Ruby Pilven

“Be patient. Ceramics
can be very difficult and
disappointing at times
but with time and effort,
great things happen.”



In a few words, describe yourself and your practice.

I am a 24 year old ceramic artist based in Smythes Creek (just outside Ballarat) making functional and decorative porcelain art pieces. Audacious in bold color patterns, striking in gold luster highlights and distinctive in form, my style is a contemporary twist on the Japanese technique called Nerikomi (hand-building with colored clay). The layers of abstracted color are a controlled yet fluid manifestation of the creative act: a controlled chaos. I create a variety of works from rings to vases and plates. 

When did you start your practice?

Having grown up with ceramicists for parents (Janine and Peter Pilven), I’ve always been surrounded by ceramics in some way, whether it was playing in the studio, watching my parents making pots, attending exhibitions or visiting fellow potter friends. I’ve had a passion and fascination for clay my entire life, but it wasn't until I was making my VCE Year 12 Studio Art folio that I realized how strong this interest was.

However, after years of my parents trying to steer me away from a career in art, I reached a compromise by completing a double degree at Monash University in Visual Arts and Business (majoring in printmaking and marketing). It was here that I strengthened my drawing and print skills and learnt how to actually market myself. Even as a student, I would make rings and brooches in my spare time and earn a modest income by selling these to small regional galleries.

How does where you live affect your work?

Back in the day, my parents built our mud brick house and studio on the property outside Ballarat in Smythes Creek. Surrounded by the natural Australian bush on 10 acres means I can truly focus in the studio. My beautiful surroundings impacts positively on me mentally which ultimately feeds into my work. 



“Practice, practice, practice and develop, develop, develop” quote by Peter Pilven, my dad. 


How do you start your process?

There are various stages involved in what I do, so depending on what point I’m up to I’ll be either creating fresh works, glazing, decorating or firing the kiln. Creating my ceramics begins with wedging the colored clay bodies, then flattening them out on a slab roller, creating a poetic colorful dance over the top, and then sculpting them into a particular form. The layered patterns in my work are a mixture of controlled and spontaneous movements giving my work an element of unpredictability that allows it to be recognizable yet unique each time. Revealing the final pattern is similar to printmaking - an element of surprise every time.

Due to the nature of the materials and processes I employ, my ceramic pieces require a drying time of 2 weeks. This is to ensure no cracking in the clay. Once my ceramics is dry I then bisque it (first firing), glaze it, fire it up to cone ten (second firing) then decorate with gold luster and fire it one more time (third firing). There are three firings in my process.

If you were to share one piece of advice, what would it be?

Be patient. Ceramics can be very difficult and disappointing at times but with time and effort, great things happen. 



My special nerikomi/inlay technique is something I have developed over many years. I have spent hours on end perfecting and experimenting with my technique. I believe it is very unique and I consider it to be a very secret process I’d like to keep to myself.



The bold funky color patterns paired with elaborate gold luster designs make my work unique. The process I employ ensures my works are similar in nature but different every time. 


Is your practice how you support yourself? If not, what else are you working on to do so?

This year I quit both my jobs and have completely put my time and energy into my practice. I am happy to say that at the moment I am comfortably supporting myself from my practice. Despite working incredibly long hours, I do love what I do and being my own boss. 

What would you be doing if you weren't doing this?

When I do inevitably slow down and create more one off artworks instead of a production line of work I plan on completing my Masters in Teaching and becoming a secondary art teacher. 



I like to think my audience sees me as an “Elegant Bogan”. At one end I create sophisticated and beautifully crafted porcelain artworks and at the other end I swear like a “tradie” and make a series of jewelry with profanities on them. 


Who (or what) inspires you?

My work’s idiosyncratic nature draws on contemporary influences, such as music, design and culture. I’m heavily influenced by my mother’s use of color and my father’s luster work in the ‘80s, as well as numerous ceramic artists including Sony Manning and David Pottinger – as well as old masters such as Miro, Matisse and Pollock.

What are some challenges you're facing in your practice?

Some of the biggest challenges I face with my practice include; working with an unforgiving medium such as porcelain (ie cracking) and getting enough sleep from working in my studio for too long.

How has your practice changed over time?  Where do you see it going?

There has been a profound shift in my works due to learning more about ceramics. In the beginning I was more focused on mixed media 2D works and now I am creating more sculptural 3D works, in my hand-built and wheel thrown works. The more I learn the more I want to explore the endless possibilities of this wonderful medium. I see a possible mixed combo of hand-built plates and wheel-thrown tea bowls in the future.

What are you currently working on?

I have been making a contemporary ceramics collection for the NGV shop to coincide with the Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great. I am also working on a special collab with a shoe company which shall remain a secret until its release. Also when I get a spare moment I hope to create a series of prints to go along side my ceramic works. This shall be an exciting and relaxing event I think.