Inspiring : Ruchika {ceramics}


ruchika - tile - two potted plants

ruchika – tile – two potted plants


Ceramicist Ruchika Madan learnt to say no the hard way, but it was one of the best realizations she ever had. “I was initially so eager for work, I found it very hard to refuse projects that I didn’t want to do, or wholesale production orders.

“Eventually I figured out that if I just worked on what I really wanted to, stayed true to my own pursuits and values, the work sold just as well or even better, and I was so much happier.

“I still don’t do much production or any wholesale and only take commissions that fall into my current way of working and style. I want to go into the studio excited to work, not dreading the slog through some tedious project.”


ruchika - leaves and vine mug

ruchika – leaves and vine mug


Ruchika’s career has taken a few twists and turns, but always the focus was on creating something. Originally studying metalsmithing, she changed focus to ceramics early on in her studies, and graduated from Maine College of Art in Portland. Wanting to work as a studio potter but stuck without a studio meant working as an assistant to another ceramicist (which she says was great for honing skills), while doing restaurant jobs on the side and textiles at home to support herself.


“I have always been a maker – it’s just what I have always done and in some ways, my career has just been a long continuation of the same person I was as that little kid.”


Over the past 20 years, she has split her time between teaching, making and exhibiting, and for the last 10, had her own retail studio space next to her friend and jeweller, Jade Moran in Somerville, MA. During that time, she also worked as product developer and designer for her family business, Achla Designs, a manufacturer of garden products. “At one point we had a ceramic line, which I worked to develop with a factory in Poland. It was a great experience to trouble-shoot and learn more about designing for specific production methods.”


ruchika - tile - two fish

ruchika – tile – two fish


ruchika - fish and waves plate

ruchika – fish and waves plate


With the arrival of her second child at the end of last year, Ruchika decided to close her retail space. Now she continues her work from home, with an office upstairs and a clay studio in the basement. “I have plenty of space and my garden right outside.”

It’s her garden and what happens in it that provides much of the inspiration for her work – birds, worms, baby carrots and fresh sprouts all make their way onto her platters and tiles. Strong clean forms come through, with plenty of emphasis on line and texture. “I love to work in series, creating a body of work with images that come from a theme, or recurring preoccupation I have.”

“Most of my work is made from white stoneware and porcelain clay using a variety of forming techniques, including wheel-throwing, slab-building and slip-casting.  The surface is created by incising and carving, and brushing, stenciling, and trailing slip. The glaze and underglaze materials vary the line quality and colors. By applying the glazes to selected areas with a brush, some areas can be shiny, while others remain softly matte.”


ruchika - little oval dish - peapod

ruchika – little oval dish – peapod


ruchika - carrots

ruchika – carrots


“I think the hardest thing as an artist is having to just muddle along and make your own way. You have to have drive to become reasonably successful and/or financially solvent. You are a one-man-band – production, marketing, accounting, janitorial…


“Sometimes people have mentors, but I didn’t so much, and 20 years ago there were no fabulous tools like Etsy or Squarespace or mobile phone credit card readers that make tasks manageable, even easy.”


“Just learning to take photographs – (slides!) of your work was such a huge obstacle before you could even move on to the next thing. So I just buckled down and figured it out. Now it’s so much easier to hang a virtual shingle out and you’re open for business, and I’m happy to be able to take advantage. Outsourcing and hiring help is also possible once you are more established or have a bigger budget, but watching my parents in the family business doing it all and building up to the successful business they have today, taught me what could be achieved on your own.”


ruchika - box tile - nestbuilders

ruchika – box tile – nestbuilders


Throwing children into the mix was a hard adjustment. “Being a studio artist is a solitary life – I mean mentally more, but physically too. I spent so many hours working full-time alone in my studio for many years before kids came along. It was hard to adjust and I go crazy when I can’t carve out any time for that. I resort to dead of night when everyone is in bed. I figure I’ll sleep when I’m dead! Right now with a 1 and 5 yr old is the biggest challenge. I often feel I am running on a hamster wheel.”

But of course the children are inspiring too. “It’s interesting to see what my 5 year old seems to have inherited genetically. He spends hours at our kitchen table, “his workshop” cutting things out with scissors and doing various projects. At my parents house, he has commandeered the shoe closet under the stairs as his “studio” and set it up with a tiny table and chair and suitcase full of supplies.”

