Tell me a little bit about yourself and what Wundaire is all about.
My name is Felicity and I’ve been making ceramics for 6, going on 7 years now. It was something I came onto later when I was in my thirties. I’d never done any clay work before, not at school or university, I just wanted to give it a go when I was living up in Auckland and loved it, I just really felt like I’d found my medium. My brother is an artist, he can draw and animate and get what’s in his brain out onto paper, but I could never draw or paint. As soon as I started working with clay it kind of made sense to me and it really has just taken over my life since then – In a good way that it is now my full time job and we ended up moving from Wellington with my husband to the Wairarapa to buy a house that had a building that we’ve now converted into a studio and have a space to be able to make things rather than having the studio out of home. That was great when I was younger and didn’t have kids but I’ve got two little boys now so being able to work from home is so much better and can get so much more done and be able to tend to the kiln in the middle of the night. I guess my brand is me, though I do like to kind of keep it separate and I did set it up as a brand rather than ‘Felicity Donaldson ceramics’ so there wasn’t the expectation that everything was necessarily made by me. My background was in visual merchandising and marketing as well so to potentially sell it one day and I don’t know, have that distance from it but it is still all a one-man band.
Good on you! And balancing family life and all of that as well! And when you first got into ceramics, were you always selling your products, or did it just start off as a hobby and transition into a brand?
It started as a hobby. I took the course so I could make pots for my pot plants. I was living on K Road at the time in a cool apartment just by myself and I started getting quite a lot of houseplants and I couldn’t find any pots for them that I liked. There were only a few on the market at the time, now I feel like there’s a tonne of cool ones. So that was why I started doing the course initially and I have just caught really lucky breaks, I had a private Instagram account with personal travels and things, and had the brand name Wundaire in my head which I was actually going to use for a previous business that never ended up going ahead. Pretty much as soon as I started making things and set up an Instagram to document my ceramics and ended up getting featured in Homestyle magazine after I’d only been making ceramics for about 6 months! It really just took off from there, you know, more features and some collaborations and then I went from having three jobs to two jobs to just doing ceramics full time. In terms of the brand, it did happen quite early on, I did market it under a brand. Because, you’ve got to have a mark on your pots so when you put them in club firings you can identify them to get them back. I worked with my brother who is a graphic designer to develop the branding and I haven’t changed it since.
Where does the name Wundaire come from?
It’s something I came up with when I was living and travelling overseas. I wanted something that when you googled it, it wouldn’t have any other hits. So, it’s just a made-up word from wondering and wandering and travelling and it’s good because when you Google it there are no other hits, and people kind of don’t know how to pronounce it - it’s the Kowtow conundrum! People go “Wundaire?” very tentatively and I’m like no, that’s great, you got it!
So, you’ve taken a creative career path quite estranged from the typical 9-5, is there any part of you that wishes you had a bit of a routine or had stuck with the status quo?
No way! Not at all, no. I’ve never done very well in the 9-5 work scape. I always found it frustrating when I had jobs working for larger companies, particularly when I was a visual merchandiser. Having to be there from 9-5 but not necessarily always being busy or having a task to do or window to dress etc. The feeling of being there just for the sake of being there really frustrated me and I’ve sort of gone between being self-employed with my visual merchandising and contracts to hospitality for a long time as well. Which I love, I love people and I love food and wine and you know, sometimes I miss it, but a lot of the time I don’t haha! That was usually evening work as well, and with ceramics I probably work more hours when I’m able to and even with my boys I still work in the evening and things and more than a 40-hour week but for me it’s just ultimately so much more fulfilling and I’m more than willing to put in the time. I like being self-employed. It is hard being every department of your business as I’m sure many people can attest to. It’s good to reach out and ask for help in different areas but you still kind of end up doing it all.
Has your passion for your work sustained itself, do you still really enjoy what you’re doing?
Yes, definitely, I love it. Clay is a medium where there are so many different ways of producing work with it. You can throw it on the wheel, you can hand build, you can slip cast, and then there’s ultimately so many other ways if you start getting into different technologies and 3D printing. So, if you feel bored or limited or that you’ve conquered one facet, then there’s so much more to learn. Or, in terms of decoration, there’s glazing and then there’s clay inlay which I like to work with a lot and there’s always more to work on and develop and one idea will lead on to another. I think one of the hardest things is that it can be quite hard on your body because it is a very physical job. But no, I definitely love it more and more the more I get into it and I’m lucky that every time I think “ ah what next?” or “is there going to be any more collaborations or jobs?”, another email always comes in the inbox and something else comes up, whether it’s a new exciting project or someone else interesting to talk about the work and where it can go.
