Clay at the Coast: How Narelle Clark’s pottery draws inspiration from Albany’s natural landscapes

Josiah McMeekinAlbany Advertiser
Lowlands-based potter Narelle Clark.
Camera IconLowlands-based potter Narelle Clark. Credit: Laurie Benson

For Narelle Clark, making something amazing out of nothing more than a lump of clay is what she loves about pottery, and she delights in opening other people’s eyes to the artform.

“It’s a lump of clay and you can just turn it into whatever your mind can come up with,” she said.

“It’s just brilliant.”

A fourth-generation local of the Albany-Denmark area, Ms Clark shares how the farm her grandparents used to own is visible from the front of her house.

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She fondly recalls how her grandmother would sometimes visit and from the veranda look at her old home.

“I’ve got a picture where you can see her watching, looking at the farm, and you just think she’s just remembering a time with granddad and her kids growing up.” she said.

Lowlands-based potter Narelle Clark.
Camera IconLowlands-based potter Narelle Clark. Credit: Laurie Benson

Her first pottery experience came in high school and while she vividly remembers loving it, she also recalls thinking it would be impossible to make a career out of it and left it behind.

It wasn’t until more than a decade later when she saw a friend from high school selling pottery creations on Etsy that it suddenly felt like a possibility for her.

“I just couldn’t stop thinking about it and I ended up getting lessons at the Albany Pottery Club,” she said.

Although there weren’t many challenges as she started learning, Ms Clark recalls how she’d find herself avoiding the wheel, even though at the time she was doing quite well at it.

The potter’s wheel is the tool used to help “throw”, or shape, clay into round ceramic ware.

Tools of the trade.
Camera IconTools of the trade. Credit: Laurie Benson

She avoided using the wheel by hand building instead but it wasn’t something she would be able to avoid forever.

“I remember telling myself in my head, get on the wheel, just do it,” she said.

The effort to push through has paid off, as the wheel is no longer something she finds herself avoiding.

While some potters will plan out each project carefully in advance, unless she’s making mugs or something very specific, Ms Clark says she prefers things more free form.

“I love nothing more than to break up a bag of clay into random shapes and sizes and just throw,” she said.

Even with the pieces like mugs which are more planned out, she prefers to work in a weight range, rather than an exact amount of clay for each mug.

Narelle Clark's works in progress.
Camera IconNarelle Clark's works in progress. Credit: Laurie Benson

“I don’t tend to wait to make exact pieces because I just feel like it takes the joy out of it for me,” she said.

“I love that they’re all a little bit different, a little bit unique.

“You can still sort of have them looking like a nice set, but without them being identical.”

Through her approach and process, Ms Clark has developed her own unique style in the form of a rustic, organic appearance.

Lowlands' potter Narelle Clark's work.
Camera IconLowlands' potter Narelle Clark's work. Credit: Laurie Benson

“I just use my instincts and I suppose draw inspiration from like, anything and everything around me,” she said.

The Great Southern’s rugged coastlines, beaches and bush are all deliberately captured and infused into her work.

Just like any other endeavour, it hasn’t all been smooth sailing.

While it may not be the tools or different kinds of pottery and ceramic pieces she makes that cause her challenges, Ms Clark says it’s the business end of things that she struggles with.

Running and maintaining a website, photographing finished works and marketing and setting up and running an online store take time and a lot of effort.

As a creatively minded person, they are the part of the work she feels she struggles with the most.

While the business side of her work may be a challenge, the pottery side is thriving with her work part of a small gallery run by a local photographer.

Adjacent to her own pottery, Ms Clark has taken part in a locally run program called The Seasonal Creative.

The initiative creates a space for artists to provide workshops to people who may not count themselves as artists, but are looking for a creative outlet or developing some new skills.

For Ms Clark, it’s been a way to share her passion with others and create close friendships with a group whom she calls her “pottery girls”.

Lowlands-based potter Narelle Clark.
Camera IconLowlands-based potter Narelle Clark. Credit: Laurie Benson

While she would be interested in “prestigious galleries” and “overseas exhibitions”, Ms Clark laughs and admits it’s not something she has thought about much.

She would rather focus on creating beautiful things and improving her skills.

“I just want to become the best that I can be. And, you know, if I can also share that with people along the way,” she said.

It’s about the joy that comes from creating something wonderful and unique, something she encourages everyone to try.

“Just give things a go — you have no idea what you’re capable of until you give it a go,” she said.

Lowlands potter Narelle Clark's work.
Camera IconLowlands potter Narelle Clark's work. Credit: Laurie Benson
Narelle Clark’s dog Mica enjoys joining her in the studio.
Camera IconNarelle Clark’s dog Mica enjoys joining her in the studio. Credit: Laurie Benson

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