They spend a lot of time as a family making art together. “My husband is an artist too and we draw a lot in our family – we have a giant sketchbook we work on together and really, we spend a lot more time doing art purely for fun. My inspiration has always come from my activities – my garden, my time in Maine etc., and the stories we read and animals we study, projects we do – all of it percolates into my studio work.” Ruchika also uses the time with children to focus on aspects other than studio work, like setting up her website and some other side projects in design, including fresh products for Achla, as well as patterns through Spoonflower. And of course, working in her garden.


ruchika's garden outside her studio

ruchika’s garden outside her studio


You can find more of Ruchika’s beautiful ceramics in her Etsy shop, ruchika.


Inspiring : Whimsy Milieu {craft}

whimsymilieu - intense euphoria

whimsymilieu – intense euphoria


Jacqueline Chan finds inspiration everywhere, from the curiosities of the natural world to delectable French patisserie and everything in between. Wooden rings with painted diamonds, colourful leather concoctions of necklaces with names like “Sweet Success” and “Intense Euphoria”, illustrations of dogs and sharks and pouches with handprinted abstract patterns all find their way into her repertoire. She never stays focused on one medium (“my heart is pulled into many different directions and I love working with different materials”); so it’s really no surprise that she calls her business Whimsy Milieu.


whimsymilieu - wooden diamond rings

whimsymilieu – wooden diamond rings


Working out of her home studio in Orange, NSW, Jacqueline has made it her mission to spread happiness to the world; and what she makes is designed to do just that. Her aim is for you to “surround yourself with whimsical things that make you happy.” Producing work that achieves this goal makes her happy too.


“I love it that this job of spreading happiness doesn’t feel like work at all, as I wake up every day to do what I love and fall asleep at night thinking about more ideas for my business.”


Materials and process are a joy for her, even more than the designing. “What I love most about making is the process. Although I always feel intimidated before I start, when I actually do start, it is just exhilarating. It’s also enlightening when I make mistakes but work out how to overcome them.”


whimsymilieu - sweet success

whimsymilieu – sweet success


whimsymilieu - blockprinted pouch

whimsymilieu – blockprinted pouch


For someone who is as consistently inventive across wildly differing mediums as Jacqueline, it is surprising to realise that her life has gone in a big circular loop. She grew up in a very creative household in her home country of Malaysia, always drawing and crafting. “I remember making cards with my mother to sell at the school fair, and also representing my school in many art competitions.”



But life shifted, and “somehow, I ended up studying engineering at university and eventually became an engineer.”


However, you can’t suppress your true self forever. “The urge to lead a creative life started bugging me incessantly and I went back to university and obtained a degree in design. It has certainly enabled me to look at the world with new eyes.” During their studies, her and her friends started making things to sell, and it was this small taster that fuelled Jacqueline’s dreams to start her own business. Whimsy Milieu became a reality in 2012.


whimsymilieu - blockprinted pouch

whimsymilieu – blockprinted pouch


whimsymilieu - amazingly awesome

whimsymilieu – amazingly awesome


“I have learnt a lot through this journey – not only in terms of creativity and business, but also about life and relationships. It is such a blessing that doing something I love also enables me to live a more meaningful life and to spend more time with my loved ones, wherever they may be in the world.

“However, one of the most important things that I learnt is not to compare myself with other designers/artisans – we are all different and we satisfy different needs of all our lovely customers. I am very happy to create things that make people happy, and I also hope to prompt awareness of living a more creative and meaningful life.”

You can find more of Jacqueline’s creativity in her Etsy shop, WhimsyMilieu, and on her own website.


whimsymilieu - snowy mountain wooden rings

whimsymilieu – snowy mountain wooden rings


Inspiring : Anny Schoo Clothing

Trying to choose my favourite piece of clothing from Anny Schoo is an impossible task – it’s all those flowing lines and classic shapes reinvented in crispy natural linen – not to mention the delicious choice of colours to be combined at whim…


anny schoo - linen simplicity wavy top

anny schoo – linen simplicity wavy top


Her aim is to make simple, comfy clothing, and loves the flexibility of fabric. Trying not to follow too many rules, she “gathers ideas through daily life and puts them into pieces of fabric,” always keeping the image of people wearing and enjoying her clothes foremost in her head when she is making.

