Are you giving it a 100% ??

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“When you do your best, people notice”- Oprah Winfrey

Last couple of years has drawn my work some attention and personally its very gratifying. Its self-assuring, strangely motivating and gives a sense of purpose. All this due to some adulation from absolute strangers. People are so kind with words, I am grateful and over-whelmed but it also makes me wonder if my work is being over-rated.

I love taking up some small personal projects and as a part of that plan I began taking online sessions for ‘terracotta jewelry making’ since last August. I have had a decent response overall, with some completely surprising me with their quickness in learning, constant practice and a few who have even begun selling. Happy to say that almost one year on, with multiple batches, I still have a handful of them who show a great deal of interest in learning the craft. But with that I have had my share of those who discontinued too. The timing may not have been right, with multiple responsibilities, work etc but I appreciate the curiosity, the eagerness they had while enrolling for the sessions.

Pottery is a skill gained by investing time and learning techniques. Its acquired by constant practice. If I make it look easy that is only because I have put in hours each day doing exactly that. During my 12 sessions which equates to 14.5 hours in total, I share techniques and knowledge gained over the last ten plus years.

“14.5 hours : 10 years” – the ratio seems a bit off, doesn’t it? 😊

I concise information, filter and share what’s necessary.

I spent a LOT of time doing some serious ground work on where to procure materials, best suppliers, good reads, selling avenues and a lot more than one can imagine. This information wasn’t readily available to me. But now I share sources to the best of my knowledge so that the amount of ground work that people have to do is much lesser.

The other project I took up in November last year was to start my YouTube channel https://www.youtube.com/paintedearthbyneha that focuses on content, sharing my experience and skill, tips and tricks to understand and handle the material with ease. Information I have gathered over time, practiced sometimes hours before getting it right. Most of my videos are real-time while the few rest are hyper-lapsed but with necessary information provided in the description.

All with one intent – sharing what I know with you all about terracotta.

A lot of you describe my work as “neatly finished”. But that was not the case years back when I started. My jhumkas didn’t have the perfect dome, the pendants didn’t have a smooth finish, my beads looked mis-shaped. But I was in no rush, I took my time, worked on it each day and longer than the previous. I enjoyed dunking my hands into moist clay and everyday got me more curious about the material itself. I gave it more than a 100%. With no formal education in pottery or ceramics, its challenging to get the right information. So it was important I asked the right set of people. I share only what I know and have never claimed to know it all. I am still looking to enroll for formal college sessions so that I can be mentored well towards this chosen field.

There is no fun in acquiring anything if it comes too easy. When you don’t get it right the first couple of times, don’t be disheartened. Any craft done with utmost interest, dedication and practice will show results. The rest will follow. A craft can be taught, but the creativity comes from within oneself. Before deciding on what you want to pursue, ask yourself how much are you willing to invest. Not just the financial part, but yourself, your time most importantly. If the answer is any less than a 100%, you might even sail through but never really enjoy or find satisfaction in what you do.

To all my readers, I hope this resonates with you, a family member, friend or even an acquaintance. I hope you find happiness in what you choose to do!

Neha Gopinath Pillai

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Do you think you are gifted??

I don’t remember the precise date but in January 2008 I began buying some terracotta pots from pottery town to paint on them. Painting was and has always been a hobby. Paper, wood, wall, clothes, glass, plastic, clay – just about anything I would find too pale, would be soon dowsed in color. I was bored with my monotonous job and looking for options in the creative field. Going to pottery town atleast thrice a month soon became a routine I started to enjoy. I would paint the terracotta vases, load it all in the boot of my car and drive to weekend exhibitions held in apartments. I did this for a while in parallel with my work. People appreciated it, told me “I was gifted”. Few bought and some shared feedback, but on most days I would return back with 80 to 90 percent of the pieces I had carried. Not that it was a bad product, just that big pieces were snail movers. It needs planning from the buyers end and most times in apartments people would say “we have limited space, would have bought them otherwise” or “kids at home, it wouldn’t last a day in our home” etc. I agree and share my card with them, hoping they’ll get back to me someday. Very few got back. I ultimately sold a lot of my work for dirt cheap prices because I was running out of space to hold inventory.

‘Terracotta jewelry making workshop’ at a studio in Jayanagar 2nd block’ – Don’t quite remember where I saw that ad but it drew my attention. On enquiring more the workshop sounded good, affordable and something fun to do over the weekend. I decided to register. Who knew a simple move like that would change my career for life! But that wasn’t my first stint with clay – raw unfired clay. Back in my 11th standard summer vacations I did enroll myself for hand building, basic sculpting classes at a different studio. But with my boards starting soon, I didn’t spend too much time on it. Priority was to get a good score in my 12 th standard exams as that would decide the college I would get admitted to.

