After dabbling in ceramics in the 80s, Australian ceramist Elkie Fairbrother came back to clay in 2017. Drawn to shape and form, her organic, hand-thrown pieces are so unique they have her fingerprints all over them. Building with mud and water, she works with speckled, exposed clay for a raw, organic and natural finish. Elkie has created an exclusive range for Palinopsia, to bring her peerless pieces to our ceramic-obsessed community.
‘Drawn to shape and form, her organic in form, hand-thrown pieces are so unique they have her fingerprints all over them.’
In 2021, Elkies daughter Bella, a trailblazing pilates instructor in Newcastle, introduced her to Palinsopsia. We hit it off, finding an easy connection through our ceramic devotion. A warm, kind and humble human, Elkie moved to Newcastle 20 years ago in search of a quiet life with her husband and three (now grown) kids.
'I learnt the foundations of ceramics at Earthwares with Sandra Lee Brown, where I discovered what style, materials, and glazes fit me. I took classes with Jane Barrow at TAFE Newcastle, where I witnessed a master ceramicist at work. And I trawled YouTube, digitally devouring phenomenal potters sharing skills. It took about two months to muster the comfort and confidence to experiment with what a wheel can do. I slowly allowed myself to create a beautiful form from a lump of clay.'
‘It took about two months to muster the comfort and confidence to experiment with what a wheel can do. I slowly allowed myself to create a beautiful form from a lump of clay.’
Elkie loves working with clay because it’s tactile; sometimes smooth, sometimes coarse, always responsive. The wheel requires 100% presence, a meditative-like state where everything else is shut out leaving just the potter and the wheel. Ceramics is also a highly physical pursuit – throwing clay uses a surprising number of muscles.
‘Elkie loves working with clay because it’s tactile; sometimes smooth, sometimes coarse, always responsive.’
‘I’m a perfectionist. My process is considered and I respect the materials I work with. I always look out for inspiration, from other works and diverse people and places to a splash of colour I’ve seen in the bush. When the design is done, I choose the clay (I’m currently in a speckled mid-fire mood). Next is the glazing choice; organic colour palettes, layer experiments and a food-safe waterproof sealer. So my work doesn’t stand still, I learn from my mistakes and always ask questions.’
After many firings, Elkie is certain of two things: failure is important, and you can't rush ceramics. Keeping her sense of humour on speed dial, she gives her process the right breathing space. Sometimes things work out, but sometimes they don’t, and that’s ok.
‘For thirty years I focussed on family, so having the time and energy to pursue my pottery is a gift. This new phase of life is a time to explore, experiment and develop my work and get outside my comfort zone. When people connect to a little piece of my work, like a handmade mug – that’s a privilege.’
‘After many firings, Elkie is certain of two things: failure is important, and you can't rush ceramics.’
Elkie seeks to share what she loves with people who value handmade, instead of factory fabricated products. Loading love into the design and prep of each piece, there’s a beautiful intention attached to owning artisan pottery. Giving pieces a life in someone’s home is a beautiful concept.
‘My three dear friends are my ceramic muses. We started throwing and now growing our businesses together. Having amazing humans around who are also talented potters to bounce ideas, successes and failures off is everything. Being a part of a group with a shared interest has given me many memories, belly laughs (and some tears).’
‘Before I had my backyard studio, I had a little set-up on my back deck at home. When I decided to build my business, my husband and I designed a dedicated space. At 10 square metres, it’s pocket-size but perfect; my happy, purpose-built place fit out with everything I need to create. My family are also my biggest fans.’
Elkie sips a soy piccolo and holds her greatest treasure – the ‘Favourite Foods’ piece one of her kids made in primary school: a clay hamburger, pizza, cupcake and lolly on a plate. It’s a fitting metaphor for the constraints of conformity and perceived perfection she confronts through her ceramics. Her taste has expanded through phases, from white dinnerware to op-shop kitsch and everything in between. With cupboards full of ceramic experiments, Elkie is now free to play with her clay with heart and humility. She knows the joy of laying her table with original pieces celebrating stories and imperfection.
In Elkie, Paliopsia finds a pal who shares the pottery philosophy of daring and difference. Shop Elkie’s Creations or visit our Darby Street Store to browse more clay stories and one-of-a-kind pieces. Elkie’s handmade ceramics include espresso cups, mugs, pinch cups, ramekin bowls, bud vases (tall or short), sculptural vases, hand pitchers and little jus sauce jugs. This range drop only has limited items per piece, so seize the clay because these beauties won’t be long for the shelves.
Special thanks to Jess Porter Photography