Artists & Makers
Hey Kessy Chats with Mia Casal
Posted March 25, 2017
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Potter Mia Casal shares her unique journey into making things with her hands.

Could you share how you got into pottery?
I was 20 years old when I was working for our family business in printing and publishing textbooks nationwide. After working in a corporate setting for a year, I realized that I did not want what I was doing. I knew I wanted to do something else with my hands. I was unaware of what I was looking for until pottery making found its way to me.

While going through a crossroad, I went to Ugu Bigyan’s Pottery haven in Tiaong Quezon in 2002 for the very first time. When I saw Ugu’s worker, Raffy, working with the potter’s wheel, I asked him if I could try it. As soon as I felt the wet and spinning clay between my hands, I knew that I wanted to pursue pottery making.

I looked for pottery studios in Manila where I could learn the process of pottery making. I signed up for classes under Lanelle Abueva and Pete Cortes. I went to the school even when there were no teachers. Studio time helped me a lot in creating what I wanted. After almost two years, I set up my own pottery studio in Manila. My late mother was very supportive in providing materials and equipment for my new passion.

I was living in New York from 2006 to 2008, and when I came back to Manila, I re-opened Clay Ave Pottery Studio in Blue Ridge, Quezon City. I opened the studio to students willing to learn a new skill. I’ve never stopped molding clay between my hands since I started feeling its vulnerability under my hands. It is an obsession up to the present time.
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What made you decide to take the leap and leave Manila?
In 2012, I started looking for a bigger space to accommodate my students and live in the same space too. My grandfather’s hometown—San Narciso, Zambales—has always been my summer getaway since I was very young. I grew up knowing that we have a province to go to every summer. Once, my mom shared something with me that I will never forget: “Mia, I want you to know that life is not only confined within the city of Manila. There is life here, too. One day, you will know what I mean.” I was too young to absorb what she meant, but her words were always in my heart. I remember how she said it every time we would visit the province.

I came back to visit Zambales in July 2013 and brought some clay and my potter’s wheel. Instead of traveling, I stayed at my uncle’s place in Zambales for a month. I needed some time away from teaching. I came to Zambales without expectations. All I wanted to do was to make pots.

During one of my uncle’s visits, he asked if I wanted to make pots for his property. I did not say yes right away. I prayed about it until it became clear to me that moving to the province is possible since most Filipino potters are in rural areas. To be surrounded with the beauty of nature inspires artists highly. So in November 2013, I decided to leave Manila and live in Zambales.

How has your creations changed since then?
My creations have changed a lot. The influence I get from nature is present every single day. They are very hard to ignore. As much as possible, I try to add some materials I see around the studio such as black sand from the beach. The beach is only a few meters away from Clay Ave Home and Studio.

Could you go through your creative process with us?
I do daily walks along the shores of my town. Right across from my home and studio is a vast landscape which includes pine trees, mountains, and animals like carabaos, cows, and goats. I walk into the woods every now and then and try to absorb everything around me. I see and feel its texture, color, and beauty. I get inspiration random things like from barnacles on driftwood when they are washed ashore, mushrooms sprouting on wood after the rain, or patterns on the fish. As soon as an idea comes up, I go straight to my studio and experiment with clay. The clay leads me to how it wants to be formed sometimes.

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What’s the hardest thing about pottery making?
Nothing is hard to do in making pots. Perseverance can give great results, but making glazes is one of its many challenges. Experimentation is key. It’s easy to say what color you want to apply on ceramics, but making it come to life by creating your own glaze recipes is not easy. In the end, the fire and heat from the kiln dictates good pottery. Surrendering to the fire and its behavior is a topmost priority.

What the best compliment you’ve received about your work?
To see clients and collectors holding my work or wanting to have my pieces in their homes are the best compliments. It encourages me to keep making more pots.

What advice can you give other artists on finding their own style and their talent?
Know what you want and create them. Contentment in one’s creation comes after practicing a certain design over and over again. Learn from your mistakes because they can be avoided easily. The more you see your work, the more it will show you how it will evolve through time.

Our finished works are the representation of our creativity. Share your process and keep working hard. Just when you think you’ve got the perfect ingredients, experiment some more. Do excellent work in whatever medium you use. Have a mentor who will tell you how you can be a better artist. Real advice can hurt sometimes, but this is how we are going to learn. Continue attending workshops and network with people with common interests.

Set goals and be organized. It’s easier to accomplish goals when we organize our plans, work space, and schedule. Lastly, know when you need to rest. Overworking can also lead to some serious health problems. Travel from time to time. Be inspired by trips and sometimes just do something else away from work. It will surely refresh one’s soul.

Our country needs more creative people. The provinces are just waiting to be discovered. Do not blame me if you will fall in love with a bucolic location one day and decide to live there for a long time. Embrace that experience and help others along the way. It is time to step out of our comfort zones and be available to the poor.

To inquire or register about the Clay Ave workshops this April and May, check out Clay Ave Zambales on Facebook and Instagram for regular updates.

Photos courtesy of Jilson Tiu and Victor Guerrero

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