The term ‘workshop’ is relative. Like most others I too was under the impression that a couple of hours is good enough to learn the craft. The classes began, we were all given small quantities of clay along with necessary materials and told to make jewelry. Anything we pleased. I made a necklace and a pair of earrings to go with it. On seeing the outcome my teacher told me ‘I was gifted’. I was happy to hear something familiar. Others who were also taking part in the workshop made some nice pieces and all of them were happy with the treasure they get to take back home. The workshop came to an end. There was a lot more to this material and techniques I was unaware of. Something I wanted know and learn. I kept in touch the teacher who conducted the workshop and I practiced terracotta jewelry making for couple of years before I started selling them online. Not that it had an exceptional start, but it gave me the nudge to quit my job. It was a risk, not a big one though.

There has been no looking back since. Today, almost eleven years since that workshop I still work on terracotta jewelry and only recently did I have the courage to start taking online sessions teaching this artform and craft to others. I was told several times by people that I am gifted, but what would have happened if hadn’t quit my job or hadn’t continued working on terracotta post the workshop or quit selling my pieces when the first online store I had registered had shut shop! I can state atleast ten different scenarios that would have pushed me down, rather than raise me up. While that sounds dramatic, I know if not for this I would have landed a job in HR and continued on. But I listened, each time people told me “I am gifted” I heard them. Loud and clear. I took it as a compliment, an encouraging line, but did not let that cloud my judgement about my own work. I needed to learn, improve and feel truly worthy of that line “you are gifted”. It surprises me how people attend a two day workshop, day three they are already selling their products and day four they are teaching this art form for an exorbitant fee!! Talk about over-confidence. I wouldn’t call that a gift.

We all are gifted. An inquisitive nature, willingness to “try”, experiment, coping with failure, knowing when to change your course when things aren’t going your way, stop and learn if that is what it takes, don’t let pride and money get the better of you. Knowing these about oneself is a gift in itself.

 

Do you think you are gifted?

 

            Neha Gopinath Pillai

‘Stages of Clay’

Hello!

This post is all about the stages of natural clay explained with images in a simple manner to both artists as well as end users/customers. To artists, especially beginners this will be useful from a working point of view and for the customer it will help with product awareness. (know what you buy!)

The six stages are:

  • Slip
  • Plastic or wet clay
  • Leather Hard clay
  • Bone dry
  • Bisque ware or fired pieces
  • Glazeware

Slip – A mixture of water and clay which acts as a glue that helps hold /attach two individual pieces of wet clay. Its a thick, creamy texture of clay. Refined or strained slip can be used in slip casting or trailing.

Plastic or The wet clay stage – clay literally right out of your plastic bag! Its at this stage you prepare your clay. Can be easily molded at this stage. For me, this is where I knead and roll the clay into a slab before proceeding further. I conceptualize the design and start working towards it.

Leather hard – The clay is firm yet moist at this stage. A state of clay where one can do designs, cravings, cut works etc. The flexibility of clay at this stage is poor, hence if the slab of clay is bent it will break. For those into terracotta jewelry designing, inserting the nichrome pins at this stage is ideal, but wait any longer and there is a high possibility that portion will crack.

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Bone dry – The state where the moisture content in clay has been drastically reduced. One can clearly see the difference in color at this stage. The clay is no longer cool to touch. This stage is usually achieved in a couple of days based on the external factors such as weather. One must make sure the pieces are dried well, as any amount of moistness in the clay can cause damages to the pieces when fired in the kiln.

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Clay is called ‘green ware’ in all the above mentioned stages.

Bisque ware – The fired pottery is called bisque ware. At this stage the pieces are more rigid and the moisture content is completely sapped out of the clay.  Low fire earthenware clay contains iron and other minerals which cause it to reach optimum hardness between 900℃ and 1100℃. The clay has matured but it is still porous. One can paint or glaze over it. Glazing would require it to go back into firing which would be the last stage of clay.

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Glaze ware – Glazes are applied and fired making the pottery non-porous, creating a glass like covering, hence waterproof and functional. I don’t glaze so I have limited information on the topic therefore no images to share.

I sincerely hope you find this information useful. It has taken me some time and effort to draft this in the easiest way possible. I request the readers to not misuse this article or its content. If you would like share, please do it from the source (share the link) so its traced back to me. This is an ethical practice.

Thank you to all those who took some time out to give this article a read.

YouTube link: https://youtu.be/ZLDhJAJfkVw

Neha Gopinath Pillai

“Monochrome” – Understated Elegance

‘Less is more’ – a line that was probably used for the first time in a poem written by Robert Browning in the year 1855. This I think is an apt quote to start off my current blog-post.

