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Interview with Julia Atkinson from Studio Home

I had followed the instagram account of formantics for a good 5 months before artist/designer/maker/over achiever; Susan Christie and I started trading emails. In total honesty, I had been SO taken by the brands witchy way with colour and shape that I hadn’t cast much thought into “where” or rather; “who” it was coming from, definitely stopping short of my usual stalkerish ways.

Lucky for me I didn’t need to investigate further because one email from Susan saved me from my own ignorance and re-framed Formantics as a very personal creative venture, based on a love of making and resisting any moves to be pigeonholed. As a master of colour she hasn’t stopped short at her painted originals and print release, but instead followed up with abstract hand formed ceramics and even a collection of totally unique shelves!

For any person gravitating toward a creative career, Susan’s story is encouraging.

“My back story is pretty hectic!
I was a Navy Officer, then Psychologist,
then mother, then business consultant,
then visual arts graduate
and finally a creative business owner.”

I find it incredibly inspiring to read about people that push their life in the direction they want it to go in…even when their past experience, current responsibilities and even age might not match up to others expectations!
In the interview below with Susan she reveals so much about way she created Formantics, the road she took, challenges and even some advice for those wanting to scratch that creative itch!


Despite dipping your toe into a really diverse set of industries – you mentioned that you loved “.. nothing more than creating art and design”.

What did this feel like to you and how did you know that was your calling?

If I had a tail it would be wagging while I’m making!  For me, the process of making and creating is part of my DNA.  My parents were both very creative people and loved the simple pleasure of making with their hands. From making and designing clothes to furniture, my parents made everything for the pure pleasure …..and the added bonus of saving money!  I would have to create even if I didn’t sell my work, although I have to say my heart does a little leap every time someone buys or gets excited about my work.
When I look back, it’s like that creative DNA was always there, I just didn’t recognise it.  At age 23, when I finished my registration as a psychologist, I immediately began doing creative night classes at the local high school.  I did everything from ceramics, lingerie making, landscape gardening to interior design.  Also as a child, I have very specific ‘happy memories’ of creating.  I would spend hours digging up clay in the back garden and making little pinch pots.

Having kids was also a real opportunity for me indulge my creative side.  I was not that sporty mum that kicked a ball around in the garden.  I was inside making play dough and getting all the craft stuff out and getting messy!!  I used the time when they were at Kindy to redecorate the house.  Painting walls, making cushions…..   I was the happy homemaker!  So, I guess the creative signs were all there. They just seem so much more obvious now when I look back.


You studied Fine Art at AUT as a mother AND student in her forties.  How did you find this ?

As soon as my youngest child went to school, I started doing painting classes through Matthew Browne School of Art.  After a few years with Matthew, he recommended that I complete a degree at AUT.  So, (I’m in my forties by this stage!!!)…. I decided to go for it.
It was scary going back to university as an adult student but I desperately wanted to take my art to the next level.  I did worry about how I would fit in being an “old girl.”  Whether I would be edgy enough, AND how on earth I would juggle the kids and all their after-school activities!   As it turns out I had nothing to worry about.  I loved every minute of it ( oh …accept the essay writing that is) and because we mothers learn to juggle so many things, I could complete assignments in half the time the school leavers could. The highlights of the experience were getting the AUT painting award in my first year and being selected for the Eden Art Awards in my last year. Yay, felt so good!


Susan – you belong to a special club of people that can combine unexpected colour, pattern and shape together like a wizard! 

Where does this come from? What process (or lightening strike!) happens as you create your abstract work?

Thank you, Ju. I get very excited about colour!  I liken colour to musical notes and if one of my paintings was a song it might be “Chained to the Rhythm” by Katy Perry.  I really like the idea of blurring traditional boundaries between craft, décor, fashion, design, and art. If I’m honest I hate that term “Fine Art”. It is so loaded with hierarchical connotations!  I take inspiration from my domestic world and keep a keen eye on what is happening in all the creative industries.
In terms of my creative process each painting arises quite organically. I start with a plan but it quickly goes out the window as the process unfolds.  Rather than beginning with a fixed idea, I will pick a shape and colour, create the first form and build the image intuitively from there.  My ceramics are made in the same sort of way.  I cut out a form and then begin creating from there.  Each one is completely original and I never know what they are going to look like until the end ….. which is what keeps things interesting!
The shelves were designed out of a desire to curate the objects and paintings together on the wall.  I am so proud of the shelves as they took a lot of work to get just right. I wanted them to be able to be hung anywhere on the wall.  I don’t like to be restricted by having to hang art into a stud. My shelves can be hung anywhere and take some hefty weight. The beautiful lines on the ply and the round geometric shape work in perfectly with my obsession with lines.

I love that you have let yourself “wander” from painting to hand formed ceramics and even to product design. Do you envisage Formantics to grow further in this direction as an all encompassing design and art brand? Or is this you just letting yourself explore all the mediums that feel right at this stage?

The thing that sets Formantics apart, is that ability to walk the line between art and design, while producing quality, handcrafted items of distinction.  Our brand is all about curating bold, vibrant elements for the home which have a playful edge.
The name of the business, (after far too much of brain storming!!!) came about by combining the words form with antics. These are two vital ingredients for all the work I produce.  I chose not to use my name for the business because in the future we will expand our range by collaborating with other creatives who relate to the feel and vibe of the brand.  I am positive really exciting, innovative ideas will come about by collaborating with talented creatives from all sorts of backgrounds!

You have the opportunity to offer some nuggets of wisdom to parents or people of a similar age looking to re enter study and chase after their passion….what can you give us?

I really believe in the cliché that if you love what you do, you will never work a day in your life.  We spend far too much time at work not to LOVE it!   I would encourage people to make the change but recognise it may not come about overnight.  For many of us we have to juggle families and working a job to pay the bills, while at the same time pursuing the thing that makes our tail wag!  Make a start!

Last one for fun. When asking my boyfriend some questions to ask you, his first one was;  “What do you have against circles?”

Ha Ha. I guess you have noticed that most of my paintings and ceramics are a little “off kilter” I like my artwork to be slightly imperfect and have a slippage of unexpected angles and colours.  I think it makes them a little more interesting.  However, when it comes to our shelves they are absolutely perfectly round!


Imagery supplied by formantics with styled product shots by Tash Hopkins

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