Nestled within the creative hub of Abbotsford Convent in Melbourne is a place where heart and craft collide: the Cone 11 pottery studio. Established by ceramic artists Ilona Topolcsanyi and Colin Hopkins six years ago, the space plays host to the varying aspects of their business, from beginners’ pottery classes to a retail outlet for their lighting and vessel ranges. “When we applied for the studio, we wrote up a long, magical list of all the things we wanted to do with the space,” recalls Colin. “We thought it was a bit far-fetched at the time… but we’ve done it all!”
“Through the studio, we’ve met so many like-minded people who have become great friends,” says Ilona.
Cone 10 is the maximum setting potters typically use to fire stoneware, so when it came to choosing a name for their ceramics range Ilona and Colin – who are also a couple outside of work – figured they would go one better. The pair met while studying for a Diploma of Arts Ceramics in Melbourne, but their journeys to that point couldn’t have been more different. Ilona had held a range of jobs, from dental nurse to manager of a call centre. “Then I did a short course in pottery and got hooked,” she says. By contrast, Colin’s first love was music. “I studied jazz, but there weren’t many opportunities to make a living from it so I moved into architecture,” he explains. While on a research trip in Japan, he found his next creative calling – Japanese ceramics – and took a pottery course. He discovered it was a “creative meeting point” between his two other passions: music and architecture. “Pottery has the improvisation and fluidity of music, with the form and design elements of architecture,” he says. The pair have worked hard to carve a niche in the Melbourne pottery scene, landing prestigious hospitality clients and creating their own ranges. “Once we make something for one person, we don’t repeat it,” says Ilona. “Our clients respond to that – and we love it, too, as it keeps us creative!”
"When you pot, it becomes a collaboration between you and the clay," says Colin
A typical day at Cone 11 sees Ilona and Colin arrive and leave the studio at different times, which allows them valuable alone time while they work. “I’m more of a morning person and I do the bulk of my throwing early,” says Colin. “I generally can’t pot after 4pm – everything I try is rubbish – so instead I do more menial things like preparing glazes or trimming pots.” Ilona is the opposite, arriving at the studio later in the morning and working into the evening. “We cross over in the middle of the day, which gives us the opportunity to bounce ideas off each other and resolve any problems,” she explains. One thing the couple do have in common, however, is an enthusiasm for the craft that never wavers. “I love the feeling when the clay rises up off the wheel,” says Colin. “It’s almost magical… it never gets boring. I’m so lucky I get to experience it every day.”
Cone 11’s top tips for the creative journey
1. “The best way to learn is from your failures, because it sticks with you,” says Ilona. “It can be a painful process and you can lose a lot of work along the way, but nothing beats experience."
2. “Try not to follow trends,” says Colin. “You have to be true to what you want to do. People recognise the honesty in your work and it makes it more powerful.”
3. “Find a balance between what you enjoy making and what people want to buy,” says Ilona. “You can get locked into making a product that might make sense financially, but your passion fades because you end up churning out work like a production line.”