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Meet Ruby Pilven, a second generation ceramic artist

Visit Ballarat

18 Feb 2021

Filed underMade of Ballarat

It’s a drizzly winter’s day. The roads are glistening in the rain’s afterglow, and the dense eucalyptus trees make me feel right at home.  

I pull into Ruby Pilven’s driveway and I’m surrounded by the calm of the native surrounds. As I close the car door behind me, Ruby steps outside her charming mud brick home, coffee in-hand and a look of subtle apprehension on her face. “I just woke up,” she admits. She doesn’t look it though. She’s perfectly put together, her short brunette hair swept to one side and her make-up impeccable. 

Born in Ballarat, the Ruby grew up in Smythes Creek, about 20 minutes out of the city centre. “It’s really beautiful out here,” she says. “We’ve got a dam, 10 acres, and my parents built the house and the studio.” 

Both Ruby’s parents are potters, meaning she was immersed in creativity’s embrace from the minute she was born. “Living with both artists and potters, I guess my life as a child was very creative all the time,” she says. 

Following in her parents’ footsteps, Ruby has made a name for herself as a renowned ceramic artist. She owes her success to her mum and dad’s constant nurturing abilities, and also the fact that she’s “a little bit quirky”. “They called me the elegant bogan at university,” she exclaims. It’s hard to understand why. There’s nothing remotely bogan about her. She’s articulate and carries herself with poise. Plus, she’s wearing Gorman. 

“I learned ceramics from both my parents and it started when I was really little. I used to play around while mum and dad were working in the studio and I’d go to the markets and help mum sell her pots. Then I started selling these incense holders that I used to make. I learned how to talk to people in the market, set up stands and do all that from watching mum and dad.” 

“My parents always tried to push me away from art, because they were like ‘no, stay away! You’ll make no money!’” Ruby laughs. “I always thought I was going to do law or German at university, but there was always this burning desire to study art.” 

After completing high school, Ruby went on to study a double degree in Business and Visual Art (printmaking) at Monash University. Although her background is in printmaking, her upbringing allowed her to forge a career in ceramics relatively easily while using her other skills to bring some truly unique elements to her craft. 

“Every piece that I make is different, but I guess one of my most recognisable ranges is my hand-built colourful range which plays on the contemporary Japanese technique of Nerikomi and inlay. So I use a variety of techniques, and marbling as well. I’ve just sort of created my own aesthetic by applying three or four different techniques together.” 

“I just started off on Instagram, and I posted things that I liked,” she says. “I thought, well if anyone else likes it, then that’s a bonus – which isn’t really a marketing thing. 

A few years ago, Ruby was asked to feature a collection at the National Gallery of Victoria in conjunction with the Hermitage Exhibition. It was at this point that people really started taking notice of her talent. “Then I thought, oh actually, maybe this is a thing. Maybe I could do this more. 

“I finally had a moment where I could just do studio work, which I’ve always loved doing. There was no desk job and there was no studying. I could just do it. I think Mum and Dad thought I was insane.” 

Ruby’s work is loud, colourful, contemporary and – in every sense – one-of-a-kind. It’s no wonder her Instagram account has more than 24,000 followers. 

As well as featuring a collection at the NGV, she’s sold her work to Australian designer Gorman and international retail giant Anthropologie, has stockists throughout Australia and overseas, and has been featured across a variety of media publications across the country including The Design Files, allowing her to significantly solidify her online presence and her name in the national creative space. 

Growing up in a regional city, Ruby says she has really been able to harness her artistry, absorb her surroundings and focus entirely on her craft. 

“It’s so good for when you’re making work. Instead of looking out on a busy road, you’re looking out at a dam, seeing the birds and the trees, and that’s also inspired on the imagery you see in my work. 

“I love living in Ballarat because it’s a simple lifestyle. You can get somewhere in five minutes and get a park out the front; you can go into the coffee shop and they know your name and you know the lady because you teach her daughter at school. Everyone’s connected. There’s a real community feel. 

“The arts and culture space is really thriving too. There’s so much support for it, there’s people noticing it, and there’s a lot going on. I even have friends in Melbourne who would never step out of the city coming to visit.” 

Want to learn to make jewellery like Ruby? Follow Ruby online at The Ceramic School as she takes you through each stage of making your own beaded necklaces, earrings, rings, bangles and pendant necklaces.

Ruby’s work is also available to purchase at the Art Gallery of Ballarat shop.

Across Victoria’s Midwest, we acknowledge that we travel across the ancient landscapes of many First Peoples communities.

These lands have been nurtured and cared for over tens of thousands of years and we respect the work of Traditional Custodians for their ongoing care and protection.

We recognise the past injustices against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in this country. As our knowledge grows, we hope that we can learn from their resilience and creativity that has guided them for over 60,000 years.

As we invite people to visit and explore Victoria’s Midwest, we ask that alongside us, you also grow to respect the stories, living culture and connection to Country of the Ancestors and Elders of our First Peoples.