Do you have any upcoming plans? What are your goals in the near future and long term?
It’s an interesting one, I was talking about this with my husband yesterday. We went up to Aratoi Art Gallery and Museum which is an Art Gallery in Masterton. I’ve got some pieces in an exhibition up there at the moment which involves Wairarapa makers from all different artistic disciplines. All sorts of things, a lot of weaving and ceramics and I’ve never been part of a show like that before, so it was awesome to be included. Seeing the other more sculptural and artistic pieces really makes me think about what I want to do with my work and where I want to take it and making work under my own name that is more experimental than domestic ware which I make under my brand. I think I need some more advice from somebody because I can’t quite order my thoughts as to where I’m going to take it. But with Wundaire I’ve got a really exciting collaboration coming up with an awesome brand (which I can’t really talk about too much) but it’s super cool and I’m super excited. It’s been a real test of my skills and I’ve learnt a whole different facet of creating and it’s a brand I really admire and they’re women and they’re awesome.
I’ll have to keep a look out!
Yeah, it’ll definitely be all up on Instagram. But it’s really exciting!
What have been some of your favourite collaborations in the past?
I did a cool one this time last year with Garage Project which I really enjoyed. They did a collaboration with Proper Crisps, so they made crisps with the beer hops, which were delicious, and they made beer with potatoes. They approached me to make some chip bowls and beer cups to give away as part of the promotion to celebrate the launch of this collab and it was cool, I really admire the two brands that were a part of it and they were products that were used in our home all the time. When I get approached by companies to collaborate, I’m really lucky because they’re pretty much always New Zealand owned products and generally they are products that we use in our home already anyway so I’m more than happy to partner with them. So that was a cool one, just the design challenges of it. I think my favourite is always gonna be the Kowtow one from 2016. Again, another brand that I really admire, Gosia is such an astute businesswoman and an amazing human being and that team was really lovely to work with. It was also the start of a really new style of work I’d just started making and it just felt like a really joyous celebration.
It’s so cool to hear your work is still inspiring you!
Yeah, even last night I made something new and I was like, this is awesome, I haven’t made this before and I feel excited and yeah it is, it’s good.
Do you do lots of spontaneous, experimental pieces?
Not as much as I’d probably like. I keep on wanting to get onto the wheel and throw some pots as I primarily handbuild. That idea of 10,000 hours to master a craft or a talent or skills and get that muscle memory and I just don’t have the extra time to practice. I did a bit last year while I was pregnant and my studio was getting built and didn’t fire anything, just kind of practiced, but it’s so hard to find the time when there’s already the demand and the orders backing up. My stockists are so patient! Because my studio hours are quite limited now, with two small children, everything takes me… like pottery is slow anyway but it’s like super slow now haha!
In the long term would you look at expanding your brand further and having a team?
I think so. I would love to be able to give employment opportunities and creative ones to local people that live over in the Wairarapa and there’s more people moving over here all the time. There’s so many talented ceramicists that live over here and work independently already but I’d love to give the opportunity to someone who is starting out to be able to work. It’s a hard one though right because you’ve got to have the capital to expand, then the time to oversee it, and now that my studio is at home (well out the back) it’s the sort of separation of keeping it. I would love to get a commercial space here around Greytown and have the scale of operation and people. Have someone making the soap dishes and other best sellers so if stockists want more units they can be shipped out right away, it would be an absolute dream. I think it is an achievable one but not until my children are a little but older. Alfie just turned one on Saturday, so they are really little!
Do they ever get involved in the all the fun?
Well… a little bit. Redford, my son who’s about to turn three, likes to come out. I painted one whole studio wall in blackboard paint so I could write a to-do list of orders and stuff, and he knows where the chalk is so comes in and draws on it which is nice.
You might have some future employees right in your own home!
I blimmin’ hope so! Turn it into a family business!
Would you say keeping up with the demand as a ‘one-man’ show is your biggest ongoing challenge?
Yeah, my biggest business hurdle from the beginning has definitely been being able to produce enough and being able to fulfil orders and not having enough scope to produce. So, it’s a good problem to have! I hate that feeling of overpromising and underdelivering, which is, as a one-person operation, part of it. You never really shut the door and leave it behind.
Yes, and it’s easy for people to only see the face of it and forget all of the hard work going on behind the scenes!
