Jennifer Orland: Ceramicist & Gardener

Words by
Jo Hoban
Images by
Nicolette Johnson
| March 28, 2016

Standing amid the greenery in the tropical garden of Brisbane ceramicist Jennifer Orland is like being hugged by the earth. I knew Jennifer was a keen plant-lover before visiting her home, but I wasn’t expecting quite the charming oasis I stepped into. What’s particularly wonderful is the garden’s size – it’s compact yet there’s so much to it. Similarly her ceramics practice is low-key, but always evolving. The two passions have a symbiotic relationship; Jennifer’s love for her garden is channeled into her ceramic practice.

Jennifer Orland on her back deck, looking out over her garden.
Jennifer Orland on her back deck, looking out over her garden.

Working from a studio space underneath her home, Jennifer produces small batches of botanically-inspired functional ceramics, both tableware and vessels. A ‘part-time’ potter, she juggles her personal art practice with three days a week working at a bookshop, and one day a week at Paper Boat Press, which leaves two days a week (and evenings as the mood takes her!) that she largely dedicates to her own ceramics.

Having a day job takes the financial pressure off the art-making process. It gives me space to experiment and evolve, slowly finding my voice and the people that respond to my work.”

Most of Jennifer’s creations have an enchanting rustic quality about them, quietly asserting their handmade nature and calling out to be touched, cherished, and coupled with everyday rituals.  There is an assured sensitivity to Jennifer’s work that is particularly appealing – she’s developed a unique style over her years of practice.

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Holding a small Preston vase, with a family of frill vases in the background.
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Jennifer’s hand-shaped tableware.
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Stacks of custom-made moulds on studio shelves.
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Jennifer at work in her studio.
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A carved slab featuring Banksias, ready to cast a mould with.
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Studio work surface.

Upon arriving at Jennifer’s neat-as-a-pin, post-war home, she leads me out onto the deck explaining that it was added on a year or so ago, and she’s been delighted with the immediate connection it allows to the garden.

There is little that gives me more simple joy than plants. Being connected to the outdoors and a garden is absolutely necessary to my happiness and wellbeing; it’s a fundamental need.”

White shutters line one wall of the deck area, allowing breeze but creating privacy from the street, and multiple seating areas are perfect for relaxing outdoors. To the front left of the deck is a series of small ponds that Jennifer built herself. Lillies float on the top of the water and fish with flowing tails poke about. Things seem healthy; an ecosystem in balance. A thick clover patch flanks the series of ponds, dotted with flowering succulents. Jennifer tells me she transplanted a thriving section of clover from the street into the garden and it has gone bonkers, just as she hoped! Phoenix palms grow on jaunty angles, dappling the sunlight, and the garden feels like a peaceful refuge from the busy outside world—a place that urges connection with nature, and in turn oneself.

Irregular-shaped steps cascade down from the deck into the garden, which leads into a small, paved circular courtyard, an original feature of the home. On one side, the courtyard is edged with potted fruit trees: fig, lime, olive and cumquat. The other side is bordered with a lifted herb and vegie patch, a wonderfully wild conglomeration of parsley, chives, rocket, and basil. It’s also home to a few sunflowers, an apple tree, and an overarching bougainvilliea vine. On yet another side of the courtyard sits an old clawfoot bathtub, which Jennifer uses for an occasional bathe under the stars (what a fantastic idea!).

“I love lots of different types of gardens so by having lots of small areas, I get to try them all in a manageable way and learn about them as I go. For example, around the ponds I’m aiming for a Japanese feel. And though I do love to see what happens when things grow wild, I think having a bit of structure is good too. I like that my raised vegie garden is always a bit messy but it’s balanced by the structure it’s planted in.”

Bonsais lined up on a decorative garden bench.
Bonsais lined up on a decorative garden bench.
More Japanese-inspired details in Jennifer's garden.
More Japanese-inspired details in Jennifer's garden.

Jennifer likes to apply an organic philosophy to her gardening. A keen composter, she enjoys the frequent surprises that pop up in her garden beds, such as pumpkins and tomatoes, and she’ll run with these as much as possible. With her ceramics practice, Jennifer is similarly philosophical:

You can’t control everything but you still have to turn up, apply yourself, make mistakes, give up and then get up and learn from them.

“There are surprising moments of joy and success followed by another failure.  Sometimes the universe knows better than you, and practice generally makes for improvement, but you’ve got to be tenacious and persistent. For me, that simplicity is beautiful, along with the idea that you need to surrender to the process.”

After exploring the garden, we head underneath the house into Jennifer’s serene studio. Classical music lilts in the background and she sets to work joining the slabs of a larger ceramic piece in her new range of vases. The range is inspired by Australian artists from the 1930s, particularly Margaret Preston’s linocut prints of Australian native flowers, and a Chinese vase that Jennifer spied in an op shop one day. A lot of Jennifer’s work involves relief carving into clay (it’s most common in wood or stone) from which she casts a plaster mould. She then presses slabs of clay onto the mould to produce her distinct decorative imprints. Jennifer believes integrating her drawing skills with her work makes it more personal and individual. And she feels naturally inclined to draw and carve plants – her garden being her main muse.

“I often think that it is in the combining of your passions that you discover your style.”

Jennifer has shaped a unique, creative lifestyle for herself by taking a similar approach to her garden as she does with her ceramic practice – she keeps things small-scale, slow and manageable.  The two passions clearly feed off one another. And the results speak for themselves!

Jennifer’s work is available through her website and you can follow her journey on Instagram. Jennifer is also part of an upcoming ceramics exhibition called Still, Life (a collection of vessels for holding flowers and foliage) showing at Paper Boat Press gallery in Ashgrove, Brisbane, from April 30.

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Jennifer tending her veggie patch.
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Studio details.
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Bisqued vessel waiting to be glazed.
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Jennifer looking out to her garden from the deck.
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Circular courtyard lined with potted fruit trees. A thriving Passionfruit vine covers the back fence. And the lifted veggie patch is to the right.

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