Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Builder's Delight

Work in progress in Bison Pialligo
Right now I'm mopping out water as it floods in to the studio from torrential storms. Our painters have had to stop as we have had two blackouts and I can't pack kilns unless I do it by candlelight! Anyhow...I always consider starting jobs close to Christmas to be the domain of the mentally unsound (I'm placing myself in this category) and this year has proven to be no exception. They say change is as good as a holiday but frankly I'll be needing medication after this is sorted! I guess a clean slate for a space is always a great way to start a busy period but at least I'll have fun setting it up. Come by and visit...we'll be operational again as of tomorrow (Thursday) in Pialligo. As an added bonus if you get high from the wafting odour of paint you'll be in heaven.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Full of Mirth (Hong Kong)

In a former stool factory in Hong Kong sits a great design store called Mirth. Kitted out with fantastic pieces from books to linen, toys to design accessories... and now Bison! Well actually we have been supplying Hong Kong with our vessels since early this year but a new shipment is about to land in-store next week. I've always loved the energy of this city. It has a strange hybrid nature which marries tiny twisting alleys to the hurly burly of a major financial capital. My Uncle had a home on the Peak and his children often spoke of the cable car which took them to the top. 

Mirth is one of those spaces which, miles apart from the generic mass-luxury stores, puts some individuality back in to the retail scene. To have a large amount of space in this town is a rare privilege... one I'm sure which is not lost on those who visit this 1960's warehouse-style venue. And their selection of colours from us is exquisite! 

Where to find it:
The Mezzanine Floor, Yip Kan Street, Wong Chuk Hang, Hong Kong
Open Monday - Friday (10am-6pm) and Saturday (11am-6pm)
Parking available at the Wilson Car Park next door.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Feeling Good. George Michael with Dita Von Teese

Warning: This video contains images of semi-nudity which some viewers may find offensive. I don't! 

Last year I was fortunate enough to go with one of my closest friends to see George Michael. Yes, the 80's were very good to me! It's a great experience to see a musician live who has developed in tandem with the rest of his generation. What amazed me was that there was such a massive cross-section in the audience. You had baby boomers, the pre Mardi Gras crowd, and a huge number of newbies (18-28 year olds). 

While some people find Dita to be ultimate Vargas pin-up I think she has an incredible 40's glamour fused with serious control of her own image. I have always admired performers who are multi-disciplined and she is no exception to this. While George has morphed from the 'writ large' t-shirt days of Wham to an outspoken advocate for social issues, Dita straddles the world of burlesque and couture with aplomb. Power to them I say although I don't think strapping yourself into a tiny corset would be good for your health!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thonet #18 Chair

Many people ask me how I manage to find so many 'scoops' on Ebay and Etsy. I must be honest and simply say that being a night owl means you spot items that everyone else misses. (This is owing to them having a normal sleep pattern!) With kilns to check and our busiest time of year rapidly approaching it's pivotal for me to be organised. Some of the best relaxation I find is trawling through the recesses of 'vintage' and 'industrial' furniture on auction websites. 

Dining chairs can be a real dilemma. If you have a rustic-style table as I do (with planks on the top) it's very easy to be fussy with modern chairs or try to be too clever and go heavy industrial. Sometimes the best solution can also be the simplest. That is definitely the case with the Thonet #18 chair. This classic design (over 150 years young and counting) ticks all the boxes in terms of visual and physical appeal. Sweeping uncomplicated lines make it look fluid and organic. The firm seat gives it great utility and the model comes in a plethora of colours. Back to Ebay... I spent an evening 3 years ago tracking down Bentwood chairs. I found a cafe that was closing and purchased 25 of them. I'm planning a dinner party in the near future so who knows... I may even give you a chance to appraise my styling efforts.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Ho No! It's that time of year again...

Just when you think you've seen that last bedraggled Christmas wreath come off a neighbour's house it's time for the cycle to start up again. In a strange version of Groundhog Day we seemingly repeat the exact same pattern year after year. The only thing that changes is the guest list at the random parties which populate the 'silly season'. While this puts me in the dangerous territory of sounding like a grinch I actually love the whole build up to Christmas. I think it comes from seeing your nieces and nephews react with such excitement counting down the days till they can maul a pile of shiny toys and dresses. 

Bison Decorations.  Image: David Plummer
Growing up in the country we had the 'Carols by Candlelight'. This ritual was the equivalent of giving a pack of matches to a pyromaniac (or several hundred children under 7!) Small wonder the local CFA Brigade stood by with a tanker. Apart from the annual butchered pine tree and it's sticky, yet sweet aroma, what stood out for me was decorating the house. Possibly I should have seen the warning bells at a younger  age but doing the tree was always my responsibility. I also remember being concerned that people could see up the angel's dress. What brings me to this point is that we are now making our decorations... including several new ones... as we have done at Bison for the past ten years. What started out as gift tags for nephews has morphed to become a annual event for all of my staff. If you drop by our Canberra store and peep in the studio window you may even see our elves making some!