There are so many steps to ceramics, so many it’s insane! And there are so many points where it can all go horribly wrong! And luckily most of the time it doesn’t and when you open the kiln and it’s glaze firing and it all looks beautiful it’s such a good feeling. Especially if you’ve got new or experimental pieces that you’ve managed to make. But when it goes wrong, it’s just such a bummer! Ceramics is such a roller coaster. It definitely teaches you failure and acceptance and you just have to shake things off and move on most of the time. But luckily, it’s fairly smooth sailing.
Have you had any regrets on your journey so far?
Not buying a pugmill when it was on sale haha. Which won’t mean much to anyone but potters. A lady was selling this piece of machinery which basically takes all of your clay scraps and makes it into usable clay. Otherwise you do it by hand, which is what I still do. She was selling one for like $1200 or something and they sell for like $9000 and I didn’t buy it because at the time $1200 was really more than I could spend on something that I can feasibly do myself. But you know, I do regret not buying that haha! My only regret is that I didn’t buy that thing, or this Zambezi dress back in like 2003, I regret not buying that dress, it was really nice haha!
That’s a good sign that that’s all you can come up with!
What’s been the most rewarding part of your journey so far, or your biggest success?
Being approached by companies that I really admire, and respect is probably what I’d consider my greatest successes, that recognition. To get an email in your inbox and you’re like, are you getting in touch with me, that’s nice! Brands with great marketing, like Vogel’s, and Duck Island, who are opening up in Wellington in about a week or so. I’m making some pots for their shop and their branding is so beautiful and everything about their colour choices and the way it’s put together. When brands like that approach me for something aesthetic to tie in with their own brand that’s hugely complimentary for me.
Do have any advice for any other aspiring ceramicists, or entrepreneurs in general wanting to break away and do their own thing outside of the 9-5?
I think what you just said about doing your own thing is really important. There’s always room for more ceramicists, or more painters or fashion designers but it’s really important to find your point of difference. Whilst it’s great to gather your inspiration from other sources, which is so readily available now because of Instagram and the internet, it’s really important that you’re not copying or replicating something that is already out there. To really find your own voice to use and work with in the medium that you’ve chosen, to deliver something beautiful and well-made and functional or aesthetically pleasing, but just to really focus and do your diligence at producing something that is unique and isn’t too close or the same as something that’s already on the market.
Great advice! What is Wundaire’s key point of difference?
My use of colour and the way that it’s applied. Rather than being glazed or painted the colour is actually clay which has been tinted and then inlayed. It’s quite a laborious method of application but I haven’t really seen anything like it.
What are some of your favourite NZ brands at the moment?
I’m actually just sitting here looking at a vase I bought for my son’s first birthday from a ceramic artist in Nelson called Sophie at @studiosoph and it’s beautiful and hand painted. I really wanted something to celebrate my son’s first birthday but it’s more so for me, he hasn’t touched it yet but it’s going on his shelf so I can look back at it and think yes, that was my son’s first birthday. I love the work of Klay studio, they make beautiful cushions and bags and clothing. I treated myself to a couple of beautiful cushions, a round globe cushion and a bolster velvet one for my birthday, not thinking my sons would use the globe cushion as a ball! They’re very good quality because they get played with a lot and they’re holding up to the rough and tumble of two very small children very well.
Is it a dangerous task dealing with ceramics with two young boys?
My boys have been eating and drinking from ceramics since they were babies and they’ve only even broken really little tiny things so in terms of my own work, I’m not precious about it at all. I’ve got a great collection of other potters work. Especially mugs, I don’t particularly make mugs, so I like to get other NZ potters mugs. I’ve got a bit of a collection, one for every type of drink. In general, the decorative stuff stays up a bit higher. We have this little Zebra that my friend Lucy made when Redford was born and they’re quite enamoured with that, but his tail is already had to be glued back on, so he stays on the shelf. Maybe when they’re older!
Yes, they can come down a shelf every birthday haha!
They’re not very trustworthy at the moment, but then they keep growing, so…
Sounds like you’re doing well!
I’d rather everything be used. If something gets broken then you know, that’s life.
What is your favourite place to travel in NZ?
I’m quite a big fan of Dunedin. It’s where I went to university in the early 2000’s and it’s where I met my husband. We met then but we didn’t stay together, we got married many years later. My grandparents live down there too, so I spent a lot of time down there growing up. It’s just beautiful. It’s such a gorgeous spot. Coromandel though... ahh... either freezing cold or beautiful sunny Coromandel haha!
As we look out the window to the rain and 10 degrees!
Check out the amazing ceramics at https://www.wundaire.com/