Skip to content

Wintec | Te Pūkenga design graduate finds her niche working with clay

A tutor introduced Bachelor of Design graduate Brogan Houghton to local business Mystery Creek Ceramics during her final year at Wintec. Now, thanks to that connection and her growing interest in clay, Houghton is employed there as a studio potter.

“One workshop and I was hooked,” Brogan Houghton said after her first encounter with clay.

The designer-turned-potter first attended a pottery wheel workshop with her brother which ignited a passion for the medium. 

But it didn’t all click into place immediately for Houghton. This Hamilton local had no idea what to do after finishing secondary school, she was good at math and focused on playing sports (she even represented New Zealand for Water Polo in Greece,) however, skilled as she was, she knew that was not her true calling. 

After school she worked at a pharmacy giving herself the time to ensure she was heading in the right direction for her future.

“If I had gone into study straight after high school it would have been business or accounting,” Houghton said.

She wasn't “out-there creative at high school”, but she did study the arts and that inclination gave her the grounding to head in a creative direction.

“I wanted to focus on design, I enjoy the digital side of design and I like the process,” she said, which is why she signed up for the Wintec Bachelor of Design (Visual Communication) in 2018. Little did she know at the time that her three-year design degree would lead her to a career in pottery. 

A few of her assignments with open-ended briefs gave her enough free reign to bring her love of pottery into the process.

“For one of my freelance projects, I developed a design brand for my pottery.”

It was during a conversation with a tutor she learnt of an opportunity to work for Mystery Creek Ceramics, a Waikato ceramic business recently founded by Alex Wilkinson.

“I started working for Alex when my degree came to an end. But I wasn't completely new to clay, I’ve been working with clay and knew some of the processes,” she said.

But of course, there was a steep learning curve to develop all the skills required of a studio potter.

“On the job I’ve developed new skills in hand building, staining the clay, the process of Nerikomi, loading kilns and glazing - everything!”

Houghton describes her work day as having a lot of production elements and a lot of repetition. The four-day week sees her doing many different jobs and her skills have gone from strength to strength.

“I do what I love and get paid for it. There’s not a lot of jobs to be employed as a maker like this.” 

There's a rising demand for handmade products, she said.

“I think people want something that’s a one-off. Unique. There are different markets for different pottery out there.”

Houghton also teaches a class at the Waikato Society of Potters and has her own eponymous brand where she sells her unique pieces. 

She said that her design degree has proved to be essential.

“It’s been so helpful because I have the skills and ability to do some of my own photography and then do all my own design and product design.”

Te Pūkenga Design Team Manager Julie Ashby saaid that an education in design can be a good base for students, providing them with skills that are transferable across disciplines.

“The degree teaches students how to develop and refine an initial concept through to the development phase and into completion, this approach can be applied to many areas outside the purely visual communication field of work, turning design reality into 3d objects,” Ashby said.  

Houghton’s advice to students in their final year:

“Do what you love and stick to it. Connect with people and keep your eyes open for opportunities,” she said.

"Because sometimes your career direction isn't as linear as you’d think."

See more of Brogan Houghton’s work on her website

Find out more about studying design at the School of Media Arts at Wintec Te Pūkenga.

Te Pūkenga Wintec design team manager Julie Ashby says it’s great to see former students “turning design reality into 3d objects” and applying their design knowledge in different ways. Brogan Houghton throws a cup on the wheel in the Mystery Creek Ceramics studio. 

Loading kilns was one of the many skills potter Brogan Houghton has learned on-the-job at Mystery Creek Ceramics.

Wintec is part of Te Pūkenga - New Zealand Institute of Skills and Technology Learn More

Learn with purpose

Explore Te Pūkenga

Te Kāwanatanga o Aotearoa - New Zealand Government

Te Kāwanatanga o Aotearoa - New Zealand Government

Copyright © 2022 Wintec