Over the years I have received and fulfilled several custom-made orders, most of which have been bright, colorful, some intricate, some simple, but always ends up being beautiful jewelry. Images of clothes, colors, shade cards, photos from other pages, pencil sketches are the few ways a customer shares her design and color requirements for the jewelry that needs to be made. I for one, absolutely love colors and one of the advantages of terracotta jewelry is that it can be customized to match the desired garment to the “T”.

‘A lighter shade of lilac with hint of garnet and gold on the pendant with an antique metallic teal for the beads’ sounds like a tough customer on hand when compared to some one requesting for a jewelry set in black and red. 

Well, everyone wants it easy once in a while ;). Having said that, I do like it when people know what they want.

All this talk about color brings me to the highlight of this post – Monochrome. Simplicity and clarity to bring out the best in design. The usage of predominantly neutral shades that stand out in the most subtle manner showing off some of the best qualities of clay. Twisted, turned and textured, these beauties were made keeping people like me and alike in mind.

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How many times have you stood in front of your wardrobe and tried deciding on what to wear and how to accessorize it? These questions have probably let to answers such as “when in doubt wear black” or “when in doubt wear white” etc. When it comes to accessories I say “when in doubt wear monochrome”.

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Using a single but appropriate shade is equally important as choosing several colors to paint a piece of jewelry. In this collection, you will see most pieces in shades of antique gold, silver and antique black. A collection that cropped up from a lack of terracotta jewelry to suit western wear, these pieces will be prove to be a versatile addition to your wardrobe. Hope you like this collection as much as I have enjoyed creating them!

Neha Gopinath Pillai

The Journey from Terracotta to Jewelry!

This is a repost of a write up I had done a long time ago under the guidance of my mentor Mr. Ramanuja who has been imparting this knowledge for more than 20 years. An art/ pottery teacher by profession continues to be my guide and inspiration in perfecting the art of making terracotta jewelry.

The intent then and now is to share and spread the know-how of terracotta jewelry. I am no expert but I can assure you that this information will surely help you understand the extensive process that goes into making terracotta a wearable art.

When you buy something that is handmade, not only are you owning a piece of work that is a result of a strong career choice, hard work and passion but also instilling confidence that helps the artisan to do more”

Let’s understand the material a little better:

Terracotta clay is a low fire earthen ware secondary form of clay. (Primary clay – Mined from its origin; and secondary clay – Clay that has traveled from its origin through rain water/wind collecting different minerals on its way). Due to its high iron content, terracotta undergoes oxidization during firing and turns into an orangish –red color, hence the name ‘Terracotta’.

Process of making the clay suitable for jewelry making:

The clay that travels with the rain water gets collected in lakes and ponds that gradually dry up during summers, making it an ideal time to collect and put them through several tests to determine color, shrinkage, plasticity and warping. On passing these stages, the clay is ready for further processing.

The process of filtering and storing clay:

The collected clay is broken down to small pieces, soaked and stirred. Filter and let it settle for a minimum of two to three days. Take the excess water with the help of a sponge and put the clay into POP (Plaster of Paris) moulds for drying. When the clay is leather hard take it out of the mould, wedge it and store in an airtight container.

Designing:

The clay is your canvas! The level of creative freedom it provides is immense. Your surroundings are an inspiration. Always have a keen eye as some of the most basic items lying around the house become your most trusted tools.

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A couple of things you need to remember:

  • Do not use brass/copper/aluminum wires as their melting temperature is low. Firing of terracotta jewelry happens between 700˚ C – 1000˚ C.
  • Recommended to use only nichrome (combination of nickel and chromium) or kanthal.

Once the piece has been created, leave it to dry thoroughly. Based on the external conditions that should take anywhere between 3-6 days. Clay shrinks twice during the entire process; once during drying and then during firing. (approx. 5 – 15% depending on the clay)

Firing process:

Oxidization: The piece gets the oxygen while firing with the end result being an orangish red fired terracotta piece that is ready to be painted upon.

Reduction:  a) You cut the oxygen supply by putting saw dust/ husk and seal the pot with some clay. (Clay pot consisting of the material that needs to be fired). The end product here is a black fired terracotta piece.

b) After oxidization firing pull out the red hot article and drop it gently in a metal pot with hay/rice husk and close to immediately. The end product here too is a black fired terracotta piece that is ready to be painted upon.

Firing happens above 700˚ C – 1000˚ C. A temperature below 700˚ C is not recommended for terracotta.

The method of firing takes place in a Kiln.

