Maker series: A conversation with Fiona Mackay Ceramics


What follows is a studio visit and conversation with Fiona Mackay, one of Auckland’s most exciting makers! We contacted Fiona several months back while we were deciding on the vessels we would serve our brewed coffee in at our new flagship coffee bar in Commercial Bay. We recently caught up with Fiona at her home studio in Devonport, to learn more about her practice, her influences from Japanese ceramics and minimalism, elements of which she brings together effortlessly to her everyday functional pieces. 

After spending years working overseas as a clothing buyer, eventually returning home to have her two sons, Fiona continued to work as a merchandiser and stylist until she found herself yearning for a creative outlet. It was 2016 when the talented ceramicist first got her hands in the clay after signing up to a beginner’s pottery course at the Ceramic College in Belmont. And through many hours of practice and perseverance, she’s developed a refined and distinctive style. 

“I’ve always enjoyed making things. I’d studied furniture design a few years ago now, and missed not being able to make functional pieces,” Fiona explains. “I immediately fell in love with the process, particularly working on the wheel and not long after a friend offered hers, and here we are”, adds Fiona. Initially, while still working as a stylist Fiona would often create the props she was lacking for her projects. It was not until 2018 that Fiona purchased a kiln and a new wheel, went all in and went full time. What follows is a conversation that took place at Fiona’s new purpose-built six and a half square metre studio in Devonport over coffee, of course.

Could you tell us about some of the other projects and collaborations you have enjoyed working on over the years?

Williams Eatery in Wynyard Quarter, that was my first. I worked with Charles on a cup that had to be a particular shade of yellow, which certainly was a challenge. I have a lot of yellow test tiles now! Then I worked with Ingrid Starnes creating vessels for their candle collection, which I have recently produced another run for their latest fragrance launch. More recently I produced a range of cups for Camper Coffee and then in collaboration with An Astute Assembly, incense holders and plates of which were taken to Tokyo, Japan and exhibited alongside a selection of other New Zealand producers works.

Can you tell us a little about your creative progress?

Much of my process is about getting proportions right. When working on a new project, I’ll get on the wheel and start creating and refining the vessel itself. I find that for the most part, I focus on simplifying form as much as possible. This requires time, though.

How would you define your style? 

Clean with precise lines, the proportion is important to me — but to achieve this, I spend a lot of time on the detail, getting the finish right. I prefer to use matt or unglazed finishes where the clay texture comes through, in particular, a pale muted colour palette I’m quite drawn to greys.      

How did this collaboration with Kōkako come about, who approached you?

It was Craig who reached out last year about the opening of the new espresso bar in Commercial Bay. It’s always exciting to work with good people.

You are a one-woman show and a mother. How do you juggle your practice, alongside being a great Mum? Do you feel like you have achieved a balance?

Being a one-woman show and working from home means that ceramics have become a big part of my family's life as well. I have been known to get up at 3 am to check on my kiln. Working from home does mean that I can be around more for my kids, which has been great. I’m still working on trying to get a better balance, but it’s easy to drift into the studio, work on one more thing! I’m trying to take weekends off, but at this stage, I’m not quite there. The reality is that I love what I do, and most of the time, I want to be in my little studio making pots.

Fiona has a permanent collection of pieces at The Cross Street Market and selected retailers throughout New Zealand including An Astute Assembly in Auckland, Precinct 35 in Wellington, Frances Nation in Christchurch and online via Kaolin Store. Fiona plans to launch her online store this year, in the meantime, be sure to follow her on Instagram to find out when new pieces or collections become available. 

Our Commercial Bay store will have (in very limited numbers!) a selection of the custom mugs Fiona created for coffee bar available to purchase instore.