Mother daughter team Charlie and Mieke Proost - De Deyne developed a successful pottery business that sells pottery, coffee and pottery classes. It took a while but the business is flying now. Here they share their thoughts about creating a business from the craft and art they both love.
Tell us a little about your business?
Mas & Miek Ceramic House is a large, light warehouse space overflowing with greenery. In the space we have a gallery space selling our ceramics, a cafe, mezzanine area overlooking the space and - most importantly - a large, fully equipped ceramic studio.
We have 10 wheels, two large working tables, two kilns, a clay bar, kneading table, slab roller, pug mill for recycling clay and much more. What we love about the space is that it is for everyone. Anyone is welcome to sign up to our studio sessions, and learn the soul craft of ceramics. We have sessions catering for different levels, from beginner to expert potters, and our open flexible timetable enables students to book in whenever they choose. No set curriculum or regulated weekly classes, that’s not our thing.
If getting muddy isn’t your thing, you are still welcome to come enjoy our space. The cafe is open to all, and we also have paint a pot facilities where you can purchase a piece of ceramics, and paint the afternoon away sipping coffee and enjoying the studio’s atmosphere.
How did you get started?
Both of us have studied and practiced art for a number of years. Charlie obtained her Bachelor of Fine Art at QCA and Mieke completed her Masters in Fine Art in Ceramics at ANU, Canberra. We always enjoyed exchanging creative ideas and have been making ceramics together under the collaborative name Mas & Miek for 5 years. We built up a following selling at creative markets. We always received a lot of interest from family and friends, asking to come see our studio and see how we create work together. A lot of people asked for tutelage in learning how to use the pottery wheel or hand build in clay.
So we realized there was definitely a desire for it. People were craving to get their hands into mud. When someone offered us a space, a seed was sown.
What were the main challenges?
The main challenge was to find the right venue; open, well ventilated and light with an outdoor area and all requirements for a ceramic practice.
We then had to find the right formula to create ‘the machine’ that is a ceramic studio. It takes an enormous amount of organisational skill to operate a studio and still maintain creativity
How and when did you settle on the right format?
Through trial and error. We had to find a suitable time table first and foremost.
Our timetable is broken into:
- Unguided Studio Sessions; Monday - Thursday mornings. Students can come in and work at their leisure. There is no tutor on during these times and students are welcome to stay for as long as they wish.
- Guided Studio Session Time; Monday - Thursday afternoons and nights and Saturdays. During these sessions we will have a tutor on to guide you and help develop your skills on the pottery wheel or hand building
- Advanced Throwing; Friday morning and afternoon. For more advanced throwers that wish to make more complicated vessels on the pottery wheel such as lidded vessels, spouts, handles, etc.
- Sunday Workshops. - We love these. An all day workshop on a Sunday includes all materials, clay, coffee and tea and a delicious lunch. Sunday workshops are either divided between ‘Learn to Throw - Intensive Workshops’ for beginners or ‘Masterclasses’ for all levels, where we welcome a visiting artist to demonstrate and teach a unique technique in their practice.
What is your formula for success?
I think our success stems from our love for the medium combined with some business experience. You can not be blind to the bottom line but you can not be governed by it. You have to create a value product.
I hope that our passion is contagious and nourishing the need in some people to find a creative outlet. We love the term ‘soul craft’ in describing ceramics as it’s a very meditative and relaxing pastime. The process of clay forces you to slow down, take it step by step and unwind. In a fast paced environment like the city, I think a lot of people find sanctuary in coming into the studio.
How important is your location?
We are located on the fringe of a very dense trendy area and are in a small pocket of industrial buildings. I believe the location is important but we are a destination business, we do not rely on passing trade. What kind of people do you attract?
I must say we have met the most fantastic people through this venture, many of them we now consider as dear friends. They come from all walks of life and share the need for creativity.
How do you cope with the conflicting demands of your own artistic expression and business interests?
Mas & Miek Ceramics consists mostly of utilitarian ware; so bowls, mugs, plates, vases. We want the every day objects you use in your home to be unique, handmade and thought through. That takes concentration and quiet contemplation and that is at times in short supply.
Ceramics is an unpredictable craft, and we love that. Especially when developing your own glazes, unpredictable reactions between chemicals can make the most amazing effects.
We continuously chase the fleeting moments of elemental chance; the slight change in temperature or atmosphere in the kiln that splashes unexpected effects across a glaze.
How important is publicity?
Our main publicity has been through social media and that has been our main focus. Word of mouth is still the best publicity and social media is a double edged sword that way. Word can spread positively or not. In our case, it has been very positive.
What’s the most valuable advice you have received?
It has to be fun! It’s a moment which happens every day - from when we make things to when students come to pick up their glazed work! Seeing the excitement and how chuffed people are about their precious creations is the best part of our day. We’re so happy we get to share our passion for ceramics with them.
Is administration a hassle?
I have hardly met anyone who loves administration but as long as you stay on top of it, it is easy. It is just part and parcel of running the machine.
What are three pieces of advice you would give about starting a creative business?
Love it, live it and it has to be fun.
Visit Mas & Mieke’s website at: http://masandmiek.com