Lessons From Clay : Head & Hands meets Orenda Ceramics

Robyn Landau is the maker behind our new collection - Orenda Ceramics. This wonderful woman somehow works full time for a major news company, is training in kundalini yoga and still finds time to be in the studio throwing beautiful small batch stoneware ceramics. I caught up with her at the pottery wheel and got to know her a little better. We talked a lot about the transformative quality of clay, the process of making, about balance, rituals and creative life lessons.

So when do you normally come to the studio?

Evenings and weekends mostly, whenever I can. Not every weekend though, I need a life too! But as I work too, time is finite and it's important to make sure that it's still a creative outlet, you know? Keeping the balance between it being my artistic practice, meditation practice, making a living. You have to find the right balance of it all. 

 
 
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As you become more established as a maker, do you find it difficult to innovate as well as keep up with what you've already put out there? 

Yes, at the moment, I have so many orders and that makes it hard to make new work. So I am busy fulfilling those - which is a good problem to have! But then at a certain point in the summer, I will stop taking orders - take a month to have some creative freedom and make some new stuff.

You described ceramics as a meditation practice. Tell me more about that.

When you’re throwing, there’s a moment where - sometimes - you become one with the clay. Your hands and the clay exist simultaneously and it’s this really, quite serene moment where you’re dancing together almost as one. And you get lost in it.

I like listening to mantra music or classical music when I'm throwing. It's romantic. You end up doing this dance with the clay.

 
 
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I was thinking there's something so romantic about tuning into a material and asking what it needs. Is it too dry, does it need to sit for a while - you're in a relationship with it in a way?

In a relationship, exactly. You're being guided by the clay, but still at the same time guiding it along too.

Does the clay ever teach you anything?

Oh...the clay teaches me all the time, I have learned so many lessons from clay. First of all, clay goes through so many phases. So right now, it's leather hard and we are trimming it. It still has a chance to transform again, even though it's been formed into a shape. 

It also teaches me an incredible amount of patience and this idea of letting go. Because there are so many opportunities for things to go wrong. I could do this whole piece, and then clay will be too dry when I come to stamp it and it just cracks. Or you glaze it and you pop it on the shelf and you have an idea of how it's going to come out, and something goes wrong! It screws up. It's this idea that you have to put some trust in the process and surrender the control - let things be as they are.

Clay teaches you a lot of lessons in going slow. Just being present with what you're doing. Especially living in a fast-paced city like London. It's meditative and allows you to forget what's happening outside, and separate from your day a little.

From a mental health perspective, it's incredibly grounding, working with the earth and getting your hands dirty.

 
 
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And how does working with clay contrast to your day job?

In the day I am constantly talking to people or having to be 'on'. But this is a moment to be with only yourself, and the clay.

I think about the clay as a mirror. We need to be centered and before you throw the clay - it also, needs to be centered perfectly on the wheel. You have to have a balance of all the elements, the water, the air, the fire. It needs to be formed evenly so it doesn't collapse. It goes through all these different transformations. 

I know you're studying Kundalini at the moment. Are there any similarities to your ceramic work?

Yes, the clay gets me into the neutral mind state of just being and accepting things around you, non-duality. Clay has a grounding element and allows you to connect your dharma. When you have that moment to let the clay take hold when you're creating something new - It's something naturally that happens, beyond you and I guess that's what dharma really is.

Why did you decide to use stoneware?

I wanted to work with something that had a really natural earthy quality to it. 

 
 
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Are you quite an earthy character?

Very. I am Taurus sun. I have lot of earth signs in my chart. I am very grounded, so it makes a lot of sense that I found clay.

How did this all start for you?

About 2 years ago, I experimented taking some classes. And in the middle of one of my courses I was going through a break-up. I was having a really difficult time. Probably the worst week mentally I'd ever had. I remember one night specifically before class, I was not in a good place at all. And after leaving here 2 hours later, I was a completely transformed person. I will never forget that moment. Recognising, that I had the power to transform.

I think we underestimate our ability to transform and change states.

Yeah, whatever helps you get out of your mind and into your body. Whichever way that is. A movement meditation, yoga, laying on the floor doing nothing but stretching, playing an instrument or playing with clay. It all brings us back to our body - and that's when that transformation can happen.

How long was your course for?

3 months. Afterwards, I joined the studio (Turning Earth in Hoxton) and it's so inspiring to see what everyone is creating and we all help each other. I think when you get into a new artform or craft there's an opportunity for insecurity and comparing yourself. But it's really about starting, just begin! 

So you didn't know what you were going to create when you started?

I had an idea of the aesthetic and bringing in ritualistic practices. 

Whether at your altar or in your bed, it's about creating a safe space. So things like, mugs or tea and smudging or lighting a ritual incense - to help you take time for yourself. 

 
 
 

What are your rituals?

I can't leave the house without doing a morning practice. And it's different every day because it's about asking what your body needs. It's not about always sitting in meditation for 20 mins each day. I wake up, have some water with lemon and do some form of kundalini practice. I always make sure I have time for that. But some days I will add in an ecstatic dance - which I wish I had more time for. So you just put on one song and move to it and when I do it, it's incredible.

And before bed, I write down a moment of magic from my day. Some people I guess call that a gratitude practice. It can be something small or something really fabulous. I then also write down my manifestations for this moment.

 
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What would you say to someone who finds having rituals quite a lot to take on?

It's okay if you miss a day. The weekends aren't good for me, cos I'm out of my routine. But I'd say just start with 3 minutes in your day. And it will have a transformative effect. Just find the thing that works best for you.

I used to wake up 30 mins before work and shower, dress and leave. For me, now I do my routines and rituals - I really recognise the difference. That's when you're like - I want to keep doing this. 

What's are your plans for your business and art practice?

I'm going to continue crafting my aesthetic. And it's wonderful seeing your work in peoples spaces and how it helps ground them. And also finding the right balance for me - I would love to be able to expand, create more, update my shop more, so the plans are there, but I am also not in a rush. 

I also wanna continue to do things that inspire me and feed into my work, like travelling. I like the pace of not forcing anything and having things happen as it happens. And that's how I am going to continue with it now.

Collaborations, seasonal one-offs, new collections - that's all in the works. And that helps me keep things new. It'll be fun to explore what's coming next.

In setting up a business, what's been your biggest lesson?

I've learned so many lessons about myself over the past year. And the sense of don't take life too seriously, let things happen naturally, slow down, everything will come in its own time as it's meant to be.

I am a very fast paced person and it's really taught me a lot about myself. You start by saying yes to everything. But you also have to realise the value of your time. It's okay to do nothing, you don't always have to be creating.

I can relate to that. At the start you say yes to everything, you over-deliver and over-exert yourself in all different directions. But then you have to ask yourself, why did I start out - what am I doing this for. And come back to it.

Yeah, that balance in your life, between making art, making money and enjoying yourself. It's a work in progress isn't it?

Thanks so much Roybn for the chat!


You can find the Orenda collection made especially for Heads & Hands in the homeware section of the store. Be sure to check out the choice of three beautiful glazes.