Sunday, November 20, 2011

The last one standing

Pillar Candles by Illuminate
Just as restaurants open and close with frightening frequency, so to do the workshops of designers. I was reflecting a with a close friend on my first trade fair in Sydney in 1998. Apart from the fact that there were only about 5% of the companies with Australian made product, I was struggling to find any that were still operating. Sure people can build up companies and sell them on. They may even get a divorce, have a mid-life crisis and move to Byron, or just get tired of the ridiculous stresses of modern business. I haven't succumbed to any of the above (but who knows what the future holds!) but the people I admired are obvious by their absence. 

One such company was Illuminate. Originally established in Balmain, Tiffany and Amanda were the precursors of the whole emphasis on interior soft lighting 'mood' . They made amazing pillar candles in a palette of shades which worked in with the whole 'minimalism' and 'zen' aesthetic. The squads of imitators may have hastened their demise but to me they were inspirational. I don't know if any of my readers recall their candles but I have just located a website listing them as available again. The saying 'everything old is new again' springs to mind. Have a look... you may spot an old favourite! www.illuminateonline.com.au

Scented Mosquito Candles

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Colour Field

Image: Anders Gramer
Once upon a time a fledgling designer (and former ancient historian and archaeologist!) was tentatively showing his wares at the Kingston markets in Canberra. A lovely young woman expressed an interest in the designs and the colours we were using. Turns out she was the style editor for Vogue Living and a month or so later my first bowls appeared in the magazine. The Museum of Contemporary Art Store took our range to use with the Yves Klein show and the rest... as they say... is now history! 

Several things about this story stick in my mind. Firstly, she could see past the fact that my pieces were fighting a duel to the death with a tragic green gingham fabric I was merchandising with.  Secondly,  that my style was in it's infancy and that someone recognised a kernel of potential in me. While I'm not intending to sound self-deprecating it's important to acknowledge the role of mentors with emerging designers. It's also significant for us to see the evolution of the interpretation of colour and scale as a tool which is often difficult to translate.

Some fourteen years after we first met I take great pride in introducing my readers to Melinda Ashton-Turner's blog... The Colour Field. The images she analyses are beautiful and inspired. Her approach to the proportion of colour in a room is insightful and a good read to boot. In the words of Molly Meldrum 'do yourself a favour' and click on the link for a colour and texture pantone treat! http://thecolourfield.net

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Decisions, Decisions!

It's been an eventful year for our studio in Canberra. We have nearly doubled our staff numbers, introduced new shapes and five fresh colours, and now I'm about to repaint and style the store. What's more I'm trying to get this done while finishing renovations at my home and dealing with the Christmas demand from our stores. Possibly I'm a sadist but more likely a 'window of opportunity' has presented itself now at the most inopportune time of the year! 

Cover House & Garden by Horst. P Horst. Oct 1951

I have been really looking forward to refreshing the Canberra store. One of the difficulties (and simultaneously one of it's charms) is that we are located in the midst of nurseries and garden supply centres.  
This means we'll be unloading kilns and watching sandstone blocks sail past the window destined for a garden in Canberra. We used to have a family of geese who lived on the site. They gave the day a particular charm as they were very specific who they liked and who they though they should pursue. At night we even have rabbits sitting outside my studio. As of this coming week I'll be starting to make some changes. If you are coming to Canberra make sure to drop in and visit us and if you're really lucky we may even be working in the studio making some Bison pieces.

Which shade to choose for my rear wall?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Late Night Musings....

Wild berries with moss.  Iceland 2010.

Ok....normally people who drink way too much gin and need an outlet would be writing at 1.52am. Today, however, this is not the case. The Christmas rush has come unseasonably early and I have been trying to glaze stock for our stores this evening. I actually was finishing pieces in our raspberry and spearmint hues. They look beautiful when paired together and I came across the following image from my Iceland story of several days ago. 

As I've often said, nature is the great mother of all pantones. She mixes and layers colours together with such seemingly random ease. Yes... it's very late and I should be asleep but I thought this image would be a great diversion for my lack of a clear theme for tonight's post. Sometimes a simply beautiful image is all we need to charge our batteries. As mine are operating on a very low wattage please enjoy this image from outside Reykjavik by David Plummer. 


Sunday, November 13, 2011


Outdoor volcanic springs. 

My partner spent a year at the Royal Tropical Institute in Amsterdam last year. I had several trips over to visit, including a month in summer, but he got to go to one place I'd always wanted to go. Yup... that would be Iceland! Apart from a highly questionable approach to global banking and a liking for spirits that would put AA to shame, the country is fascinating and beautiful in equal parts. I have some images taken by David Plummer which highlight some of the amazing scenery along with some of the most remote farmhouses you're likely to see. If you are after a tan head to Thailand, but if it's a great natural spa I think you'd be hard pressed to find better. And where else could you take a bottle of gin and crack off a small chunk of (clean) ice as you soak your weary feet in volcanic springs. Heaven...

