much interest in plants. Come the onset of middle age and hey presto... it's day trips to Monbulk to purchase bulbs and bare root trees! It's a very peaceful place to be even with two Belgian Shepherds head butting me for attention. Every year I plant about a hundred hyacinths in colour blocks and then follow them up with 'Arab's Eyes' (Ornithogalum arabicum). These truly beautiful flowers last up to three weeks and look spectacular in tall vase forms with small necks. The garden also supplies me with an endless range of colour combinations which spills over into my work at Bison. 

Ornithogalum arabicum
Hyacinth Photo: Brian Tunks

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Lazy Sunday...Not!

Latte Bowls. Back by popular demand!
After a hectic period in the studio I envisaged a couple of days of lazing at home drawing some new shapes  or working on concepts. That however was not to be! I spent a good deal of Saturday loading a kiln at Bison of which I glazed about ninety percent of the stock. It's a really useful practice to know all the aspects of your business and even more so with utilitarian objects. When the studio is empty I just turn on ABC radio and enjoy the rhythm of roll-glazing or finishing the pieces in the spray booth. Packing the kiln becomes an experience as you try and fit as many objects in as possible. 

Most of the load from the Saturday evening firing. Workbench courtesy of my grandfather.
I thought it might be interesting for you to see actually how much Bison can fit into a kiln and how it looks as it comes out. I actually fired this load until 9.30pm on Saturday evening and unloaded it Sunday about noon. The pieces are stacked on the workbench (actually from my grandfather's toolshed) and then allocated or taken in to our Canberra store. They are often still warm from the firing and I love to see the expression on people's faces when they realise they are still cooling. We pride ourselves on our quality and our loss rate can be as low as 2 - 3 percent. 

Bottom shelf of kiln. Illustrates how we pack the load.
Photos: Brian Tunks

Friday, September 2, 2011

Pierre Cardin meets Raquel Welch

Well...this post can't be blamed on the influence of  full moon, nor any childhood trauma or repressed memories. It's simply that when the Lord of the Dance meets Raquel Welch (and two backup dancers in alfoil onesies) it's hard not to keep watching. The props (other than the practical outfit worn by Raquel) really suit the camera work. I have no idea if Pierre Cardin actually designed this ensemble... it just strikes me as something he would have created. That is before he discovered the joys of multi-tier licensing and branded everything from bathmats to hairpieces. If zooming camera work makes you edgy I'd suggest viewer caution. It's a little bit of 1970's paradise and a whole lot of medication. Steady your nerves with a chaser and let the music transport you...

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Jillian Leiboff...Life through the lens.

Many photographers have a particular 'look' to their work. People often have a specific aesthetic which they recreate, despite having a different subject, when they take images. You can notice this if you read magazines ( as I do voraciously! ) as often the same photographers work on the same titles. Sometimes the relationship can extend further to the point where a particular stylist will only work with 'their' photographer/s. The consequence of this is clearly beautiful images but it can also be somewhat difficult for them to evolve or operate more individually. This is definitely not the case with Jillian Leiboff. 

Jillian came into my Sydney store over a year ago. She took some absolutely stunning images which created a furore among a number of bloggers.  Her ability to capture the 'heart' of the subject, along with putting some of her own in, makes her work irresistible. With a passport clearly running out of pages she traverses the globe and sends back images which place you directly within the perspective of her lens. I have borrowed three of her images below. I chose them (not only because of the Bison milk bottle!) because they highlight to me the purity of her focus. We bonded over a love of colour and her subtle layering of tones is really refreshing. I'm sure we'll see a lot more of her work in the future. If I'm really lucky she may even bake me something!