We absolutely love the colourful, evocative work of ceramic artist Elnaz Nourizadeh. We’ve been lucky enough to offer her unique hand-made coffee cups in our shops and online since 2018.
Elnaz individually hand-throws and paints each beautiful cup in her Coburg North studio especially for Market Lane. We asked her to tell us a bit about her inspirations, her daily practice and, of course, how she likes to drink her coffee.
How did you get started as an artist and maker?
According to my parents, I have been making things since I was four. I started working with pottery when I was 12, and my love for ceramics continued growing. Making things always calmed me, and I felt I was in the right place so, when I was 20, I chose to become a professional ceramicist.
Mikala Dwyer, my supervisor at RMIT, once said, "You become an artist when people call you an artist, not when you call yourself an artist." This quote resonates with me – being an artist doesn't happen overnight, it's a reaction that occurs over time in response to the people and environment around you. I see myself as an artist when, deep down, I accept that creative life's current takes me, and I trust that it will bring me to the shore again if I don't try to control my movements.
What does a typical workday look like for you?
I work most of the time. Even when I'm out for a walk or taking a break, my mind is always active, building and rearranging new ideas. So, the idea of a work-life balance is different for me. When I'm in the studio, working with clay, I put all my energy into it. Working with clay is very physical, so I do this for four to six hours. Then I have to shift gears and work on other less physical tasks like writing, administrative work or networking. Being an artist is a non-stop rollercoaster, shifting from boring tasks and experiences to super energetic and experimental ones.
Who or what inspires you?
I find inspiration in anything with a connection, boundary or any type of relationship, but mostly I get it from everyday conversations and interactions. I'm fascinated by how we, as humans, behave and react in different situations and how we communicate with each other.
I also love visiting galleries and seeing other artists' work. Seeing their creations and learning about their processes motivates me to experiment with new techniques and styles. Abstract paintings excite my brain, especially those in the "Colour Field Movement" style. They inspire me to translate everyday conversations into abstract patterns and colours in my own work.
How would you describe the cups you make for us at Market Lane?
The energy and vibe of everyday life inspire my cups for Market Lane. I work with the Market Lane team annually to design and paint cups that perfectly capture our conversation. Each cup has a unique style, and I love bringing them to life.
The design and colour palette are carefully chosen to create a beautiful and functional 'Art-Cup'. For example, the 2022 cups were designed with the morning coffee drinker in mind. The colours were selected to stimulate thinking without overwhelming the brain with a moving brush line pattern. On the other hand, the 2021 cups were designed for the afternoon coffee drinker, with a calming light blue colour to soothe the mind and a deep forest green to promote positive emotions and energy as we all went through the hard life experience of COVID.
What's the process of making them?
Making the cups is a multi-step process that begins with 420 grams of white clay. I start by wedging the clay and throwing each cup on the pottery wheel. Unlike other potters, I don't use measuring tools to ensure each cup is the same size and shape. Instead, I make a stencil with the cup's negative form as a guideline to keep the cups similar but with slight variations that highlight their unique human-made elements.
After a day or two (depending on the weather), I trim the base of each cup and add the handle. Once the cups are bone-dry, I fire them in the kiln. After the first firing, I use brushes to paint the chosen design onto each cup. During this process, I'm very relaxed and let each cup take on its own character, allowing the patterns to change slightly from cup to cup. Then I fire the glazed pieces again.
Once the cups are finished firing, I meticulously quality check each one, take photographs, and prepare them for delivery to Market Lane. It's a labour-intensive process, but creating unique, hand-made cups that bring joy is worth it.
We've been lucky enough to offer your cups since 2018. How has your practice evolved over time?
Wow, it's hard to believe it's been since 2018! So much has happened since then. I completed my Master of Fine Art at RMIT, and that experience opened up new possibilities for me. I've started exploring installation art and sculpture more, which has been very exciting. Many discussions have been had about whether I should move away from making cups and functional ceramics, but I still love making them. Even the simplest objects can be considered art if the owner feels and calls it art. That's why I continue making cups, even if I make fewer now.
What's your coffee ritual like? How and where do you usually drink your coffee?
Ah, my coffee ritual is sacred to me! I look forward to one cup of coffee each day, which I enjoy around 10:30–10:45 am. When I'm alone, I head to my neighbourhood cafe for a small change. When my partner works from home, we love making coffee together. We enjoy our coffee in our backyard garden; it is a precious moment to discuss our day ahead and sometimes our garden’s health.