Anny is a quiet sort, who likes to “likes to walk, farm and drink tea” and enjoys spending time her family, their seven rabbits, four chickens and the vege garden in their yard. In 2010 with the profits from her handmade business, they put up solar panels on their roof, and now her whole studio and home is completely run by solar.

Describing her studio as sometimes “messy, but also vivid and FUN!”, the open-plan space boasts an orange wall, several sewing machines, a large cutting table and of course, tons of fabric.”I also have various sizes of vacuums to clean as I work. It is a MUST to deal with sewing fiber dust.”


anny schoo - linen jacket shirt and pants

anny schoo – linen jacket shirt and pants


Her first clothing-related project was a red vest that she made for her very first puppy, Lily. “It was a scrap of red cotton I cut out of old clothes. There wasn’t any sewing on it, I just put the cloth on my puppy’s back and eyed for the “right” areas to cut four holes for her legs to slip through. She looked very cute. I still use the same technique for some of my wrap style designs now 🙂 ”


anny schoo - linen lagenlook vest with roses

anny schoo – linen lagenlook vest with roses


anny schoo - linen jacket shirt and pants2

anny schoo – linen jacket shirt and pants2


She learnt to sew and draft patterns in high school, but put those particular skills aside to become a craft teacher. It wasn’t until much later, when she moved to the US in 2007, that those skills paid off. She became engrossed in crafting, and spent a lot of time with her young daughter making things they enjoyed – “puppets, pouches, waraji (woven footwear), and the clothing we wanted to wear. I stumbled into ETSY online in 2008 and became a member and started posting things I made to sell.” The online environment was also the perfect outlet for someone who describes herself as “shy in general, but I have lots to share once you get to know me.”

Her business has grown ahead in leaps and bounds, and she has been featured in numerous magazines and online, including the beautiful Peppermint Magazine (Issue 6).


anny schoo - linen lagenlook ruffle blouse

anny schoo – linen lagenlook ruffle blouse


anny schoo - linen drawstring wide-leg pants

anny schoo – linen drawstring wide-leg pants


Anny’s father remains one her most enduring influences. A creator and maker, he is also a practising Taoist and philosopher. “As a child, I remembered him telling us, ” One must love oneself before doing anything.” By loving yourself, it means accepting who you are and it is the basic of being in the world.”


anny schoo – linen wrap top


Zen practice is now a fundamental part of her daily life and sewing. “Each piece is worked with a piece of calm mind and patience. It has been a blessing doing what I love. It makes me HAPPY to turn my ideas into wearable pieces for people who enjoy them. Working with my customers means that I have also met many wonderful people. If every person is a book, I now have a small library full of interesting stories.”





You can find more of Anny’s wonderful clothing and find out more about her in her shop, annyschooecoclothing.

p.s. Anny says that she loves Australians; “they were a large portion of my customers when I first started selling on Etsy. Australians are BIG supporters for “handmade”, so please pass on my thanks!”


The best of 2014

Oh. My. Goodness. There goes another year….. in all its chaotic, mind-bending glory. Disappointments, epiphanies, and serious amounts of hard slog.

I’m older and wiser. And clearer on what I need to do. And that’s awesomeness right there, even though I didn’t achieve everything I set out to do. 

Make sure you take stock of what you have learned as well as what you have achieved this year.  If you don’t, you probably will have missed something very valuable indeed. Take time to savour the journey.

I’ve loved my journey this year. Here’s a snippet of the most popular, the most beautiful, and the most interesting posts on 
tractorgirl for 2014. {And some useful stuff too.}


mariaqueenmaria - black tunic with multiple ribbons

mariaqueenmaria – black tunic with multiple ribbons

Maria Queen Maria is a deconstructivist clothing label from Bulgaria, run by two women with backgrounds in the film industry and costume design. You can find more of their work here.


