This article was published online and in the print edition of the Newcastle Herald ‘Weekender’ on July 27, 2019. Image by Edwina Richards Photography for Workshopp.
Tucked away down a quiet side street in Maryville is Workshōpp. An airy, light-filled warehouse that is the personal pottery studio of Simone Madigan and a ceramics school.
Simone purchased the building in 2014. It’s hard to believe that the previous owner once used this bright and open space as storage for industrial waste and parts.
Originally from Melbourne, Simone moved to Newcastle 20 years ago with her husband, James. She established Workshōpp in 2015.
“I really love it,” Simone says of Maryville and her decision to base the business there. She was drawn to the area after many years spent living and working in nearby Wickham, and enjoys the pace of the inner-city suburb.
She also appreciates Maryville’s industrial history; its busyness by day, its calm quiet by night, and how its “big warehouses and tiny cottages co-exist harmoniously”.
From her studio, Simone makes a broad range of retail and commercial commissions.
“I work closely with my friend Wendy Sullivan and we do commissions for restaurants, cafes and other businesses.”
Simone loves the material, the clay, to show through in her work.
“I am always really inspired by nature.”
Many of her pieces contain a raw element, where the clay sits in contrast to the glaze.
“I love the interaction between the two.”
Simone first opened the studio for retail trade in mid-2017.
“I decided to open it up on weekends because so many people were walking past and going to the bakery,” she says of Uprising, the bakery-cafe located around the corner.
Curious customers and passers-by would come into the studio to browse, chat and buy. Many asked if Workshōpp offered ceramics classes.
“I was amazed at how people were so interested in the process and wanted to learn,” Simone explains. “It grew from there.”
She began running one-off hand-building classes, ideal for beginners who wanted to learn how to make ceramics by hand. The response was overwhelmingly positive.
“With that demand, I decided to open it up and double the space,” says Simone of expanding the studio and the courses offered in late-2018.
She wound down her weekend trading (but still hosts the occasional sample and seconds sale) and ramped up the classes.
Workshōpp now offers pottery and ceramic classes for adults of mixed skill levels. They include two-hour casual ‘as you go’ sessions designed for those seeking flexibility, and four and eight-week workshop courses that cover hand-building, wheel-throwing, trimming and glazing of ceramics. All materials are provided.
“I love people’s enjoyment of it,” says Simone. “I love to be facilitating something that they’ve never done before – even if it’s just a one-off experience. It’s lovely.”
She is committed to keeping class sizes small so that “people can develop in their own way, at their own time, at their own pace”.
Sustainability is another key focus. The studio has a dedicated recycling and reuse space, and processes in place to keep waste output minimal.
Simone loves that her classes provide a meditative outlet where people can engage their bodies and let their minds wander – feedback she regularly receives from her students.
Simone encourages her students to embrace the alchemy and the unpredictable nature of the pottery process.
“I tell all of my students there is a chance through every single part of the process that we are going to lose that pot. So it teaches us to release attachment, it teaches us to enjoy the process, and it teaches us patience.”
“They are all things that today, with all of our screen time and hectic lifestyles, aren’t that easily learnt. That’s the kind of environment I would like to offer people – even if they’re only here for two hours. It’s just a beautiful experience and clay is a beautiful material.”
Simone says those that enjoy the classes the most are less focused on the outcome and are more open to the overall experience.
“Like all artistic enquiry, you have to allow yourself to go in directions that weren’t necessarily the path that you were on and that is what makes it the most fun.”
Workshōpp Ceramics, 2 Harris Street, Maryville