Imagine living here in the middle of winter!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Cash Converter

Use and Re-use. Photo: Brian Tunks
On a consultancy to Malawi my partner purchased this 'artefact' made up of old coca-cola and fanta bottle tops. It was found in Lilongwe (the capital city) and was actually being used as a cash box by a street vendor. All the pieces are wired together, quite ingeniously actually, and they've created a great lidded piece from just an everyday item. I reflected on this and thought if we would even consider making something like this here in Australia? Have we lost touch with the ability to see the longevity and practicality of products to which our parents and grandparents would thriftily give a second life? 

Think of your grandfather's tool shed for example, mine had mason jars attached to racks by their lids. These would be filled with screws and nails and be clearly visible and neatly organised. My grandmother would grow violets and fruit in her large garden and make the best preserves you'd ever tasted. They didn't necessarily have access to the web or the most modern domestic appliances, but they certainly had no shortage of gumption. Maybe that's our problem... in a world filled with instant gratification possibly this is something that's missing. Possibly that's why I love making objects which have multiple uses...and look good too!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Cuffed and Coiffed

During the 70's in rural Australia dressing well was seen as a sign of respect more than simply preening. It's funny how these attitudes are still all-pervasive in my life so many years later. Possibly I'm just a neat freak with a penchant for shiny objects (the magpie principle) or I'm seriously attracted to the meaning behind symbols. Cufflinks were a surefire indicator that your parents were attending yet another ball. That would mean a day of going to the dry cleaners, waiting for your mother at the 'beauty parlour', or being bribed to polish your father's shoes.

While my mother always had this way of looking achingly beautiful at the same time as peeling a banana for my brother, it was my dad's cufflinks that fascinated me. Shiny and bold they beckoned to me in their lush velvet box. As they only appeared for 'special' events their twinkling gold and mother-of-pearl insignia held the promise of music and laughter and, if we were lucky, a sip of punch. As an adult I have collected these accoutrements of male fashion. Possibly they belong to a bygone era...although if you flick through the pages of any hipster fashion bible then I'm clearly bang on-trend! (An expression I loathe!) What's your poison...would you wear them?

Bling it on! Swarovski in Pink
Plain but perfect for a navy blue jacket 

Sunday, November 6, 2011

From Folk Art to Fabulous

Unpainted Dala Horses
In Australia we have the trusty boomerang branded with places names like 'Borambola' or 'Alice Springs'.  Quilting is big in the mid-west USA and babushka dolls are synonymous with Russia. Cliche or not these items have become a form of national identity that all of us can instantly recognise. In Sweden the Dala horse (Dalahästis featured in all tourist literature and are even produced in the USA by Swedish immigrants. If you take a trip to Minnesota you'll see what I mean! Originally made for children as a toy during the long, cold Swedish winter nights, they became so popular they were used to barter for goods from about the 16th Century.   

They were specifically made in a small geographic region called Dalarna ( a Swedish Province) which is known for lush dales and beautiful natural scenery. While this sort of 'trinket' normally makes me think 'which cupboard can I hide this in', I'm actually quite enamoured of their simple form. The red reminds me of the colour of Swedish summer houses set against lush green paddocks and lakes. Every home had one of these somewhere and in all truth I have one myself. So cliche or not...wear the badge with pride and love your folk art for its associations as much as any design merit. 

Classic Dala Horse. They can also come in blue or even black.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Out of the Frying Pan

Muted light in the Canberra Store today. Repainting in next few weeks!
Today was the first real taste of summer in Canberra.  The studio was particularly balmy owing to me deciding to fire two kilns on a hot day...never a good idea! Our kilns are fired up to over 1200 degrees Celsius to make the stoneware clay and our glazes reach maturity. In winter this makes for a toasty space to work in. Summer, however, is not great for comfort but is amazing for productivity. We never force-dry clay pieces at Bison. That simply leads to cracks forming and warping which we clearly want to avoid. The ambient heat of late spring through to autumn means our shapes dry quickly and efficiently. Vases that would take a week before we could bisque fire them are now perfect in several days. 

This week has also been a watershed moment for Bison. One of the biggest problems we encounter is the lack of people who have a background in production pottery. We had six people contact us who have started at the Canberra studio and hopefully decide we are a good place to remain. Some are graduating students from ANU, several potters, and a couple of people who have extensive experience with slip-casting. Just as we head in to our busiest time of the year this has been an enormous windfall. I have always enjoyed training people and showing them how complicated (and meticulous) the processes can be.   There's something quite rewarding when you see a person who was unsure and awkward initially become a dynamo who never misses a fault. That and a good sense of humour make our workshop a great place to be. At least in my humble opinion...

Cucina Bowls with Large Milk Bottles.  Photos: B Tunks

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

And the Winner is!

 Bottles by a potter I like. Cara Taylor. 

Well...after a number of emails (some of which even had me confused!) we have a winner. Richard Harrington got it in one. The technique we were referring to in our 'What am I #2' post is known as slip-casting. What we are trying to achieve at Bison over the coming year is something quite extraordinary. We will be developing forms and objects that we can't make in the round and employing this method to produce them. Stay tuned...more to follow! Have to close off for this evening. We tested a new colour out a few weeks ago and I'll introduce you to it tomorrow... We sneakily sent samples of it to our three Bison stores and have had a great response. 

See you tomorrow