Photography by Val Bubner
“A hard earned thing is deeper appreciated.”
I am a ceramic and mixed media artist, specializing in custom design and community projects. My small business trades as Tatty K.
I didn’t really know who I was or what I wanted to do at school, so I quit school after year 11 and worked in retail and hospitality (because I knew how to work hard and be polite to customers – and therefore earn a wage).
I also moved out at 17, because my parents lived in the rural area of Darwin & I couldn’t wait to live in the city. At 19, I moved to Brisbane with a few friends & continued to work as a waitress, barperson, maitre’d, short order cook, book keeper – “whatever was needed”.
I was happy working in a people-oriented industry; I liked learning more about food & loved the independence of having my own money / destiny.
Soon I met a man, we fell in love, got engaged, then got married when I was 21: because that is what you do, isn’t it?
Four years later, I was sitting on the floor of our empty rented house, with the truck driving him and his stuff away wondering what the hell just happened. In the same week, I got harassed at work, so I quit my restaurant floor manager job as well.
The main problem with my marriage was that I was still growing and changing, whilst my husband no longer was. At the start, things were great, but eventually his true colours showed, and it became clear that we were not compatible.
Photography by Val Bubner
It was a very hard life choice for me: to break a promise that I truly believed when I made it or stay in a situation that was eroding my spirit. In the end I made the choice to leave.
I think when my happy-go-lucky life hit rock bottom, that’s when I finally stopped and thought: “who the hell am I & what do I want to be”?
I spent nearly 2 years soul searching, learning about psychology, making peace with myself and forgiving “him” so I could move on. In the meantime, I got a few casual waitressing gigs to just get by.
Then I decided to go back to study and applied to enroll in a small business course at Southbank TAFE. I wasn’t even sure what my business was going to be, but I felt it was time to get some kind of further education.
I knew I was capable of something, but until then, I had just gone with the flow, rather than try to create a path with ‘intent’.
I turned up to attend in early 2002 …and the course had changed to “corporate business” due to low enrollment numbers. I didn’t want to do that and was discussing this with my pottery teacher that evening. (I started pottery purely as a hobby the year before.)
Photography by Val Bubner
Her advice was to go and see the Ceramics Department and apply there, and so I did. I sat in front of the department head with a hastily assembled portfolio of sewing, drawings and craft …and got sent straight to class!
Three weeks later, I wondered why I had never realized that visual art could actually be a career.
Maybe because even though I came from an artistic family, most of who had “real jobs” in order to get by.
It took me three years to complete a two-year Advanced Diploma of Ceramics, as I was also working part time (those retail and hospitality skills came in handy … I worked in a bakery, as a stable hand for a race horse trainer, and as a showroom consultant in a kitchen design showroom).
I moved out to Sandgate in 2003, because I found a flat for $95 p/w that was close to a train line.
One Thursday evening, I wandered in to the Shorncliffe Pottery Club (in the basement of the Sandgate Town Hall) to find an English lady singing and playing guitar, plus a small group of ladies making pots, and signed up as a member then and there.
Because I was actually studying pottery, and therefore had more training than many of the members, I was soon roped in as a tutor. I quickly learned that when you have to “teach on” something that you have just learned, you have to prove that you can do it. This resulted in me developing an even better set of ceramic skills and habits.
Photography by Val Bubner
By the time I graduated at the end of 2004, I had participated in group art exhibitions, knew how to build and fire kilns, make my own glazes, throw pots on a pottery wheel, sculpt and hand build, work out concept designs, research and reference, write applications, understand chemistry, etc. It was a hands on, practical, real skills course, which sadly due to TAFE funding cuts, no longer exists.
It gave me the confidence and capability to run group exhibitions. I find exhibitions exciting.
They often take 3 months to put together: the participants come up with ideas, test the designs, test the materials, make the work, figure out pricing, advertise the event, display the objects, then open the Exhibition to the public. Opening nights are lots of fun with wine and food, plus hopefully everyone gets to sell a few pieces.
My training also opened the door to community mosaic projects. These require a detailed grant application to fund their implementation, which means having a very well thought-out idea, a timeframe, a realistic set of costings, a list of participants, community support and good documentation.
Photo courtesy Tania Kunze
When I run one of these, I am essentially the project manager and the teacher, but I also rely on the volunteer participants with a random collection of skills to become a team and together we “create” a little piece of community history. It is challenging, but also empowering.
There are many opportunities to learn and grow in the visual arts industry. For me, it has helped build my self-esteem, resilience and confidence.
You have to do a lot of figuring out to make things work in this field, both conceptually and technically – I don’t remember being this interested or inspired when I went to high school! The major difference is that doing things “in theory” just doesn’t compare with doing something “for real”.
Ceramics is incredibly “technical”, which means there are so many ways something can go wrong: a slip of the hand in making, a crack emerging in drying, a fault appearing after firing, a glaze imperfection, etc.
