The ceramicist shares his unique creative journey
Step into the world of Stephen Lee, the Auckland-based artist behind Author Ceramics. Incorporating the raw and rugged beauty of New Zealand clay and sand into his creative process, Stephen crafts evocative, considered ceramics that are often inspired by his family, his spirit of exploration and his past adventures as a chef.
Your Home and Garden sat down with Stephen to discover more about his passion for pottery and his growth as a ceramicist.
Tell us a bit about yourself. Where you live, your interests and how you’d describe your aesthetic.
I was Taranaki-born and raised. I grew up surfing, camping and exploring. This upbringing has sculpted how I live today, keeping my feet in the sand, grounded in Auckland and set free by our 1970s caravan.
I like simple, understated things with deep meaning and calm spaces that are fun and considered. Jandals, shorts and a T-shirt are my year-round uniform.
Have you always worked in a creative role?
I sure have. My life before ceramics was spent in hot kitchens across the world. I spent 17 years working in restaurants; the plate was my canvas, and my food was the artwork.
Fast forward to today, and now that canvas has become my art. I have always been drawn to creative roles that require your hands and senses to make magic happen. Food and pottery are a match made in heaven, so the transition made so much sense to me.
Tell us about a pivotal life moment that influenced your creative process.
I was 16 when I challenged my cooking teacher at school on the correct way to make muffins. I refused to follow the recipe and did it my way. I was kicked out of class because the teacher told me I would never be a good cook and to get out. I returned in the afternoon to collect my perfectly cooked, moist and golden muffins. I watched the other kids collect their doughy, pale muffins and said to my teacher, “I told you so.”
As naughty as that was, it taught me how important it is to follow your intuition. The next week, I left school and started my career as a chef working in some of the top restaurants in the world. Follow your heart and never look back.
Who else is on the Author Ceramics team?
My wife is the vision behind the camera. Her eye for detail and design is the creative spirit behind Author Ceramics.
Our daughter Marlowe is the spark that keeps the energy high. She is an artist for our packaging and a keen creative, with her very first ceramic design hitting the store in August.
I am the hands behind the wheel, the dreamer, designer and maker. We all play an important part in the story and ensure we have fun along the way.
How would you describe the style of the pottery you make?
Sculptural, thoughtful and soft. Our ceramics are born from traditional forms and ideas and re-imagined into something that questions them.
But to be honest, it’s all about fun and making things I like look nice. I like to question our style. I don’t want our pieces to follow a trend. I want them to be timeless. They are designed to stand alone as a piece of art or be a functional piece for your home.
Tell us about your journey as a ceramicist.
2020, need I say more? During the madness of a lockdown a month before our wedding, I had the great idea of hiring a pottery wheel and making the plates for our wedding.
Drawn to pottery from working in fine-dining restaurants and food photography, I thought, ‘Hey, why not? It can’t be that hard.’ After a few YouTube videos and a lounge filled with clay, I was off.
Was it hard? Yes, it was. It was bloody hard but also rewarding. I called the best potter I knew, Peter Collis, a week later. We spoke for an hour, and the next day, I quit my job and went all in.
I am an all-or-nothing kind of person, and I was lucky to have my partner-in-crime (wife Lilly) back me all the way. I set up a studio and spent seven days a week practising and learning.
I studied for a year and failed a million times over. Pottery is a skill that takes a lifetime to learn. Every pot has a lesson; every day, you improve, which is why every day is fun, hard and rewarding.
How has your pottery style evolved over time?
It has evolved a lot. It has become softer, simpler and truer to me, and more experimental.
I started making mugs and plates and using lots of glazes and colours. As a gift to my wife Lilly, I made a vase using sand from the beach where we had our first date; the sand made the clay come alive.
From that moment, everything changed. The simple art of letting a form shine and the sand sparkle made so much sense to me.
I now use only clear glaze and work hard on natural colour through the clay and sand. Our forms come mostly from failed attempts at something else; they collapse, and we embrace it. The Pillow vase is a collapsed vase, the Marlowe vase is a collapsed Pillow vase, and the Lilly bowl, well, that’s another story again.
How can we use pottery to elevate our at-home spaces?
Consider the overall style of your home when choosing pottery. Choose pottery with clean lines and simple designs if you have a modern home. Choose pottery with more ornate details if you have a more traditional home.
Pay attention to the colour palette of your home when choosing pottery. You can use ceramics to add pops of colour or you can use it to create a more cohesive look.
There are no hard and fast rules for mixing and matching ceramics. One thing we do is mix and match sizes to create depth and tell a story. A cluster of three vases, small, medium, large, slightly different vase styles and shapes awkwardly placed on a coffee table or sideboard is something we do throughout our home. It tells a wonderful visual story.
Where are your favourite places to shop?
Sunday Home Store in Waihi has to be one of our favourite stores, a beautiful space that inspires you, lovely owners and of course, they stock Author Ceramics.
Crystal Cylinder in New Plymouth is also high on our list. I would live in this store if I could. It has everything we love: surfboards, coffee, ceramics, amazing service and the space is like the coolest hang-out spot ever.
What drew you to stocking Author Ceramics products with our virtual marketplace, Shop Your Home and Garden?
Your Home and Garden is a massive source of inspiration, the original Pinterest in a way. It is a place where you dream and brainstorm for your perfect home, style and space. To have the opportunity to be a part of that is really special.
Discover the Author Ceramics range at Shop Your Home and Garden.