Lessons learnt in clay: Alchemy & experimentation in the work of ceramicist Miray Mehmet Fontanelli

Lessons learnt in clay: Alchemy & experimentation in the work of ceramicist Miray Mehmet Fontanelli

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Photography: Dan Fontanelli

Miray Mehmet Fontanelli is a ceramicist based in Deptford, London. Her ceramic work explores form by experimenting with the natural qualities of a material, hand building vessels and objects using techniques such as coiling, slab building and mould pressing. We caught up with Miray to find out about her inspirations, glaze research and how she’s navigated lockdown. 

Tell us about your journey and how you arrived at this point as a ceramicist

I studied Art and Design at Central St Martins. After a short stint in graphics I desperately missed the hands on, tactile, making processes. Engaging with clay is my earliest memory of a creative act. After digging it up out of the earth as a child and feeling it’s curious malleable quality I made my mum a vase and decorated it with sea shells and dried grass. This memory led me to explore the process and I knew straight away that there was no going back. Clay is a fascinating material. 

What lessons have you learnt along the way?

To be patient. There are so many different phases to making a ceramic piece. None of which can be rushed. 

Don’t get lost in the process. You have to have focus when working with ceramics. The material is malleable and invites you to take many turns. Whilst you have to stay open to these possibilities if you don’t have a project plan and stick to achieving your creative vision you will get lost along the way.

Experiment. Take time out each month to experiment with new clays and glazes. This is a regular part of my practice now. It’s easy to get caught up in a non stop making mission but pausing to look into new materials, glazes and techniques deepens my relationship with my practice.  

What inspires you? 

My inspirations come mainly from my environment. Geology, landscape, architecture, colour and material qualities. I’m interested in how elements come together and often refer to the golden ratio. Inspiration is everywhere. I’m easily excitable. I have a relationship with geology because not only am I inspired by its visual and material qualities but I also use clay which comes from earth. I mix my own glazes and the ingredients all come from the earth such as quartz, cornish stone, etc. 

Can you tell us about your glaze research

Glaze mixing is like alchemy. You follow a strict recipe and end up with the glassy (or matt) finish you see on ceramic pieces, your mugs, bowls, plates, toilet bowls, etc. Learning about glaze takes years of trials and errors, research and dogmatic testing and recording. It’s mixing key ingredients and firing them at a certain cycle to a certain temperature on a certain clay body. And change one of these elements slightly and the whole outcome is different. Once you understand your key ingredients you can start making your own glazes. That’s when glaze making becomes really exciting. I usually use several glazes on a piece and fire multiple times. Every firing gives you a different result. But I find that multiple firings result in a deep, mature glaze aesthetic which you cannot get with a single firing. I love Kate Malone’s crystalline glazes and learnt a lot from her. She is a very generous spirited artist and human. 

How did you navigate lockdown? 

I was very lucky really because I share a private studio with one ceramic artist friend. And we managed to keep going. Being able to get down to my studio and carry on working made me feel very fortunate so it may have even injected some new energy into my work. It brought a sense of normality to my life and I just kept working. 

What do you find is the most effective way of marketing yourself?  

I am terrible at marketing myself. It’s literally the last thing on my list of things to do. But it’s also key to having a sustainable, professional practice so I am trying to improve this. I have found for me Instagram works pretty well. I like how immediate and fuss free it is. But I think it’s a bit of a lazy way to market yourself. So I am going to get better.

What’s next for you?

It’s been a busy year of making. And I am looking forward to spending some time off with my husband and daughter. And hope to see my friends. I really miss them. After that I’m starting a new body of work which is quite exciting. So I will start the new year with a new project which means research and sketching. One of the most enjoyable parts of the process, full of promise and possibilities. 

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