  • Updraft kiln
  • Through draft kiln
  • Downdraft kiln

Once the pieces are at room temperature they can be painted using acrylic paints and assembled in the desired way. That would be enough material to write another article so I call it a day hoping this was informative enough giving you a fair idea of the process that is literally handmade from scratch!

Neha Gopinath Pillai

‘Dilemma of a Designation’ (Most early artisans/craftsman/craftswoman would be able to relate to this write-up)

In a world where the professional courses and jobs associated with it is considered highly respectable, a status symbol for many, a major source of income or a sense of pride for some people it makes it challenging for the same set of people to accept that having a job outside of these areas is also possible. In most cases it is considered a hobby and not so much of a sustainable job. For people who know me or don’t, I use to work as an IT HR consultant for a couple of years before I decided to start ‘paintedEarthbyneha’ in January 2012.

“It’s a beautiful thing when career and passion come together”

It has been a good 5+ years and I am happy about where I have reached. I never started this with a typical vision or mission, but a result of pure passion for “clay”. I had no financial commitments whatsoever (makes me sound so pampered) and I have my brother to thank for that. He stood by me and never made me feel that I had to contribute to the family financially. I was lucky to have that kind of support but having said that I wanted this to work more than anything else.

Gradually people started asking questions with regard to the choice I made, said it might be better to have a stable career and continue this as a hobby. But I refused to budge. Although I was growing steadily, there was a constant need to justify my choice to people. Sometimes to a degree that made me think if I was insecure about the career choice I had made.

“A craftsman knows in advance what the finished result will be, while the artist knows only what it will be when he has finished it” – W.H. Auden

When people question – so what is it that you do? And I would answer by saying “I am an artist”. That gradually moved on to “I am terracotta artist”. But hey, I am no artist. I am a craftswoman, and I have no qualms accepting that. Although I put in 50-60 hours of work a week into this, I use to fumble and not know if many would even consider this as a real job. It’s a choice I made years ago that continues to give me a great sense of satisfaction and I genuinely am thank full that although it wasn’t easy, I didn’t have to struggle much either to get here.

All that I am trying to say is there will always be people who will make you feel small or question you or talk about your work like it’s a graph that determines a profit loss statement but we keep going, we pursue what we love, we continue to make our dreams come true.

This write-up is to all those who are living their dream.

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Neha Gopinath Pillai

“The clay way” as a giveaway!

Planning a party, what can I give my friends?.. Wedding giveaways, any ideas?..

Every time you have an occasion, this is probably one of the questions you would have – the return gifts/giveaways. Now on you have these questions, reach out to us for answers. At paintedEarthbyneha we give you a varied range of ideas that are both beautiful and budget-friendly. When giving a return-gift, it’s the thought that takes shape. You want your guests to have them as a remembrance of a function, occasion or a party they attended. This is where customization starts. As clay/ terracotta is our primary medium, we can customize gifts that are apt for the occasion. From terracotta magnets to small masks, wall hangings to kumkum Bharanis, paintings and a lot more .

Terracotta magnets are a fun and an easy option to share with your loved ones. Here in the image we see customized magnets for kid’s birthday party where the names of the children are engraved on them. They are made in fun bright colours that are attractive and most importantly they have personal touch.

Another option are the funny face magnet that have freestyle line drawings of different expressions made on them. In bright colours, these are a hoot!

The warli magnets are elegant and the drawings on them represent celebration. This was actually a giveaway at my own wedding:). All of these come in a small handy block printed jute purse that gets made for us by an organization for special children.

Maska wall hangings

If you have a smaller crowd and are willing to splurge a tad bit then these make for an ideal gift. These too can be customized and come in a range patterns and colors.

kumkum bharani

From an ancient time, Kumkum or vermilion and turmeric are regarded as two of the most holiest materials in the Hindu religion. From a wedding to any pooja, these two ingredients are used at any given auspicious time and day. These in fact that you see in the image were made for a dear friend’s wedding. It consisted of a haldi (turmeric) and kumkum (vermilion) pack in the pot and a thank you card all wrapped up in a white custom made box.

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This is just me showing off my non-clay skills as well. 😉 But this is something I have done for a bunch a people. It started off with a friend giving me an order for these paintings to be made for her guests who were attending the Gruhapravesh (house-warming ceremony). The feedback we received was overwhelming. Although they have nothing to do with terracotta, I just had to add these to my list of return gifts. They are lovely and just the prefect size.

“Every gift which is given, even though it be small, is in reality great, if it be given with affection” – Pindar, Greek poet

You have an occasion coming up think of us. To know more please write to us at neha.pillai@ymail.com and like always, feel free to share your feedback and suggestions.

 Neha Gopinath Pillai