Today we’re talking to Maria Monasterio, a ceramist based in Malaga, Spain. Her love of crafts and ceramics prompted her to leave architecture behind to create unique, handmade pieces with a fantastic oceanic twist.
What do you make?
I am a ceramist, and I make handmade ceramic pieces, especially tableware and small decorative objects.
When I first started I made more decorative works, but I’ve always been looking for different designs – not just a vase, for example, but something else. A vase with the shape of a hand, a sneaker, or a zucchini, so they grab your attention. They can be elegant or funny or both.
I also made, and keep making, lots of cups and teapots. they are lovely objects, useful and decorative.
But lately I have been specialising in tableware for restaurants. It’s a very interesting project because it’s always different and challenging. I work with the head chef to design pieces just for him and his restaurant.
The feeling I get when seeing the chef use and enjoy my plates or bowls to display their own creations is fantastic.
How long have you been doing your craft? Who taught you or where did you learn?
I have been creating ceramics for four years. After graduating from college (where I studied architecture) I decided that I wanted to do something more related with crafts, something where I could use more my hands and create with them what I previously imagined.
This led me to study pottery at the School of Arts and Crafts of San Telmo in Malaga. It was fantastic, I learned a lot and fell in love with it.
Later, I took some intensive courses to keep learning, because ceramics is a very complex and infinite discipline. I also learned some techniques from my uncle, Pablo Romero, who is a ceramist as well, but specialised in drawing and murals.
Tell us about your tiny workshop
My main workshop is a lovely place in a courtyard, full of light. It’s around 2x5m (ed: ~6.5 x 16 ft), with two walls made of glass, like a greenhouse.
My uncle made the space for me in his house, where he has his own larger workshop. It’s an old house near the city centre in Malaga, in a street with a row of beautiful old houses.
I’ve worked there almost since the beginning, but I also have a smaller basement workshop in my own house, which I use for making plaster molds.
What tools/products are most important to your work?
The tools and machines you need depends on the kind of work you do. The most important machines you need are the kiln, and in my case, the wheel.
Every ceramist needs shelves and tables, too, to stock the things you are doing, the materials, and to work. I also have a laminator to make clay plates. For me it’s a very useful machine as well that simplifies the process.
I also normally use different types of knives, brushes, scales, sponges and sticks. As for products, I use many kinds of clay: earthenware, for some decorating pieces, like the vases or decorative plates; and stoneware, for all the tableware stuff and some decorative pieces, too.
The difference between them is the temperature you fire them, earthenware is fired at 1020˚C, and is less resistant. And stoneware is fired at 1260˚C, and is much harder, so it’s better for functional purposes.
For the surface of the pieces I use oxides, stains, and glazes. Some of them I buy, and some I made them myself using different materials: kaolin, feldspar, quartz, ball clay… Sometimes I feel like an alchemist!
Any advice for beginners to your craft?
You have to test new ideas a lot, and not to restrict yourself to what you already know. Because ceramics as a craft is so broad, it allows you to do just about anything you can imagine.
You will make mistakes, and many times when you take a piece from the kiln it will not be what you wanted or expected, but that’s the magic about it. That’s the way to keep learning and discovering.
Do what you want to do. And if you are going to establish your own studio, don’t buy lots of materials until you are sure of what you are going to produce. It happened to me at the beginning. I thought I was going to use the same things I used at school, but later I realised that I didn’t need or want to use some of them in my work.
It’s also important to know other ceramists, so you can share, ask and talk about it with more people.
Who or what inspires you?
First of all I am very grateful for my uncle Pablo, not only for all the things he taught me, but also for how much he helped and keeps helping me just by providing me this space to work. I could not be luckier.
I’m also thankful for my teacher Pilar Bandrés, who taught me to throw with the wheel and many more things, and still helps me when I have a doubt about something. She is fantastic.
As for who inspires me I couldn’t tell. I see so many things and works but I don’t particularly have one that I follow.
My biggest inspiration is nature, especially the oceanic world. I love it, and the Earth is so full of wonders that it never fails to show you new things.
Books and stories also inspire me, for example my world of dreams, called
Dream Ichthyology, combines reality and fantasy, ocean and earth, and it all comes from there. It combines fantasy books and tales and nature; innocence, love, and magic, all together.
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