Artist Spotlight

Artist Spotlight - Tinker Blue

Sophia Cruden (Tinker Blue) makes beautiful, intricately hand painted ceramics in Lake Macquarie / Awabakal Land. We love her vibrant illustrative style, and are excited to share her work with our network of pottery lovers.

Thank you Sophia for taking the time to answer our questions!

Tell us a little about your creative practice and what you do.

My creative practice emerged from a journey of healing and mental wellness. I spent years in an unfulfilling job that didn’t align with my true self. Creativity is my authentic expression and my deepest longing. I committed to creating every day as a means of healing, coping, and rediscovering myself. Most days, I work in the studio with clay, crafting plates and platters for Tinker Blue, along with small giftwares. The act of working with clay is mindful and calming, helping to quiet the chaos. When I’m not working with clay, I channel my creativity into drawing, painting, sewing—anything that allows me to focus and use my hands.

How long have you been working with clay and what inspired you to start?

I’ve dabbled in clay since childhood art classes, but I began working seriously with it at the start of 2023. I’ve always enjoyed creating with my hands, and after a stressful period in my life, a colleague mentioned ceramic classes to me. It was something I had always wanted to explore further, so I decided to give it a try. After two terms learning the basics of hand building in a studio, I fell in love with it. It felt natural and right for me. I decided to set up a home studio and have been working with clay every day since, learning from books and YouTube videos. The abundance of free online content makes it incredibly accessible.

What is your go-to Keane clay and why?

My favourite clay is Keane Mid Fire 6. I love working with this clay because it complements the blue underglaze I often use in my illustrative work, making the colours stand out beautifully against the white background. My kiln is second-hand and over 30 years old, so cone 6 is the highest temperature it can reach. I chose this clay to ensure low absorption, making my dinnerware and vases functional and reliable for those who purchase my work.

What techniques do you use in your work?

The main technique I use is slab work. I enjoy creating platters and plates by draping slabs of clay over plate molds. Recently, I invested in a slab roller, which has made rolling slabs much more time-efficient and easier on my arms. For decorating, I hand-paint all my designs and images in cobalt blue underglaze using a paintbrush or a slip trailer, then finish with a clear gloss glaze. I currently apply the clear glaze with a brush, as it provides the best finish and consistency for me at this time.

What inspires or informs your aesthetic? Where do you look for inspiration?

I’ve always loved blue and white china and have a collection of Spode Blue Italian and Willow pattern pieces. My Mum and Nan both had blue and white antique dinner sets, and this familial love has greatly inspired my work. I’m also constantly inspired by the ocean and nature. I have a large shell collection that belonged to my Nan, and I love shell collecting at the beach. Nature’s textures and shapes provide endless inspiration. In addition to visual elements, I incorporate a lot of quotes into my work. I aim to bring positivity to people and remind them that they are special and capable of anything. I find these quotes in songs I hear or in my favorite books, and I make a point to jot them down as soon as they resonate with me.6. Which other ceramic artists are you most inspired by?  I am in awe of Michael Chandler, his blue and white illustrative platters and murals are extraordinary. I could look at them all day. It would be amazing to be able to do a workshop and learn from him if there ever was the chance. 

Can you share some tips on overcoming creative block?

I often find myself overthinking, so I like to take walks around the lake to clear my mind and find inspiration. I also enjoy reading books as a way to disconnect from social media; doom scrolling does not help creativity. Drawing, painting, gardening, being in nature, and working with my hands are activities that help me overcome creative blocks.

Send us a photo of your favourite piece (or one your particularly proud of) and tell us about it.

I can’t pick a favourite, every time a new platter comes out of the kiln it is my favourite. My hand-painted and handmade blue and white ceramic platters are crafted using the slab technique, where clay is rolled and draped over plate molds. Each piece is meticulously hand-painted with blue underglaze, inspired by the ocean and nature. They also feature uplifting quotes, aiming to bring positivity to those who use them. I am proud of how these platters have turned out, combining beauty and inspiration in every piece. They can be used as a functional platter to serve your guests or hung on the wall as art. I hope people look at my work and think of it as art they can use in their home. 

What is your dream project? Or what would you like to try in ceramics that you haven’t yet?

I really love the idea of making decorative vases and selling them with flowers I have grown. I worked as a florist when I was younger, flowers have always been such a love and passion of mine. I would love to incorporate all my creative passions and bring them to life together in one major way. I would also really like to be able to intern with another ceramic artist and be able to learn from them about how they run their business as well as technical skills about how to make my own glazes and better wheel technique.

Describe your day in the studio - what do you listen to, how do you get in the zone etc?

Everyday is different in the studio. I will start mid morning once all school drop offs have been done and I’ve had a coffee at the lake. I will roll slabs to make platters, smooth and finish platters on molds from the day before or make stock for things I sell at the markets like trinket dishes and ornaments.  I will either work in silence to stay present and be mindful or listen to a podcast. My favourite podcast is “Expanded, by To be Magnetic.” On days the kiln is on, I work inside the house rather than the studio and I will paint platters that have already been bisque fired while Friends is on in the background. 

What is your dream studio set up?

I am very lucky that I have a small home studio, however my dream studio would be close to the water, have cosy and inviting vibes, large enough to host workshops, a retail space to display my work, a new large kiln and close enough for me to walk to my favorite coffee shop for a break.

If you could only pick 3 tools to use in the studio what would they be?

The slab roller, such a godsend for my arms and shoulders. I love Mudtools white finishing sponge, and plate molds.

What is your favourite thing about working with clay as a medium?

Its tactility, being able to hold soft clay in my hands then shape and mold it into anything my creativity can think of. Then firing it in the kiln to have an item that can last and be used forever. That’s pretty amazing. 

What advice would you give to someone starting to work with clay?

Jump in and do it as much as you can. Look up YouTube and Instagram videos, then keep practicing. You will be amazed how much you will learn and grow from just showing up and doing it consistently. 

Lastly, where can we find your work?

You can find me online at, Instagram @tinkerbluestudio, Facebook and in person on the weekends at markets. I update where I am on Instagram.