In Focus

Meet the maker: Elena Strohfeldt Ceramics

Teleisha Thomas

Teleisha Thomas

May 2024
TDF Elena Strohfeldt Amelia Stanwix 20

Elena Strohfeldt discovered her passion for ceramics in 2020. A self-taught artist with an eye for detail, Elena sculpts raw clay into pieces that are not just art, but companions for daily life. Fired in hues reminiscent of the earth itself – browns, creams, and sands – each creation is a testament to her refined craftsmanship.

Elena's work has found its place in prestigious markets and galleries across Victoria and Queensland, as well as the pages of Marie Claire, The Design Files, Home Beautiful, and more. Elena’s latest exhibition, LAYERS, will debut during the 2024 Melbourne Design Week at Honey Bones Gallery.

Using marbled clay, Elena crafts pieces that echo the intricate layers of our natural world, reminding us of its fragility and resilience. We sat down with Elena to discuss what she loves about this handmade artistry.

Can you tell us about your journey into ceramics and how you developed your unique approach to working with clay?

My journey in art started as a painter of abstract landscapes. I have always loved texture so in a way my progression into ceramics feels quite natural.

While I experimented a little with ceramics in high school, I didn’t pick up clay properly until 2020, when a friend kindly gifted me a pottery kit from her brand Crockd Pottery. I began using clay as a way to keep my hands and mind busy during lockdown, along the way I found my passion for it and surprised myself with the creations I made.

I studied Ancient History in high school and have always gravitated towards the textures and shapes of the Roman columns. Italy is my favourite country (outside Australia of course!) and I have travelled there a few times. This is what inspired the sculptural forms that you see me create today.

Elena Strohfeldt LAYERS 2 b
TDF Elena Strohfeldt Amelia Stanwix 8

What challenges have you faced as a self-taught ceramic artist, and how have you overcome them?

The biggest challenge I face almost every day as a self-taught ceramic artist is imposter syndrome. I look up to other notable ceramic artists and they all have formal training, something I do not have. It took me years to comfortably call myself an artist.

I have not overcome it as it is something I still experience most days, however, I find taking moments to celebrate everything, from small to big, allows me to step away and see the big picture. To see what I have achieved and to be proud of myself.

I have also turned my thinking on its head by seeing being self-taught as a blessing. I have been able to experiment with clay outside the restrictions the structure of a class has.

Talk to us about the inspiration behind your new collection LAYERS and how do you translate those inspirations through clay?

The theme for Melbourne Design Week this year is “create the world you want” and this collection felt perfect for it. Living in Australia we understand more than many the importance of our beautiful environment and how much it needs our help. I wanted to demonstrate both the fragility and the resilience of our environment through my ceramics. As ceramics go through stages of vulnerability and strength, so does the land around us.

I have always loved earthy tones and textures. Even before ceramics I painted Australian landscapes, using whatever tools I could to build texture. In my paintings I would create in layers. I still have my Art Express painting from 2010 and that is what inspired this collection. I wanted to see if I could create those same layers in my ceramics. The goal was for each piece to look like excavated earth, showing remnants of the civilizations that lived before. This collection brings my two art passions together.

Can you describe the significance of texture and earthy tones in your work? How do these elements contribute to the overall aesthetic and storytelling aspect of your pieces?

The tactility of clay is what makes it so healing during the creation process. Once the piece is finished, I don’t want to lose that texture, so I choose to keep my pieces raw on the outside when fired.

My goal with texture is to create a more intimate experience with viewers. I want them to interact with the piece, for the texture to call them to touch and feel each piece.

I believe art shouldn’t just be viewed. It should be experienced and felt.

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Could you walk us through your creative process from the initial interaction with the raw clay to the final piece? How do you navigate the balance between spontaneity and intentionality in your work?

I usually don’t have anything specific in mind when I am creating, however, with this collection I had a clear vision which was a new and exciting process for me.

I began with a moodboard, a mix of paintings, fabrics, landscapes, ceramics, and textures. Once I was happy with the overall look and feel of the collection, I moved onto building the pieces.

I rolled out each of the coils. I have recently started doing this, I find I am more efficient if I have all my coils ready to do. I then experimented with marbling techniques as I had only used this technique on three pieces before.

The handbuilding stage is where my intention turns to spontaneity. I don’t have a shape in mind as I build, I just let my hands guide me.

Your journey from self-taught ceramicist to showcasing your work in prestigious markets and galleries is remarkable. Can you share any significant milestones or lessons learned along the way, and what advice would you offer to aspiring artists looking to carve their path in the industry?

On my ceramics journey I have learned three key things:

Be your biggest ambassador

It can be super intimidating to advocate for yourself but if you aren’t going to then who will? I secured my first solo exhibition by just reaching out to galleries and pitching myself and my work.

Persistence is key

If they say no the first time, keep trying. I secured my feature in The Design Files by staying in touch with the team and updating them on my progress for a year. It was a defining moment in my career.

Go for it

I apply for all opportunities, no matter how big of a long shot it is. The worst thing that can happen is they say no. The best? They say yes. I applied for Melbourne Design Week in 2022 not even sure I was at the level an artist should be to participate and now this year I am part of the satellite program for a second year in a row.

Elena Strohfeldt LAYERS Group b

Your ceramics have made their way into the pages of Marie Claire, Home Beautiful and Country Style to name a few. What has been your proudest moment so far?

This is a hard question to answer, I am lucky and proud to have a few moments that stand out:

  • My first solo exhibition in Melbourne, ‘Her’ at Brunswick Street Gallery, as part of Melbourne Design Week
  • My feature in The Design Files
  • Steve Cordony styling my ceramics in his home
  • My first magazine feature in House & Garden

These moments were career defining and proved to myself that I can call myself a ceramic artist.

What’s next for Elena Strohfeldt Ceramics?

I have another exhibition in October at Brunswick Street Gallery, and I am going to start teaching which I am very excited about.

Quick six

Tell us about your signature style.

Earthy, textured and sculptural.

Somewhere that inspires you?

Italy. I love the ancient architecture, especially the Roman columns.

Someone who inspires you?

Taylor Swift. Her balance between art, creativity and business is unmatched.

Something you want to do more of this year?

Teach workshops.

Favourite interiors store / hidden gem in Melbourne?

Craft Victoria, it hides behind Supernormal down Flinders Lane.

What is one skill you want to master?

Ceramics, I am still honing my skills and I hope to never master it so I can keep learning and experimenting.

Elena Strohfeldt LAYERS 3 b

See LAYERS during Melbourne Design Week at Honey Bones Gallery.

24 May – 2 June 2024

See online for Elena Strohfeldt Ceramics Stockists.

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Studio photography by Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files

Ceramic photography by Elena Strohfeldt

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