+ Designing a knock-out business card, Parts 1 and 2. Your business card is much more than just a carrier of your contact details; your card sends out a message about your business. Do you want to be perceived as boring or cheap? Probably not. Get onto these tips to make your business card memorable. Part 1 is here, Part 2 is here.



stoflab - crispijn - green

stoflab – crispijn – green

Stoflab: Despite his bold and uncompromising geometrics, Stoflab himself prefers to remain mysterious and anonymous. Based in the Netherlands, his influences run through Dick Bruna, Bauhaus and computer technology. You can find more of his striking work here


+ Repeating patterns in Illustrator CS6 with the Pattern Making Tool. Written by Illustrator expert Sew Heidi, this excellent post goes through step-by-step to help you create simple patterns with the new Pattern Making Tool in CS6. The tool includes features such as live previews and half-drops, so is a total boon to designers who have been struggling with earlier versions of Illustrator. You can find the post here.



sim luttin - these things

sim luttin – these things

Sim Luttin: Australian jeweller Sim Luttin grew up wanting be an inventor. She watched things being created by her grandfather tinkering in his shed and her scientist father; “I was encouraged to do things in a more labour intensive, meticulous way, which was often a longer and highly detailed process. Now, many years later, I approach my creative work this way.”  You can find more of Sim’s beautiful work here.



leschiwelt - owl

leschiwelt – owl

Nora Leschinski grew up in a remote mountain village in the green forested heart of Germany. It was the perfect place for the future woodcarver to play and fuel her imagination. You can find more of Nora’s beautiful illustrated woodcarvings here.


 + Photographing your work for your online shop. Got an Etsy shop or similar? This one’s for you. Your pictures ARE your product, in the sense that the online world is an overwhelmingly visual one, and you’ve got mere seconds to grab your customer’s attention before they click away somewhere else. Read it here.



mark obrien - church st records - created for the skyliner show

mark obrien – church st records – created for the skyliner show

Mark O’Brien has made enormous chickens {and many other things} from cardboard. See more of his work here.



clemens wirth in the studio

clemens wirth in the studio

Clemens Wirth claims he’s not a wizard, despite his red hair. I beg to differ.  See him build amazing dioramas and turn them into film here


Getting Started in Surface Design, Parts 1, 2 and 3. Part 1 goes through image sizing and resolution, and how to create a simple repeat. You can find Part 1 here. Part 2 explains the difference between CMYK and RGB colour, which one you should be using and why, and has a list of online printing venues so you can print your own fabric. Part 2 is here. Part 3 shows you how big to make your image, helps you figure out what image-editing program to use, and shows you the easy peasy way of creating variety within your print, and mostly importantly, explains what to do next if you want to get serious about surface design. Part 3 is here.



Beata Czyzowska Young - make it possible

Beata Czyzowska Young – make it possible

Beata Czyzowska Young: After moving from Poland several years ago, Beata now makes her home on the Australian Central Coast. 

She is absolutely adamant: “Expensive camera and expensive equipment is not gonna make you an artist.” For her, it’s all about looking beyond the obvious, and not being afraid to break the rules. Anything is possible.

You can find more of her gobsmackingly beautiful photography here.



I wish you all the very best over this festive season – peace, love and happiness.

Julie X

Inspiring : karoArt {ceramics}

“Karolina Grudniewska discovered ceramics almost by accident. It all began one Christmas when she found two bags of clay under the Xmas Tree… and once she started playing with it she could not stop.” So begins karoArt’s introduction to her Etsy shop.


karoArt - fruit platter

karoArt – fruit platter


karoArt - tweet bowls

karoArt – tweet bowls


Karolina (Karo) moved from Poland to Ireland after a convoluted career path involving starting but not finishing a degree in Graphic Arts, and then completing a BA in English and teaching in Poland. She has now made her home in Dublin for more than a decade.

