51/ Conversations With Friends - Frances Costelloe and Michelle Mtinsi
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 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, one of my chosen subjects which was product design.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, waiting for them to be dry enough to trim.
Frances - Most expensive ceramic-making mistake?
Michelle - The electricity bill.
Frances - Which artists and potters inspire you?
Michelle - I recently went to see an exhibition at the White Chapel Gallery, by Theaster Gates. Exploring the relationship clay has to society, significantly exploring 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 - Which places and spaces do you go to draw new ideas for your work?
Michelle - I enjoy walking, it allows me to think more clearly. Sometimes when an idea comes to me, I make a quick drawing of it, with notes around it so I don’t forget the little details. At times new ideas come from me finding ways of making the functionality of an object better.
MM to FC
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.
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 inspire me and I love her nude paintings especially on a large scale.
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.
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 get dolly a playsuit in the same stitch. I’m not sure if it ties in but I think all creative endeavours help add to my energy.
Michelle - What do you do to keep inspired?
Frances - 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.
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.
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. Thankful my husband is a painter and him and my sisters are great sounding boards. Once I get the green light there is no stopping me.