Hayden Youlley Design
His philosophy is simple – to create beautiful, objects that are practical and pleasurable to use, with minimal environmental impact. In his Sydney studio, Hayden works exclusively in porcelain, a medium that combines strength and purity, which is apparent in his delicate and highly detailed ‘Paper’ range of tableware.
“Hayden’s ceramics are beautiful and functional; the textural details in his Paper series are so delicate and sculptural.”TRACY LINES Creative director, storyteller
Finding your vocation isn’t always cut and dried, and for Hayden Youlley, it wasn’t until he’d spent a year or so after leaving high school “being a lazy teenager, working odd jobs and hanging out with friends”, that his creative path started to emerge.
“From a young age I had that urge to be creative, but I’d never found a medium I enjoyed or excelled at – or understood. Like every kid, I tried drawing and painting, made Lego… Got to high school and tried fine art, woodwork, metalwork, anything available, but none of it really spoke to my inner creative voice.”
After three years working as a house painter, working with his hands, learning new skills, but ultimately getting bored, “it was literally like watching paint dry!” – he took a bridging course to get into university. “I was at this interesting crossroads: the easy option was to take a science or engineering degree as a career path. The other was to do a design degree – although I’d never really worked out where my creativity would take me, so it was the scarier of the two. But I thought I’d try it before I went for the safe option.”
He got into the UNSW College of Fine Arts (CoFA). “I jumped into a design degree not knowing what I wanted to design, how I wanted to design it, or what medium I wanted to work in. After the foundation year, I picked object design because I’m drawn to three-dimensional works, ceramics, because I was interested in it, and graphic design as a safety net, because I thought I could always get a job with it.”
It turned out he was terrible at graphic design: “Put me in a two-dimensional space and my brain just shuts down!” Working in three dimensions, however, was another ball game. “Ceramics was this whole new way of working. It was the first time I had access to a material that spoke to so many of the things I love about creating. It’s an engagement with a material with your hands, using them as tools. Your whole body becomes a tool. That really appeals to me – every movement I make imparts something into the clay. It’s raw, it’s engaging, and it’s really immediate.”
It also spoke to Youlley’s independence as a designer. “I’m wasn’t someone who particularly liked to ask for help or work with others – although I’m less like that now. But I love the whole idea of creating a prototype, of sketching out ideas in three dimensions really quickly and getting that immediate 3D visual feedback, and recreating it in the moment. Then, once you’re happy with the result, being able to mass-produce by yourself. Clay was the first material I’d found where I could work in all aspects of design from concept to finish. From that point, I spent more time in the ceramic studio than anywhere else.
“At CoFA they teach you how to be creative, not how to make things. So I was there learning how to make things myself. In the studio after hours, on the wheel throwing bowl after bowl, watching YouTube videos about casting this and moulding that, pushing myself further. At the end of my third year, we had a project tied up with the Australian Ceramics Triennale and I ended up making what would be the precursor to my Paper series. It was a series of bowls made out of cast ceramic rubbish all strapped together into this weird shape. It was about overuse, greenwashing, materials management, and how, if we don’t manage our finite materials we’ll start having to make things out of garbage.”
Going on an exchange program at the University of Illinois made him completely rethink his methodology. “At CoFa, it was very conceptual and research-driven, resulting in a little bit of product and a rush to complete it. In America, it was the reverse; you started with the making, from which the ideas would evolve, then developing your skills from the practice. That was really refreshing.”
Once back in Sydney, he completed his acclaimed major work, the I.M Light. “That light was highly conceptual – a marriage of the two schools. It was about the idea of looking back at a time in your life when it feels like you’re being ripped or cracked or torn apart. Then, as you literally ‘shed some light on it’ you realise that it’s the cracks that define you, become the most interesting part of you, in fact.”
As part of an NEIS (New Enterprise Incentive Scheme) government program to set up his own business, Youlley landed a residency at a clay studio on the main campus of UNSW. “I was lucky. I didn’t have to pay for a studio, for firings, but I also had a lot of other creatives around that I could draw on.”
Seven years on, he’s now based in Marrickville, where he shares a space with a couple of other creative friends. “We all help each other, draw on each others’ experiences, share our expertise. One of the guys is a woodworker, so he taught me how to turn wood, which opens me up to a whole new area of prototypes, things I’ve had on the backburner for a long time – new shapes, different scales.”
Youlley’s Paper series porcelain tableware remains a hallmark collection. “I only work in porcelain. It has all the qualities I love – it’s subtle, it’s pristine, it’s elegant, it’s great casting material, and it’s fine and translucent. It also has a great feel if you work it properly. I love it for all those reasons. It’s so nice working with porcelain – that binary of hard and soft, of delicacy and strength.”
It took him eight months to develop the technique to get the paper looking like paper: “It’s a simple idea, but in practice, a complete nightmare! But to this day, I still find joy in it. If I’m doing a market stall, I love that people do a double-take when they see it. They forget themselves, their fear of breaking something delicate, and go straight up to touch it, to check that it’s not a bowl made out of paper. The surprise and wonder – that’s what design is all about.”read less