The bags of clay were given to her by her partner Jacek, who understood her need for a creative outlet after years of being a slave to the “job and school race”, teaching English and then moving to Ireland to work as a florist doing corporate arrangements. After going back to uni to study Interior Architecture, she set up her own freelance interior design business focusing on eco-friendly design solutions, but it still wasn’t enough. Colour, form and texture needed to have a more immediate and practical focus in her life, and discovering clay was an epiphany. Clay was the tactile, blank canvas for all the whimsy and and colour that was inside her.


karoArt - spiral platter

karoArt – spiral platter


Cat bowls feature fish and mice, fruit bowls come with bird tracks and  soap dishes are in the shape of clouds. She includes the curious and fun – handmade buttons, ornaments and tiles, as well as practical plates and cups. All her work is handformed and decorated with simple repetitive motifs, resulting in pieces that are wonderfully tactile and yet still have a lightness about them with their delicate decoration.


karoArt - cloud soap dish

karoArt – cloud soap dish


karoArt - bicycle plate

karoArt – bicycle plate


“I find working with clay very intuitive. Once you get the basics, there’s a world of possibilities in front of you. It takes hours and hours of practice, with many trials and many failures, but each broken piece teaches you a lesson. Practice and repetition brought me to proficiency, but I feel like I’m learning a new thing almost every day, and there’s still so much I’d like to discover and learn.”


Karo's studio

Karo’s studio


You can find more of Karo’s ceramics in her Etsy shop, karoArt.


Inspiring : INAE {Laura Hewitt ceramics}

Laura Hewitt started her career in arts as a sculptor in mixed media. When people asked her about her work, she said she often heard herself answer, “Well, it’s not anything, exactly.” And thus, It’s Not Anything Exactly {INAE} Enterprises was born.


INAE  - river frontage mugs

INAE – river frontage mugs


Laura’s ceramics are an otherworldly hybrid of organic and machine, mysterious and tactile. Textures like moonscapes combine with teeth, bolts and mystical and mathematical symbols to create work that is reminiscent equally of HR Giger and Shaun Tan.


INAE - biomech stoneware bowl

INAE – biomech stoneware bowl


This is her full-time job now after first starting on this path in 1984 (“at last, at last!”). Initially studying ceramics and drawing and then receiving an MFA in interdisciplinary studies, Laura went on to teach metalsmithing and drawing at Fairbanks University, Alaska, and has had her work in over 200 exhibitions. Talk about a long haul!

It really started even much earlier than that, and Laura is grateful for her gradeschool teachers when she was younger.  “I got to spend time out in the hall alone working on my own projects or asked to create the classroom bulletin boards, sometimes extra art assignments.  I was very fortunate to have them.  They made me feel my creativity was special and valuable.”


INAE - industrial wedding cake teapot and teacups

INAE – industrial wedding cake teapot and teacups


Her work now is profoundly inspired by the “dichotomies and juxtapositions” of the Alaskan landscape, and she finds “more inspiration comes from outside the studio than in it. I’m particularly interested in exploring the intersections between technology and nature, art and craft, destruction and creation.”  Thrown into the mix of inspiration are many writers and philosophers too; “Mostly scifi and surreal decadent fiction writers and French post structuralist philosophers.”


INAE - Ohms AC Law bowls

INAE – Ohms AC Law bowls


Laura is full of dichotomies herself; after spending many years as a teacher and facing up to classes every day, her answer to the question “If I gave you a cardboard box, a marker pen and a sharp knife, what would you do/make with them?”, her answer was “Cut two holes in it, draw a smiley face on the outside and put it over my head.  Instant social skills.”


INAE - two typewriter bowls

INAE – two typewriter bowls


She describes her studio in rural Alaska as a beautiful work in progress, “It changes a lot but right now it’s white, minimalistic, overly organized, everything in it’s place but with windows overlooking the most incredible landscape on the planet.”


Laura has two favourite pieces of advice.

” “Don’t let anything stop you”[from being creative]. These words were said to me by someone much older who had let all sorts of things get in their way so it really meant something.  I think I was maybe 7 or 8 but I knew it was an adult conversation, an Adult Moment.  I’ll never forget it; I feel like I was shot in the heart with those words.”


View from Laura's window

The view from Laura’s window

And the second?

” “If you aren’t making mistakes, you aren’t trying hard enough”.  That was said by Dr. Steve Kurtz of Critical Art Ensemble who I was very fortunate to have as an instructor in grad school.  I didn’t like hearing it at the time at all.  I just wanted to do a bunch of perfect little arty things, get good grades, get my degree and get out of school as simply and smoothly as possible.  He gave me a much needed kick at the time and it still holds true now when I find myself cranking out perfect little arty things and not going anywhere.”


You can find more of Laura’s work in her Etsy shop, inaeent, and on her own website,