Caitlin Robson is an emerging artist on the Sydney art scene. She is multidisciplinary, changes up her mediums, and is comfortable with getting her hands dirty. Started her career with charcoal-stained hands, sketching, shading and following the curves of a feminine silhouette, a constant inspiration throughout her life, to now, spending her days shapeshifting clay. She describes how breaking the mundane feeds her inspiration, how she's grown as a woman and artist, her creative process, the joy of relinquishing all control to the kiln, and the pure magic of revealing her final creations.
Where are you now? Can you set the scene for us?
I work at a shared ceramic studio in Enmore called Clay Sydney. There are many other talented artists in the studio, and being surrounded by other people and their creative process is inspiring. I have my own workspace, which works so well for me, as I thrive on solo creative time to get into a flow state, but I also love to have the energy of other people to bounce off when needed.
Right now, I’m at my studio, sitting at my workbench with new postcards of artists Arp, Mirò and Hepworth that I saw exhibits of in my travels that I have just stuck on the walls in front of me as a sort of mood board for the following collection, my tools piled in glass jars across my desk, and shelves behind me filled with my latest ceramic creations. I’ve just started to launch myself into working on new sculptural designs inspired by my travels.
I find the beginning of the next project somewhat confronting as there are so many moving parts to coordinate and so many possibilities to explore, but once I’m organised and have a sense of the direction I’m heading in, things become clear and tend to flow easily.
Can you take us through an average day as an artist?
I’ll meditate first; I’m big on slow mornings, as it helps ease into the day and sets the tone for the rest of my working day. If I’ve had a relaxing morning, I’m more inclined to slip into a flow-state at the studio and work longer than if I jumped straight into work.
Going for a walk or Pilates and cooking a good breakfast is my ideal routine for the morning. It doesn’t always happen that way. I can get sidetracked with errands or my phone, but I’m feeling more in tune with when I’m off track so that I can course correct myself.
Then I’ll head to the studio. I’ll start the day by checking what needs to be done in my production schedule; I’ll usually organise my weeks down to each day and make sure my plan is achievable; less stress means more productivity. Learning that I don’t thrive on a strict 9-5 schedule was the best for me, and giving myself that flexibility created a healthy work environment. Being passionate about my projects and goals makes them easier to achieve. Also, I have more motivation and tend to work late into the night.
Have you always been drawn to sculpture and ceramics, or are there other mediums you
My career as an artist began with drawing. I have always loved to draw and found it came naturally to me, no doubt from my mother’s influence. I focussed on large interpretations of the female form, mainly charcoal and graphite. The perfectionist in me was influenced by artists creating hyperrealistic artworks. I dabbled down that path for a while before navigating the need for more during the first lockdown.
I wanted to explore form in a sculptural sense. It was the beginning of my Saturn return which was a huge period of growth with lots of lessons, and I felt the desire to explore more about myself as a woman and an artist.
I taught myself how to hand build, quickly became obsessed and naturally pivoted primary mediums. This was a significant time for me to start my own business as a ceramicist, stepping out into the unknown and giving it my all.
Tell us about the pieces you have created for McMullin & Co - what was your concept
My recent design with McMullin and co. is The Hook Lamp. I’ve been so excited to explore homewares and lighting. The finish to the body of the lamp is textured by hand and with a sealed finish. This process creates an interesting textured yet smooth effect, with two tones of cream and ivory.
The lamp’s design came from the evolution of a previous design, inspired by a photograph by Edward Weston, Shells, 1927.
"The swirl-like shape uses soft curves and a hard central point, a familiar shape seen in everyday life and nature. I wanted to create something minimal that evoked a sense of nostalgia which plays with the use of negative space. To me, nostalgia is such a powerful emotion, as it’s both comforting and intriguing, much like nature."
How do you seek inspiration when starting a project?
I’ve just recently returned from travelling for the past couple of months. My partner and I visited numerous countries, which has been one of the biggest sources of inspiration for my next collection. I find getting outside of your everyday routine really helps me to become inspired.
I feel like I’ve evolved as an artist in that time, seeing the greats in galleries, the architecture, different cultures, food, and conversations with new people; the inspiration came from so many different places.
Your work emanates conceptual interpretations of the female body and form – can you share a little more about what first sparked your interest in the female form?
Our family home growing up had an extensive collection of nude portraits all over our house by various artists; perhaps that’s where my interest in exploring the female form was embedded from a young age.
I found a deep connection to self through creating artworks around this theme, as I was confronted with questions and concepts that challenged me emotionally and personally. My works became less literal and more abstract as I evolved as an artist. I find there is always some element representing the female form in my works, even if it’s unintentional.
What is your process from ideation to final product?
Finding inspiration is probably step one in the creative process. I’ll often have shapes and forms pop up in my mind at night when I’m drifting to sleep, and I’ll roughly draw them out in my phone’s notes before I forget them. This timeframe is when I see shapes and design ideas come through the most when I’m least looking for them.
I’ll workshop those and continue the drawing process in my sketchbook at the studio, drawing countless designs as rough simple line drawings and manipulating each shape until I get a good range of designs I’m happy with.
Then comes the maquette. I’ll model out a miniature version of the drawing in clay to see the curves and angles and manipulate further from there. Once I’ve landed on the designs needed, I’ll draw up the production schedule timeline and costings sheet, order any supplies or materials, and then I can show up each day and create, which is undoubtedly the best part of my job.
Most artists tend to create artwork where they come to the point of completion, put down the paintbrush or tools, feel satisfied with the final product, and are ready to present it to the world. Whereas, in the world of ceramics, depending on glazes and what clay bodies you use, when you fire them, the final result can be vastly different to the final product you put into the kiln initially. There are shrinkage rates to consider; breakages, cracks, and the glaze may come out exactly how you had tested or completely different depending on many factors in the kiln. It’s a rewarding and challenging medium to work with, and sometimes it comes out better than you could have ever imagined.
"As a ceramic artist, one of my favourite steps in the process is opening the kiln after the final firing to see what your artworks have become, a certain alchemical magic that happens behind closed doors awaiting the big reveal at the end."