I was born in Adelaide and spent the first part of my life living there with mum, dad and my little sister. A good deal of my early childhood holidays were spent hanging out with grandparents in the Barossa Valley and Adelaide Hills. We later moved to Brisbane where I completed school and went on to uni at QUT, doing a BA in Visual Arts with Honours. Hilariously I never studied pottery formally at uni, but was far more interested in assemblage, curation of objects and installation.
What was your childhood like?
I think I had a rather sheltered and quite bucolic childhood. We spent a lot of time outside in the garden, had horses when we were in Queensland, enjoyed camping and my family were quite social, regularly holding large dinner parties. They loved to cook too. I came from a family of artists, scientists and mathematicians, so I certainly think that informed my sense of who I was as I grew up. Mum was an interior designer, dad an architect, my grandmother had studied art at a tertiary level in Adelaide under some amazing artists, and my grandfather’s cousin was the renowned South Australian artist and jazz musician Dave Dallwitz. I had a grandfather who made perfumes in his spare time and had a committed Chinese brush painting practice, and my great uncle Robert was a ballet dancer even, so I suppose you could say the arts were always embraced by those around me.
You are an incredibly talented ceramic maker and obviously have a huge followings, how did you start your business to become the successful business you have now?
Oh that’s very kind of you. The origin story of Otti Made is quite long, but to simplify :
I was looking to set up a business that I could run from home with the flexibility my young family required. I needed it combine my creative skills and my desire to run an ethically and environmentally sound business. I had recently been introduced to the works of Helena Norburg Hodge and the principle that if globalisation is the root cause of so many problems the world is beset by, then localisation is a solution worth promoting and pursuing. This led to the idea to work with local materials and, in the locavore tradition, attempt to source as much as possible from within a 100 mile radius of where I lived. There is a large clay pit on the edge of Adelaide and a long post colonial tradition of making pots here in the Barossa, so it was a natural direction to move in.
When did you realise you were good at what you are doing now and pursue it as your long term career?
I am a firm believer in life long learning and doing what you love, so whether it be in pottery, styling, photography or business I will always be looking for ways to get better at what I am doing. I trust my capacity for creative thought and am happy to embrace change as I go.
Tell us about the clients you have worked with in the past? What’s the most memorable one?
Oh goodness! There have been lots. In the early days I made a lot of spoons with coppiced hazel handles and was sending them all around the world. There was one client in America in particular who was collecting them and they made their Christmas cards from a photograph they took of their (very spoilt) puppy dog surrounded by a mandala of my spoons! It was really quite amazing. I have had pieces in Masterchef, and in magazines like Country Style and Peppermint. The gorgeous Hetty McKinnon used one of my bowls on the front cover of her book Family which was very special. Cherie Hausler from All The Things owns various pieces of mine which have appeared on her blog and TV show as well which is always a little exciting.
What would you say about your artistic style?
I am a forager and a collector and I take my inspiration from the natural environment. If ever I feel lacking in inspiration, a walk in the countryside or even just stopping by the roadside here in the Barossa to pick some grasses is usually good for my creativity. Nests and eggs have been my muse since forever (well before pottery came along) and so making works that are speckled makes perfect sense for me.
Has COVID changed the way you work (or the way you live)?
The only real impact COVID had is that when we started to re-open after lockdown here in South Australia I was inundated with requests for workshops. I had not done them before but I now do an introduction to pottery workshop every month or so which still books out quite quickly. I feel ever so blessed to be in a space where the only impacts from the pandemic have been positive ones.
What’s a day of Ilona’s life looks like?
Every day is different really. After the morning routine and the kids are at school there’s always a cup of tea and a late breakfast. If it is a making day I will catch up on insta and then pop down to the studio at the bottom of the garden. I’ll grab a quick lunch around 1 and then try to get back into it so there are some solid hours making before three. The children coming home usually marks the end of the day although there have certainly been plenty of nights when deadlines have been looming where you will have found me inside hand forming pieces while watching shows on Britbox after the kids have gone to sleep. This flexibility is both a blessing and a curse! I do try to prioritise Saturdays as work free days though and start them with a trip to the Barossa Farmers‘ Market with my daughter where I revel in the fresh produce grown so close to home.
What’s your favourite thing to do in the your spare time?
Foraging the roadside verges with friends on weekends after the farmers market always makes me happy. Beach combing. Reading books by the fire. Ocean swimming with my husband, our kids and water mad Labrador. Oh and music. Played very loudly :)
How would you describe your mother? How do you spend your Mother’s day?
My mother is an independent woman who lives by herself after the passing of my father, with her loyal Maremma and a band of crazy chickens. This Mother’s Day we will have lunch in her country cottage garden together, as we do every Mother’s Day. I’m crossing my fingers for sunshine and a lazy afternoon.
What’s your skincare routine?
I hate to say it but I am terrible with routine per se. I blame it on the artist in me. I do use face oils though, and have even before I came across your beautiful range. When I was detoxing my life before kids one of the first things to go was any beauty product that didnt have ingredients I could spell, let alone understand. At the moment my favourite oil is the Arithmos Uplift. Jasmine is a wonderful thing and always reminds me of hot summer nights!
What’s next for you?
I’m always plotting and planning and thinking about the future. I have a new kiln coming on board soon which is super exciting and am launching something special to coincide with it. But it’s all under wraps for now. You’ll just have to wait and see.
Photos by www.marniehawson.com.au/ottimade