Ceramicist McKenzie Briggs lives in the Byron hinterlands and makes objects for her label Hygge Ceramics. With Scandinavian heritage, the Danish concept of 'hygge', loosely translating to 'cosy way of life', has been a point of inspiration for McKenzie ever since she came across it. McKenzie shares her experience living a hygge life and how we can 'hygge' too.
Why the name Hygge? What does it mean to you?
'Hygge' (pronounced who-geh) is a Danish word with no direct translation. The closest word in English would be something like 'cosy'. I first stumbled across the word about seven years ago when I was doing research into my Scandinavian ancestry. I fell in love with the concept of hygge immediately. The word can be used to describe a feeling, atmosphere or object. For example, a candle lit dinner with friends would be considered hygge, a hot cup of tea, a bowl of porridge or a woolen blanket. Hygge is an integral part of Danish culture and has since become part of mine. As soon as I made my first vessel, a small stoneware milk jug, I knew the word would represent my work perfectly, so I hand-carved myself a rubber stamp and made it official.
How can we introduce more hygge into our lives here in the Australian winter?
While hygge can certainly be achieved year-round, winter is definitely the season for it to thrive. I’ve always loved winter. For me, growing up in Brisbane, it was that first sign of change in the evening air that gave me such joy. A respite from the sweltering days and balmy nights was on the way, and its arrival meant fireside dinners, cosy blankets, porridge for breakfast and crisp, refreshing air on my cheeks. There was a feeling that always came with the season, one I could never seem to define, but that was inexplicably sweet. I now know that feeling was hygge.
Winter can be a challenging time for many, especially those where the winters are long and dark. We are fortunate that winter here in Australia doesn’t mean being confined to indoors, yet finding activities that give you a feeling of hygge is still important.
Some of my favourites include having pot luck dinners with my housemates and friends where we all prepare and bring a different dish and have a sumptuous feast, followed by cards and board games in front of a blazing fire. Setting up the projector and putting on a film to snuggle up on the couch with. Taking a sunset soak in my outdoor bathtub which I heat by lighting a fire underneath. Digging out the mulled wine recipe and others that only surface for a few months in the year. It’s also a time to break out those items and objects which give you hygge. Candles, blankets, woolly socks, coats, beanies, etc. Remember, hygge was created by a nation that essentially needed to be completely indoors for the winter months and thus surround themselves with all things hygge to endure!
Tell us about Hygge Ceramics and your process.
My first experience with clay was only a couple of years ago. A former housemate left behind an untouched brick of red stoneware clay when he moved back home to America. I eyed it off for a while before claiming it and experimenting with sculpture. I began making figures but quickly changed to vessels and utensils, things that I could use and include in my daily life and ultimately, get so much hygge from.
I’ve always seemed to gravitate to artistic processes that take time, patience and have differing but equally fantastic stages like film photography and ceramics. A few years ago, while I was living in Brisbane, I completely immersed myself in film photography and spent most of my free time in the dark room.
Since living in Possum Creek and not having access to those facilities anymore, I suppose I’ve found an equally time consuming and complex medium to explore; ceramics. I feel it’s extremely important that in this age of instancy we preserve and honour the processes that may take a little longer.
With Hygge Ceramics, I’m still finding what creative process works best for me. I have a notebook with me constantly where I jot down any ideas that come to mind, or inspiring shapes and objects I come across. I find myself inspired by the often disproportionate shapes of Scandinavian pottery and the refined aesthetic of Japanese pottery, as well as an overall focus on function and practicality.
I’m also trying to work with and experiment with as many different clays as I can, as the type of clay I use heavily impacts what I go on to build. Once I’ve built my pieces, either with hand building techniques or by throwing them on my wheel, I allow them to completely air dry in my little garage-cum-studio before bisque firing them. The glazing and painting happens after they’ve been fired once. They are then returned to the kiln for the final, higher-temperature firing. Of course, we potters go to immeasurable lengths to ensure our work survives the kiln, but in the world of turning mud to stone there are definitely elements out of our control.
I think that one of the reasons I’ve taken to pottery so intensely is that it allows me to be in a state of complete focus, fading out all extraneous noise and thought. I’m able to exist in this meditative state.
You live in the Byron hinterlands. Tell us about where you live and how it influences what you do?
For the last three years I’ve been living in a cabin amongst 60 acres of lush rainforest in a place called Possum Creek. My partner and I rent the cabin and share the property with a second dwelling where our five fantastic housemates live, though they’re more like family. We have chooks, veggie patches, and the best neighbours ever; koalas, wallabies, birds, pythons, foxes and more!
This place has been the perfect spot for my creativity to thrive. For a long time we didn’t have phone reception, internet or television, and only now have limited access to these, so time spent at home is quite different here. Being somewhat disconnected to all that noise allows me to while away my free time so much more rewardingly, and ultimately makes me feel more intimately connected to this place, this property and my surrounds.
Besides the landscape being infinitely stunning, the other predominant influence comes from the people I live with. Never have I been around more creative and inspiring people. Each one of us is always up to something, be it building a gorgeous wooden swing for the yard, crafting leather notebooks or writing beautiful music. This enthusiasm for creativity is so alive in the Northern Rivers area, and clay in particular has found its hub.
When first I got into clay I’d attend a weekly pottery group at Northern Rivers Pottery Supplies. It was a great place for me to learn from others and establish my own style. The area also hosts an annual Mud Trail, where potters throughout the area open their studios to the public for one weekend. It’s such a fun way to meet other clay addicts and get inspiration and ideas for your own practice.
Photography McKenzie Briggs