Interview: Iona May Lautieri

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Iona May Lautieri is a Bristol based artist who focuses on ceramics. Iona creates unique handmade designs, especially for the Etsy shop. I was lucky enough to interview Iona about her work, shop and what she is currently up to. 

Hello! Thank you so much for letting me interview you. How areyou?

Hi Rhiannon, I'm great thanks - enjoying the sunshine.

How did you manage to learn and hone your craft?

I used to spend all of my free time drawing, and drawing and the main subject I’d draw was faces from my imagination. I started playing with air dry clay as I felt the urge to mould these faces and expressions. After realising pottery was something I wanted to follow and do more seriously, I signed up to a few pottery classes and learnt more about the techniques used and how to manipulate clay into all sorts of wonderful shapes and designs. I then picked up a pottery wheel for cheap and turned my rented (attic flat) bathroom into my very first pottery studio. Thankfully my house mates were totally cool with it and supported me in covering our bathroom in-plastic protection and clay.

I worked my way up to getting a studio surrounded by other ceramicists in Maze Studios, Barton Hill - where I was taking my madly inspiring lessons from two ceramic gurus. I spent a year here learning how to work with clay, teaching myself and honing in on my style, I am still learning today and will never stop learning with ceramics - I don’t think you can ever know it all, but I’m gunna try.

Have you always been into ceramics?

My art teacher from secondary school still finds it funny that the time we tried ceramics in class  really didn’t enjoy it. I just wanted to draw, so no I guess I haven’t always been into ceramics - but I have definitely always appreciated it.

If there were no resource restraints, what would be your dream project?

My dream project, damn thats a really good question.

This answer might be too much in dream land and super unrealistic but I definitely dream big. I would love to try and make tribes of giant, full bodied people which would be placed in selected locations all around the world, tackling how political movements effect the planet we live on an doing my bit in protecting nature from the effects of the human race.

My idea is to have each tribemade specially to accommodate for all living entities in its surrounding area. For example, one tribe submerged in the sea to be grown on by coral and to be lived in by fish and underwater plants. Another example would be to have a tribe or two placed in forests protecting the trees and animals from deforestation, creating a home / sanctuary which is protected from the effects of corporate human greed and evil. So yeah if you know anyone who can help me do this let me know !

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What equipment do you use for your work?

When I’m making my products I use a large selection of equipment but I mainly use my hands. I use my wooden tools for mark making and helping me get in the hard to reach places where my fingers can't.

A sponge is very useful too, a needle / pin tool to score the clay, a heat gun for hardening the clay (black and decker is the best), my throwing wheel, a rubber kidney, a Nabertherm 100L top loading kiln, a banding wheel, paint brushes and jugs for glazing, wooden batts, stamps, wire to cut the clay, eco friendly bubble wrap or recycled plastic bags for keeping work soft when I’m out of the studio, turning tools, knives, cutlery is really useful for mark making and smoothing, also a wooden spoon.

What tools or materials could you not live without?

I couldn’t live without soil and clay, I’m a plant nerd and clay lover, I'd be pretty unhappy without them.

Why has social media been an important platform for you to use?

Instagram has helped me make my work more personal to the people following me, so they can see the process of their pots being made and follow my story. Its a great platform to connect with people all over the world and has been really useful to me in promoting my work. Its also such a good place to drool over plants and inspire yourself.

Who inspires your work?

I was bought up with a very artistic, green fingered family and an awesome mum who introduced me to art and always supported my work. She inspired me from a young age to 'do what you love’ and showed me that it was possible to be an artist and follow your calling in life - after her passing I felt it was my duty to her to do just that.

As a plant lover, my whole family has played a part in inspiring me. From watching them grow their own food and managing maintain a beautiful garden all year round, they’ve all had a huge influence on me by sharing their passion for greenery.

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Do you have any favourite pieces of work that you adore at the moment?

Yes, theres a painter who I adore. I found him when digging though the internet for inspiration with my own painting I cant seem to find any prints of his anywhere for sale but I would love one! He is called ‘Edivaldo Barbosa de Souza’, he’s from Brazil and paints naive style, and its beautiful.

What do we hope to see in this up and coming year for your Instagram and your work?

A variety of new stock will be appearing, hopefully you will be able to watch some ideas grow by following my Instagram.

I will be looking more into the natural form and figure of the human body, I have a few sketches I want to make reality. I will also be looking into the patterns in plants and maybe even using preserved leaves / flowers.

I have lots of ideas I cant wait to try out, but you’ll have to wait and see! There will probably be quite a few plant posts too, I love taking photos of greenery.

What are you currently working on?

I'm currently working on a secret commission which I’m so stoked about, unfortunately I can't tell you what it is but I will post a photo online when I can. In addition to that another really interesting commission came in at the same time I was playing around with the idea of looking into all different bodies and celebrating women in all walks of life, so I’m working on a commission for a lady who has had a mastectomy, making a special shaka pot for her. Shaka pots with vitiligo is another idea I’ve been trying out, to show the beauty of the skin. I'm also working on new hairy pot heads and giving them extra character with some tribal jewellery.

What’s your typical working day?

If I’ve had the kiln on i will unload it as soon as I can (it's super exciting) and take photos outside in the yard connecting to my studio as its south facing and has a good amount of light, I pop next door into Wild Leaf and borrow some plants from work to use in the photoshoots - this is really handy and the selection of plants is grand.

If the kiln hasn’t been on I like to get in the studio and touch up some pots from a previous session, which helps me get in the groove to make a new batch. Id package up some pots and head to the post office to ship them off to their new homes. I always listen to music as it helps me get into the right headspace to make, and keeps me motivated.

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What’s been the biggest struggle in getting your business off the ground?

I'd say the biggest struggle I still find is keeping up the momentum of sales so that I can actually afford to do what I love without being out of pocket. This is where Instagram is really helpful as a small business.

Do you have any exciting plans for this year?

I'm renting out my kiln, yay! And can fire peoples work it doesn’t matter how little or how much. As well as this, making a bunch of new stock and playing around with some new ideas this year, I plan to migrate and follow the sun after Autumn. I want take a break in my next van which I’ve been building with my boyfriend, and head down through France, Spain, Portugal and Morocco

I’m sure I'll post a few pictures of some inspiration and plants I find on my travels. I'm also in the beginning stages of setting up an exhibition next year with a close friend of mine.

Do you have any advice for anyone doing craft fairs?

I've never done any, but would love to if I can find some free time.

What advice would you give to people looking to define their own style?

Never push anything that feels unnatural- your style will come out in time if you’re relaxed. Do what makes you feel good.

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Do you have any advice for anyone who would like to do ceramics?

Get some air dry clay and play around, if you like the feel of it and want to do it more seriously have a look at local pottery classes - in Kiln Workshop on Overton Road which I highly recommend.

Ceramics always attracts a lovely crowd of people, I’ve made loads of like minded friends through classes. They’re never too serious and teach you the basics so you can get creative and make what you like. 

What’s next?

Next is to focus on what I’ve said above and make, make, make! Seek more inspiration and try new ideas.

What's the best piece of creative advice you've ever been given?

Believe in yourself and go for it, you’re the only person in your way.

You can find Iona on Instagram '@iona_may' and if you would like to contact her for more information her email address is 'ionamay97@icloud.com'. You can also buy these wonderful pots on Etsy 'www.etsy.com/uk/shop/potterymadebyiona'.