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An Interview with Paper Boat Press

At Maytree Studios, we are big lovers of all things beautiful. We are constantly looking for inspiration and on the hunt for local artists and makers to feature. This quarter we met with Kylie Johnson from Paper Boat Press. Located in Ashgrove, Brisbane, Kylie and her small dedicated team work together to produce beautiful ceramic mementos, ornaments, host workshops and offer a wide range of local & international ceramic objects for sale. Kylie gave us a glimpse into her humble home studio where she has been operating out of for the past 26 years.  

If you are lovers of poetry, ceramics & thoughtful pottery (and let’s be honest, who isn’t) we’d love to invite you to come along the journey as we learn about Kylie’s humble beginnings, her mission behind Paper Boat Press & what she plans for 2022.

Kylie, take us back to the beginning, where did your love of art, ceramics & poetry start? 

I had always been around creativity and the love of living with handmade, my parents always encouraged me in what I wanted to do, I think it helped that they were hobby potters. I went to art college straight out of school, I was class of ’89. I studied at QUT, (BCAE at the time) where I did a major in painting, a minor and post grad of film, because I’m a bit of a cinephile. Early on I really wanted to write scripts or be a critic, I loved talking about film too, but I realised that my love for poetry and being a maker and using my hands was really important to me. 

During art college I’d met some potters and I became part of a group called Amfora. Way before internet or emails were a thing (if you can remember that far back), eight of us would gather weekly and we would decorate ceramics, host exhibitions & learn from Clairy Laurence & David Usher. It was with these artist that I learnt how to pack kilns, how to glaze and little tricks about clay & hand building. We eventually went our separate ways but we are all still practising artists and we all love and support each other in different ways. That was really the beginnings of what I am doing now in some ways. 

To be working an artist is no easy feat, how did you get to be doing something you love full time? 

I haven’t rested on my laurels; I have worked very hard, and I love what I do. Starting out, my only goal in life was to be able to work on my art full-time so to support that for the first 15 years I did up to four part-time jobs at once. I’ve worked in supermarkets and gift shops, as a chiropractic assistant, but the most long-term and recent one was I worked at the GOMA art gallery bookshop before when it was just QAG. They always supported my dream. 

I hand bound some poetry books that I had self-published and some of my ceramic work they’d stocked. I worked there for about five or six years, made some wonderful lifelong friends and still to this day they’re one of my biggest stores in the country. They stock my work in a concession store there.

My Paper Boat Press business is 26 years old this year and I finally took the plunge and went full-time about 18 years ago. At that time, I also started to employ a few people with piece work and  I started to develop Christmas ornaments and my signature quote tags. 

Your quote tags are your signature item, can you tell us about these?

I’m probably most known for three things, and that’s my ceramic quote tags and mementos, my Christmas ornaments, and my poetry vessels. As a poet, I’ve always loved words, so it was about finding a way to put my words into artworks and in the ’90s, I was scratching poetry that I had written and self-published.

I‘m very blessed because I’m not driven by money, I’m motivated by making beautiful things. And that sounds a little bit silly, but it’s actually the real truth. The quote tags came out of something that was important to me. My belief was that anyone should be able to own a piece of handmade artwork on the minimum wage. So for one hour of your minimum wage if you wanted a piece of handmade, local art, produced here with Australian clay you could. It’s mass produced in a way that only can be limited to what we have in this little building. So there’s a lot of integrity and spirit in it. Thats how we started our signature Christmas birds; they are up to their 17th collection, so I’ve got very long-term collectors who have come along the journey and collected new pieces every year.

I’m very blessed because I’m not driven by money, I’m motivated by making beautiful things. And that sounds a little bit silly, but it’s actually the real truth. The quote tags came out of something that was important to me. My belief was that anyone should be able to own a piece of handmade artwork on the minimum wage.

You’ve always had a big love for Japanese pottery & you and your sister have just recently published a book ‘Utsuwa – Japanese objects for everyday use’ – can you give us a snapshot of how your love affair with Japan started? 

Well I had never traveled until I was about 34 years of age because I put all my time, energy and four part-time jobs into making my little business spark. It was after a big heartbreak and my sister returning from a world trip that she just was like, “Save some money, we’re going to go to Japan for three weeks. You need to just have a new vision of life and everything.” She’d already been there once. I literally arrived and within a couple of days just went, “Oh my gosh, I found my people. I found my home…”

They live and breathe art. There were as many sake shops and groceries as there are art, ceramic galleries, shops and handmade wood things. They have markets constantly and no one’s trying to outdo each other at the markets. It’s a whole different sensibility. I think very quickly I fell in love with the place. Until now I had felt like the square peg in a round hole here in Australia, but over there is was just the feeling of “Oh, this is all these thoughts and desires I’ve had to live for and what I’ve believed; it’s all here”. 

So we are currently sitting in your Paper Boat Press workshop right now, which was once was your bedroom, can you share more about this?

So, this was my bedroom and lounge room, dining room, kitchen. And now (pointing around the room), that’s all my staff area. The Crescent Room, used to be the studio. We had four or five people working in there at one time, everything was made there, and the kilns are downstairs. 

Life is a little bit different in the last 12 or 18 months since moving out to my renovation (now located out the back of the studio). We’ve got more space and more room to grow. But again, I don’t want to outgrow it either. I want to do work more efficiently and better in our processes. I don’t want a warehouse somewhere and I certainly don’t want to take over the world. I just want to do what I do and do it really well and have a good reputation for that. I get to work with amazing people and I feel really lucky that my days are busy.

For those who are last minute shoppers (like myself) we have your gift giving all covered! Kylie and her dedicated team have on offer a beautiful range of glassware and ceramic vessels, cups, plates and bespoke objects from both Japan and Australia. Proudly all handmade. 

For thoughtful Christmas gifts for your loved ones, jump on over to the Paper Boat Press shop here! 

Fancy a beautiful book of Japanese artwork & inspiration? ‘Utsuwa – Japanese objects for everyday use’ is available for purchasing online here!  

Want to stay in the loop with upcoming workshops, exhibitions & new stock? Do yourself a favour and jump onto Paper Boat’s press mailing list at the bottom of the home page here!

Get in touch

We are currently not taking new enquiries until mid 2022 for projects with start dates in 2023.

To be on our waitlist, take advantage of our free 15-minute phone call

Find our Brisbane Architects
Shop 3, 475 Sandgate Rd
Albion QLD 4010
(parking at rear, off Highlands St)