Marie-Héléne Clauzon – Ceramic Artist

Marie-Héléne Clauzon was a Food Stylist now she is a Ceramic Artist

Marie Héléne Clauzon is a ceramic Artist this is the story of how she finally found her way to the one thing that made her heart sing.

MH: Where to start, I went to Art School in London so that was my background. But I worked in restaurants to survive, so that was where I got my taste for restaurants.

I came to Australia with a Kiwi guy I met in London. He wanted to open a restaurant so we did that together. We had a café in Melbourne. In those days Camembert still came in a tin [laughs]. I had to grow my own Basil because you couldn’t find Basil. I had to make our own sorbet because really it was Strawberry and not much else. I made champagne sorbet.

When we sold that place I started making clothes for kids, because I’ve always been a maker of things, and I could see there was a real shortage of nice clothes for children, so that’s what I started doing, for two or three years.

Then I went back to work in a restaurant to earn some money … the mother of the chef at this restaurant I was working in happened to be a food stylist. I had never heard of this thing “food stylist”. I thought this is amazing, I like food, I like creating things, so I started looking into food styling. In fact before I left that restaurant a film crew from France came to shoot there … they were doing an ad for a French cordial. The crew were at the restaurant every night. I made friends with the Ad Agency owner. At this time I was looking to reinvent myself and take a break from Australia, he said when you come to France I’ll introduce you to some food stylists.

So when I was in Paris I contacted food stylists and started assisting them, I was in my element. I love food and creating pictures … coming from an Art School background it just jelled. I was at home. I started in France and then I decided to come back here. Paris is tough, a lot of competition …. Finding accommodation is hard so I came back, I had training, I was 32 or 33 years of age.

I contacted the Women’s Weekly, I had no contacts here … so why not? Everyone respects the Women’s Weekly. Pamela Clark gave me a chance. So that’s how I started, I became almost full-time and was there for quiet some time.

LG: Always Freelance?

MH: I was freelance, its true, not many places would employ a full time food stylist …. maybe someone like Unilever could have someone on as a full timer. If you employ the same person all the time you will be getting the same look if you want to refresh. When I get a brief I interpret it one way … if I was doing it all the time it could get repetitive.

It’s not a job that is needed everyday, but you become known for a particular style. I’ve now worked as a food stylist for 25 years.

LG: You made a good living?

MH: Yes the money is good, you earn more in a day than the average person, but also sometimes you don’t get work … when the work is there you work so if its there for 7 days you take it. It also good to have your own props because, someone rings you, you don’t have to trawl around the shops trying to find them you have them. Sometimes you work too much and sometimes not at all.

LG: When did you start doing the Ceramics?

MH: The way it happened, the briefs I was getting in Food Styling were asking for “handmade vessels” there was a trend for more handmade natural things and I was relying on the prop hire places, like every other stylist. I would know each piece of ceramic they had … and they didn’t have many. Because I did ceramics at Art School, I thought – gosh I could make some.

I enrolled in a night-time course at Uni so I could use the kiln, I like to do courses, so I enrolled in the pottery class. I had my little ideas and I knew how to throw …. So that’s what I started doing but it was too perfect, and being a Stylist I know how the light is going to play on it and we need smaller vessels for food photography, the size, colour and texture is important. Details that will give you that little extra something without taking away from the food. So working on wheel wasn’t going to work, but they had a thing called a slab roller …. Its like a pasta machine … so when I saw that I thought that’s what I want … I want texture, I was using the clay like it was pastry. It was weird, I was almost back with food in a funny sort of way.

I like to use old French tea towels in the process to add texture, I find that they work the best, must be something in the weave. So working in this method. I was getting shapes with a little bit of irregularity … you put a bit of food on that
And its all you need. I started making some pieces at the Uni, and using them in shoots.

There was this building that had about a dozen or so photographers and stylists. We all know each other in the industry … we borrowed and helped each other. One day this stylist came into my studio/space and she saw my ceramics and she said where did you get these, I said I made them and she asked if she could hire them … so that’s sort how it started. Stylists started coming to me to hire them and then a prop place bought some and that’s really how it started.

I got more and more excited by it so every spare minute I had I was making stuff.

LG: How long ago was this ?

MH: So that was four years ago, I’m 60 now so when I was 56 …. so that long ago.

LG: So did the business just take off.

MH: Because they photograph well my niche was really stylists in Sydney/ Melb in the US and London and its still my niche, I’m selling to normal clients as well. But it’s more the photographic world because they understand about size and what is necessary. But I do get commissions for large bowls and platters that are way too big for photography.

LG: I think the unique thing about the work is that you can see the person in the piece.

MH: Yes people are definitely appreciating hand-made items much more and they are wanting to do it themselves, because everything is so mass produced and same same. I remember in clothing every time I went back to France it was exciting to go shopping but now its all the same, its clothing and home-wares everything is the same. I think people are rediscovering what it is to make something that has their own energy.

LG: So this is your career now? Are you still styling?

MH: I’m still styling, but its very quiet, the whole industry has changed they aren’t shooting as much, some not at all. Sad really because Australian food photography has a very good reputation internationally. But everyone is trying to save money and cut corners so the quality has slumped a bit and the number of people they use for shoots is now very small.

LG: Are your ceramics stocked anywhere?

MH : This is part of the story, you might have a passion and you go for it but it still needs to be viable. With shops there is this wholesale price thing and I feel like I’m working for peanuts.

I keep getting all these requests and I keep saying no … and from restaurants and I say no. I know the restaurant industry too well, my stuff will be trashed even thoogh its very strong. I’m not equipped to do plates, and I don’t want to do it ….. its just too much of same same . I’m talking to one shop at the moment because I realise people like to see and touch. I’m not making my life easy by not having my stuff in shops but I’m talking to galleries so they come here and look at what I have and its 50:50 deal, they can buy it straight away. I do find the wholesale thing very difficult. I don’t want to work for $10 per hour.

Its all very well to follow your passion but you do have to find a way to monetise it … If I had a big house or a garage that would be a big help because I wouldn’t have to find the rent but its not where I’m at. That’s not a business anyway that ‘s a cottage industry.

When Its handmade its time consuming, I have my website and I’m doing workshops. The one coming up is how to make your own Christmas decorations. ……. Information below

Maybe I haven’t found the recipe just yet. How do you monetise instagram … is it possible ?

Believing in what you do, but it is stressful …. to build a business is not easy I have to find the right window for my work. You have to be particular so that it works for you. I think it’s the artist in me that is driving this….there are different stages There are some pieces that I have made that are precious and I will not part with……

In the end I think in essence what pushes me and other women my age to start a new path is a need to do something that is truly US, showing what we are made of, the essence of who we are. Also by now we have some kind of idea of what makes us really tick and time is ticking so we want to do the things we truly love before it is too late.

To explain the joy of making my ceramics as opposed to the joy of working as a stylist ….. when I work as stylist I have a brief to follow, when I do ceramics I have my own brief.

 When I see colleagues using my ceramics it is just such a validation of my Being and a joy to see my work.


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