Pottery is the perfect escape

April 1, 2023 BY

A pot in the making. Photo: MEGAN CANTWELL

Megan Cantwell wears many hats – and all of them are creative.

The Torquay local is an art teacher, potter, mother of two teenage boys and co-owner of Swell Cafe in Jan Juc.

Most days, she said, you can find her ‘playing with dirt and making pots’ on the Surf Coast, whether that be sharing her passion with her students or throwing pots for her own enjoyment.

“I fluke it a lot of the time, which is not something someone who has been doing pottery for 30 years should say,” Cantwell laughed.

“But ceramics is a science, it’s a long process, two weeks to dry then first fire it then glaze it then back in the kiln for two days.

“The process is really long at every step… and certainly you never really know what you’re going to get.”

Cantwell has practised pottery and ceramics in its many forms for more than three decades.

A pot in the making. Photo: MEGAN CANTWELL


She studied ceramics at Ballarat University in the ’90s, where she found a passion for creating functional pieces out of clay.

Cantwell majored in ceramics and sub-majored in sculpture under the tutelage of her beloved lecturer Peter Pilven, who remains a great source of support and inspiration to this day.

“I first started as a kid, when I was 10. I just went through school and always did art.

“I never really thought it would become a business, but after university I came back home and set up a studio in mum and dad’s backyard in Belmont.

“At the moment ceramics is my little side hustle and whenever I get a spare moment I get into that studio and get grubby. It’s a lovely escape.”

Cantwell said she is drawn to earthy colours, inspired by Spring Creek and its beautiful bush surrounds. Photo: MEGAN CANTWELL


Cantwell’s love for ceramics led her to become an Art and Ceramics teacher at Belmont High School, where she has been able to share her passion with young people and inspire them to explore their own creativity.

Now, she has her own studio in her backyard, with the new addition of her own kiln, and whenever she has a spare moment she sneaks out to the shed to create.

Cantwell’s style is influenced by her surroundings, with the Surf Coast and Greater Geelong region providing inspiration for her work.

“My style has changed a lot in the ’90s. I used a lot of colour but now I’ve gone back to what clay really is – the earthy tones and living down here there are a lot of sea elements.

“I’m more of a Spring Creek girl than a beach girl, I prefer trees and bark and the forest.”

Nowadays her life is centred around her family, her two teenage boys and beloved dog Disco.

“If I’m not in the studio I’m in my veggie patch.

“My dog, Disco, keeps me active, frequenting the beach and Spring Creek daily.”

Cantwell said she loves holding her mugs at Swell knowing her hard work can create something beautiful and functional. Photo: MEGAN CANTWELL


Cantwell said she pops into Swell Café every now and then, between teaching and creating, to restock the shelves with pottery and enjoy a coffee in one of her handmade mugs, made with love.

“We’re lucky we have great support from locals.

“The pots do sell and I find it hard to keep up with, and I just wish I had more time to do it.

“There is a huge opportunity on the Surf Coast for creative people to showcase their art — galleries, exhibitions, cafes and even Airbnbs who support local artists in selling their works.”

Cantwell said she loves holding her mugs at Swell knowing her hard work can turn a lump of clay into something to be admired, and also used – something beautiful and functional.

“I love to make functional ware because there is nothing greater than presenting a meal in a handmade bowl. It is lovely to go into Swell Cafe and see a beautiful take away coffee being poured into one of my mugs.”

“I love the fact that it is possible to create something functional like a bowl, cup or plate out of essentially what is dirt.

“I generally enter the studio and let the clay decide what it wants to be.”

“That’s why I am reluctant to take orders as I just like to make whatever I feel like making at the time.”

In the future, Cantwell sees herself spending more and more time creating in her little studio-shed.

“It’s absolute the little dream, to wander into the studio every day and bang out pots every day, but being a teacher is amazing and I love sharing my craft.

“One day I will retire from teaching, and you’ll find me making pots in my little shed.”

In the meantime, Cantwell’s ceramics can be purchased at Swell Cafe in Jan Juc, or on occasion by order.