Any of these occurrences and you have to go back to square one to make the whole thing again.
The medium is a great humbler and also a great empowerer when you finally succeed.
Twelve years on from being a visual arts graduate, my arts practice looks very different. I now live in Littlehampton in the Adelaide Hills. I finally have my own studio, I also have 2 daughters & a supportive partner (who put up with all of mum’s crazy ideas and projects).
My current arts practice includes making private commissions (which are often gained by word of mouth, as people get to know you and see some of your achievements) and teaching pottery/mosaics/jewellery at my art studio. I get students through my local school, Facebook, my website and word of mouth.
Taking art programs out to a variety of places, like the local library, nursing homes, schools and community centres is great fun. I use a variety of different mediums for school holiday craft projects to ensure the participants get to take their creations home on the day – bake in the oven polymer clay, paper, fabric, rocks, plants, paint, glue, timber, wire, beads, etc. The emphasis is on learning how to use tools, try new ideas, develop a skill and achieve a result.
I still make pottery, it is my first love, it’s what unlocked my creative capabilities.
Sitting down on a pottery wheel and making the clay flow into a shape is an incredibly meditative experience … and when a student finally gets the knack, the triumph and joy they experience is awesome to watch.
I’m still a people person, as I was in my hospitality days, which translates into me being very community focused. I pour lots of energy into my community and public art projects, because being able to collaboratively present positive meaningful stories and imagery is an awesome experience.
This commercial, consumer driven world often feels devoid of passion and personal growth, so this is my way of swinging the balance back the other way and I love sharing the journey.
In 2013 & 2014 I even produced a community film about local historic steam trains (which is what my partner fixes for a living) – and the experience nearly broke me!
Large scale community projects are always challenging, but this one included the birth of my second daughter, who got dragged along to work with me 3 days a week. I needed the time to be a new mother, but I seemed to be always juggling my time instead. It was stressful and a lesson in learning to say “no”.
My most exciting recent endeavor is getting involved in a youth public art crew pilot program. The youth art group “Pyrographix” have been designing and installing murals for public spaces in Mount Barker, under the mentorship of Rebecca Prince & myself.
The biggest project so far has been a 200m2 underpass – and as the physical program facilitator, it has been as rewarding as it has been challenging.
Photo courtesy Tania Kunze
It was designed by 18-year old Marissa Summersides, the images are of the local spoonbills and wetlands. It has required approval by the local council, extra funding by Rotary (due to it’s scale being beyond the program budget) & many physical challenges: heat waves, rain, working in a creek, repainting over graffiti, etc. It’s worth it though, as we have been getting lots of positive community feedback.
My business slogan is “Art That Matters” and I enjoy developing this in others as much as enjoy making it myself.
The thing I like least about being self employed is paperwork, but I guess I can thank my practical mum for insisting that I learn accounting and computing at school – they are essential skills for running an effective small business & without which I could not have a job that isn’t supposed to exist.
I still sometimes participate in group art exhibitions, with a few of my mosaics, sculptures or pots, but am not yet ready to shake the “solo exhibition” tree.
The juggle of being a small business with big ideas, but also a parent with young children can be challenging. As the girls grow older, and are both in school, I hope to have a bit more time to develop and create some beautiful conceptual sculptures for a solo show.
I already have an idea, but it will stay secret until it is fully developed.
The biggest casualty in my life is time and I often don’t get enough sleep. I figure that many parents of young children would say the same, but but if I didn’t have something other than parenting to focus on part of the time, it would make it hard on my mental health.
I love being a parent and I love being an artist, so I put in a lot of effort to do both.
Ultimately it is worth it, but I also make a point to take family days, or a break camping, or go to the beach, or catch up with friends. Living a life as crazy as mine would not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it seems to work for me.
My partner Shaun, the children and I are also cultural exchange hosts: we have regular overseas students, artists and visitors stay in our home and participate in our creative life. We help them to explore the Adelaide Hills, Fleurieu & Murraylands regions.
I love sharing my passion with others. My practice builds community links, empowers individuals, mentors youth & encourages growth.
I am a huge believer in the power of community and believe we all need to share knowledge and experiences to grow and become happy.
Funnily enough, I don’t have any regrets, because all of my experiences have helped me to become who I am. There are always lessons or room for improvement; I’m definitely not perfect, but I love testing my potential and growing. If anything, I wish I had gained the confidence to just “be myself” at a younger age, but perhaps a hard earned thing is deeper appreciated?
To quote a cliché: it’s easy to hit nothing! But in my eyes, if you never aim for anything, you’ll never have an adventure, or grow, or get inspired or develop into your true self. When I fail, I see it as a learning experience, because next time I just might succeed… like an analogy for life that stems back from my teenage horse-riding days – when you fall off, dust yourself off, then get back on!