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See inside Canberra artist Avi Amesbury's Holt studio

Forget romantic notions of paint-splattered tables, air spiked with solvent fumes, overflowing ash trays and long-forgotten coffee mugs. The reality is a little different in the studios of three Canberra artists.

With a gentle breeze flowing up from the scenic valley and the sounds of bird song peppered by the occasional rooster crow, it would be hard not to feel inspired in Avi Amesbury's studio at Strathnairn Arts in Holt.

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Where the Magic Happens

Avi Amesbury, John Loane, and Samantha Small show off their studios in Canberra.

It's a fitting setting for an artist deeply influenced by the land with elements of nature even ending up in her work in the form of ceramics made from volcanic ash and clay she collects herself.

An antique incinerator sits in the centre of the converted studio space surrounded by tables covered with remnants of white porcelain and high shelves of Amesbury's carefully arranged ceramic vessels and tiles.

Another shelf is covered in the figurative clay forms of Shaun Haynes an artist she shares the studio space with.

"My work really is influenced by place … and landscape but it's also about where we are in that landscape as a people and as human beings," she says.


The places may have changed in the 20 years she has worked with ceramics but the inspiration has not.

After falling in love with clay while living at Byron Bay, Amesbury moved to Canberra specifically to begin a degree at the ANU School of Art.

"It's kind of like you're playing in the mud, you're playing with the earth and I think that's what really got me and it was that feeling that you sink into it and it's just so meditative," she says.

She started out in a home studio but left the isolation and distraction behind for the facilities and kilns of Strathnairn about six years ago.

"When you come out to a place like this you really do leave the world behind," she says.

Amesbury tries to spend at least two days a week in the studio juggling it with a full time job as chief executive officer of Craft ACT.

"If I was a public servant doing a 9 to 5 job somewhere that wasn't in the arts I think it would be more difficult," she said.

"It really does use both sides of your brain, I think being an artist really helps in the position I'm in."

Even when she's away from the studio she always feels inspired.

"If you're not here you're thinking about it and if you're not thinking about it you're drawing it or writing it," she says.

"It's very much part of my everyday life, so when you're coming out and working in your studio your constantly moving forward, researching ideas, looking at how to make things, resolve things and then you set a deadline and say 'I'm having a show now' and suddenly you know that the work has to be resolved and ready."

Finding natural materials from the ground is the connecting factor, Amesbury says.

After digging up raw clay or sourcing it from other people she mixes it with water, flux and sometimes pumice-like volcanic rock ash from New Zealand to pour it into moulds to make her delicate ceramic vessels or form into tiles decorated with natural pigments and glazes.

"It's very direct it's from the land to pot," she says.

Like many artists she is influenced by Canberra's light after being fascinated by the horizon and dry climate while living in Western Australia and the urban environment of Sydney.

Even the Tasmanian-made porcelain is connected to the Australian landscape.

At times she enjoys leaving the highly-technical medium aside for the "instantness" of charcoal drawing but always comes back to ceramics.

"It's almost like I have no control; the very first time I touched and felt the clay I was physically drawn into it," she says.

"It's about the liquidness of it, even though it feels quite solid, that's what I love about it … and the different stages and the fire… and never really knowing what it's going to look like at the end of the day."