51/ Conversations With Friends - Frances Costelloe and Michelle Mtinsi
For this edition of Conversations With Friends, we get to read this beautiful exchange of questions between PE artist Frances Costelloe and the ceramicist behind Michelleceramics, Michelle Mtinsi.
The pair met through Instagram and connected instantly over their mutual love of scallop shells. Together they created Frances’ Partnership Editions Home debut collection of hand-painted and hand-thrown ceramic plates and bowls, ‘Frances & Michelle’.
Here we invite you to be a fly on the wall as they ask the questions they asked each other when they first met surrounded by clay, potters wheels and glazes.
Photograph by Chris Horwood, styling by Remy Mishon
Frances - When and how did you first get into ceramics?
Michelle - I’ve always been really creative, even when I was little. Arts and crafts was always my favourite time in primary school, I was able to express myself without judgement and it was the only subject where you aren't criticised for thinking outside the box. So naturally working with my hands, has always been what I wanted to do even though at the time I wasn’t quite sure what that was. The first time I made a little pot was in primary school, it never got fired but I remember that I had coiled it with clay and for a while, it was used as a pencil pot at home.
From then on I came into contact with clay every now and again. It wasn’t until sixth form when one of my chosen subjects was product design and I got to play with clay regularly.
I absolutely loved it, for my final project, a potter came in and showed the whole class a few pottery techniques. After that, I choose to work with clay for my final project. I made various coiled pots, and after that, I knew exactly what I wanted to be.
Michelle Mtinsi's studio
Sun Plates work in progress
Frances - How long have you been working at your current studio and what are your plans for the future?
Michelle - I’ve been at mud gang pottery studio for 1 year and 6 months. I really love it there, it’s such a lovely space to work in. At some point I would love to have my own studio, as much as I love the other members at mud gang, it would be nice to have some space for more constant workflow.
Moon Plate by Frances and Michelle
Moon Plate at our exhibition 'In The Flesh'
Frances - Why do you love the humble scallop shell so much, I know we are both biased in our love?
Michelle - I think I’m obsessed, I can’t go to the beach and not bring one home with me. Some scallops have been known to live up to 20 years and I think that’s really fascinating. I can’t even imagine all the places they have visited just bobbing around at the bottom of the sea. For me anyway, it adds a little sentimental value to them.
Ceramic pieces decorated by Frances
Michelle's ceramic plates
Frances - Any tips for those looking to get into throwing?
Michelle - I would recommend doing a trial run. Have a go at a taster session before you commit. Sign up to a pottery studio that offers memberships, practice making a lot of the same object even if you don’t keep what you make, I think repetition is key. If there are any local potters in your area, ask if they need any studio help. It’s really good to shadow someone and watch them work, you absorb up a lot just by being there. I think anyone can be a potter, you just have to be committed to putting in the hours to practice your craft.
Tulip Bowl by Frances and Michelle
Frances - Most underappreciated part of the process?
Michelle - All of it, if I’m completely honest. I think with any craft, an outsider looking in may not understand the challenges you face as a maker. Every step in the making process can be a challenge from start to finish, I once accidentally dropped a board of trimmed pots, which meant remaking them again and waiting for them to be dry enough to trim.
Face Plate by Frances and Michelle
Windows at Michelle's studio
Frances - Which artists and potters inspire you?
Michelle - I recently went to see an exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery by Theaster Gates. It explored the relationship clay has to society and his own personal identity. Growing up I never really had makers in the creative industry that looked like me and I think that it’s really important to see examples of what that is and what that can look like. After this exhibition, I was really inspired to look into my own identity, especially my cultural identity. I look forward to showcasing that in some functional pottery, I have no idea what it looks like yet but I'm really excited to share that with everyone. I plan to be more playful with surface design and possibly a little texture.
Theaster Gates: A Clay Sermon, photograph by Chris Stong
Frances - Most expensive ceramic-making mistake?
Michelle - The electricity bill.
Michelle - How did you know that this is what you were meant to do?
Frances - I’m still not sure that I do know. I love drawing and I love making. Ceramics is something I have loved since a child and I have absolutely loved working with you on this project.
Sun Plate by Frances and Michelle
Face Bowls, work in progress
Michelle - Talk me through your creative process?
Frances - I take a lot of photos - I have over 35,000 on my phone. I take photos of colour combinations, fabric designs, and flowers and plants in nature. I use these to draw in and sketch a lot in my Pentel pens or my Indian ink brush pens. I like to have my ideas fully formed in my brain before I start. I do like a happy accident.
Frances in her studio by Mariell Lind Hansen
Michelle - I wouldn’t say collecting seashells is a major hobby, but it made me so happy when we both realised that we both love seashells, it was that connection that made me realise that we are a great duo in this project. Aside from the shells, do you have any other creative hobbies that tie into your current work?
Frances - I have just started crocheting again. I’m not great but I love that you can easily make a 3D object. I recently made my daughter a hat and her dolly a playsuit in the same stitch. I’m not sure if it ties in but I think all creative endeavours help to add to my energy.
Tulips And Scallop Shell On Checked Table & Girl and Scallop Shell in Blue by Frances Costelloe
Michelle - Where do you draw inspiration from?
Frances - The V&A ceramics and glass room as well as all the antiquities. I also love looking back at Van Gogh and Gauguin's paintings for colour. I have lots of Tracey Emin books - her passion for what she does inspires me and I love her nude paintings especially on a large scale.
A good walk always inspires me and if in doubt I go down to the river. The National Gallery also never seems to not deliver.
Ink artworks by Frances Costelloe, shot by Mariell Lind Hansen
Michelle - I’ve really enjoyed working with you, you’ve pushed me to be a little more playful with surface design. From all the surfaces and mediums you use, which will always be your all-time favourite?
Frances - So hard! I think ink. It’s so immediate and I’m impatient. I also love etching as it’s slow and makes me work in a different way. Something else I want to get back into.
Frances painting with ink by Mariell Lind Hansen
Michelle - What is the most challenging step of your creative process?
Frances - The no ideas stage. I hate it when I’m all excited and suddenly I second guess and doubt the validity of a new idea. I'm thankful that my husband is a painter. Him and my sisters are great sounding boards. Once I get the green light there is no stopping me.
Our first homeware Drop with Frances and Michelle's Moon Plate. Photograph by Chris Horwood, styling by Remy Mishon.