Armadillo

The Journal

The Ritual of Colour with Shelley Simpson of Mud

It has been 26 years since Shelley Simpson founded Mud Australia, the iconic Australian ceramics brand she runs with partner and business manager James Kirton. Yet in some ways, nothing has changed – every piece is still handmade in their Sydney studio, and core colours remain constant so customers can continually add to their collections. Below, Shelley shares what longevity means to her and her expert tips on incorporating colour into the home without giving in to trends.

Tell us a bit about your background. Have you always been creative?

I’ve always liked making things with my hands and building things. I’m a very hands-on person. I like baking and singing – I always played in bands in my 20s. I never studied art or music, which I think allowed me to think about my business as a creative outlet, yes – but not as my art form, which can be challenging for a lot of ceramicists.

You founded Mud in 1994. What are some of the things that have remained constant in your business, and in what ways have you had to be agile and innovative?

My design sensibility hasn’t changed a lot. I still design with the same needs-based approach and a lot of our range has remained constant. While our business is always evolving, growing, stretching in different directions, people have always remained at the core of what we do. Mud truly feels like a family that is constantly growing as our business develops.

Photo by Victoria Zschommler.

In recent years, people have really fallen in love with ceramics and the art of pottery. What do you think has driven this renewed appreciation for the craft?  

Perhaps an appreciation for a handmade product and a return to the ‘ritual’. There is something so tactile about a vessel that has passed through a maker’s hand, you feel that energy. I think that people are less attracted to cookie cutter, mass-made design. While it once was an exciting sign of the future and technology, people have realised the lack of soul in these items. 

Like our rugs, your range is very much driven by the materials and the techniques. What have you been experimenting with lately? 

I’m always experimenting! We just launched a collection for the National Gallery of Australia, inspired by Margaret Preston’s works. I created custom colours of chartreuse, lilac and rose and experimented with simple hand painted black lines that represented the lines of Margaret Preston’s paintings. I’m also exploring collections that incorporate recycled clay to launch next year.

Photo by Leif Prenzlau.

Mud is known as a real advocate for craftsmanship, with every piece still handmade here in Australia. Why is it important to you for people to invest in quality, timeless pieces?

Community is one of Mud’s core values. Making in Sydney means I can ensure a beautiful standard of product but also provide rewarding and fair employment for a whole team of people. This is important to me. I also believe if people pay the true cost of a product, it may mean someone will look after and treasure it. Community has become more and more important to me over the past few years – and this year particularly! I live around the corner from our studio and love connecting with local businesses – I couldn’t imagine not manufacturing in Marrickville!

Let’s talk colour! Mud has a beautiful range of core and seasonal colours. Are there any hues that you are personally drawn to? Are you into tonal or contrasting palettes?

Mud has a range of 19 core colours in our collection. We think carefully before introducing new colours because we want our customers to be able to come back to our store 5 years later and top up their dinner set. I would love to introduce more, so I’m doing it through limited edition small runs, which is exciting. My favourites shift all the time, and I really love to mix all the colours. At the moment we have a lot of blue tones and Milk, which is timeless and beautiful for Summer.

Left: Photo by Leif Prenzlau. Right: Photo by Dean Lever

Do you think colour has an impact on the mood, energy and emotion of an interior for its inhabitants?

Absolutely, and it’s always so interesting to see what personalities are drawn to different colours.  Many people start with our unpigmented Milk colourway and introduce different colours gradually.

How do you think the addition of a small burst of colour can completely transform a room?

Colour can definitely transform, and often connect or represent, the interior with the outside environment. I love seeing cool blue and sand tones in coastal environments, or conversely bold traditional tones in a hinterland home. Choosing a soft neutral palette can be calming and keep a space open. Many of our customers choose to keep their Mud collections on display, rather than hidden in cupboards. We like to call this a #MudShelfie.

"It’s always so interesting to see what personalities are drawn to different colours."
Photo by Victoria Zschommler.

Any tips on mixing and matching hues for those of us a bit afraid to experiment? 

Start with a neutral tone such as our Milk or Dust. Then introduce a pastel such as Mist (our soft blue) and then add a stronger tone of that same colour – such as a Duck Egg blue or Ink. You can then add pops of other colours in a key serving dish or water carafe. 

Do you have any tips on injecting colour throughout the home in a way that will defy trends and have longevity?

I never follow seasonal trends when shopping for my home. I shop mindfully and use lots of natural materials such as stone, brick, timber. With this neutral palette as a base, it’s easy to add pops of colour throughout without it all becoming too much.

Left: Photo by Dean Lever. Right: Photo by Petrina Tinslay.

What is keeping you creatively stimulated right now?

In our pre-COVID world, I got a lot of creative energy from travelling, seeing art and looking at foreign architecture. This year I’ve taken a lot of pleasure from the day to day routine of walking my dog Molly at the local park. I also get a lot of inspiration from my team and family. 

Finally, we can’t help but ask – what’s your favourite rug from our new Colour Play collection?

I love too many! The Malawi is such a gorgeous shape and I adore the rich Graphite, Wren and Kelp tones.

Follow Mud Australia on Instagram.

Enter our Colour Play giveaway for a chance to win a colour-infused home refresh, including an Armadillo rug and a set of Mud ceramic tableware.

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