Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Profiles in Artistry - Michela Verani

Michela is a Facebook friend who has been working on the 4th level of the Master's Registry. We had the opportunity to meet in real life about a month ago when she was traveling to pick up a new puppy. Michela brought a few of her pieces for show and tell, and I just couldn't believe it when I saw a perfectly sculpted fine silver fawn. I just had to learn a little more about her background.

CS - How long have you been working with metal clay?
MV - I took my first class in 2003, but started working with metal clay regularly in 2004.    

CS - What skills, interests, or achievements did you bring to your designs from previous, unrelated work?
MV - I have a BS in Plant Science and Botany and was just a course or two short of a Minor in Entomology. Plants and insects are portrayed in a lot of my work. I am happiest when nature is part of my daily life.

The deer sculpture took about 2 days of back and forth
studio work (I never sit and work for extended periods of time). 
In total, it probably took me about 8 hours to get the first
deer done and maybe 4-6 hours to sculpt the 2nd deer,
as I knew where I was going with it.
CS - How did you discover and/or develop your signature style or technique?
MV - I’ve always had to make something, it’s an addiction.  I was introduced to art by my mother, a traditionally trained sculptor though the Boston Museum School of Fine Art.  I guess you could say she was my first teacher.   As soon as she thought I wouldn’t put everything in my mouth, she would give me clay or paints and let me make a mess while she worked.  I started college as an Arts & Crafts major with a speciality in jewelry.  However, after a year the college I was attending dropped the Arts & Crafts major and went to only Fine Arts.  Not wanting to continue in that, I switched majors to my second love, Plant Science and Botany.  I continued with silver smithing as a hobby, but it never fully called to me.  When I heard about metal clay, I just had to try it and once I did I was hooked.  I think the combination of metal smithing and sculpting was the ultimate hook.

My sculptural technique is a bit different from how I've seen other metal clay artists work. I think that learning sculptural techniques from a professional sculptor influenced this. I do wet work and keep my clay moister than most metal clay artists would say is good consistency and keep a damp drape and Saran Wrap over my work until the final finishing steps. I tried the standard metal clay technique of letting things dry between steps, but too much carving back was involved in getting the shapes I wanted, so I decided to try handling the clay the way my Mother handled her clay work.

CS - How has your work or skill set evolved since you began working with metal clay?
MV - My skill set has increased leaps and bounds since I started!! I can't believe that some of my first work won contests or sold. There were two things that were a major push to getting better. First, trying to become a member of The League of NH Craftsmen - they are a juried craft association, and jurying is torture. Nothing goes through a jury without being analyzed and critiqued to the fullest. It took me 4 juries to get into the League. In hindsight, I can't believe I had the "balls" to bring my work to the first two juries. 

The second big push was joining the Master's Registry. While not quite as tough as a League jury, they do let you know where your strengths and weaknesses are, and seeing how they rate your piece is enlightening. Neither are for the faint of heart, but one needs to be able to step back and remove your feelings from your work. Both experiences made me realize my work had a long way to go and gave me the push to get my skills to where they are now. I think this sort of thing is important, while friends and fellow metal clay artists will critique your work, friends take your feelings into consideration and metal clay artists are encouraging to each other. Neither give you the information you need for real, artistic growth.

The head sculptures are the largest pieces
I've done thus far. They are almost 5" x3.5/4".
they are made by doing a hollow form for the basic
form, then sculpting the facial features and adding
accent details. Each one is fired in one piece.
CS - Do you teach?
MV - Yes, I teach in my home studio in Londonderry, New Hampshire; the Lexington Arts & Crafts Society; Metalwerx; The Craft Center of The League of NH Craftsmen; and a few small private galleries in Massachusetts.

CS - Do you consider yourself primarily a teacher or a maker/seller?
MV - I think it's 50/50. I love teaching, I love seeing a student who's never handled metal clay catch fire. I've been told I'm a good teacher, so I think the love of teaching comes across to my students. However, teaching can be draining and there are days that sitting in my studio all by myself is the ultimate gift. I love making and trying new things, and to do that I need to sell my work. Currently I'm working on redoing my brand and website and will be making a push to approach more galleries next year.

CS - How do you feel about teaching others your signature techniques?
MV - I don't mind teaching it, most students will give it their own twist. Those who know me, know it's mine. No one is ever going to be able to make their work look exactly like mine. In this day and age it's a given that artists will have someone copying their work. While it's not ethical, it doesn't seem to be something you can get away from unless you make things and never show them to anyone. As a teacher I feel that it's my calling to show others what I've learned.

CS - How would you like your future with metal clay to evolve?
MV - I'd like to get better. I still have areas in my work that need to be improved upon. I'd also like to start doing larger work in metal clay - primarily sculpture. I'm working on that now. I've just gotten a big kiln and will be starting to see how much I can push the size of my work.

"Rabbit in the Moon"
CS - Why did you choose metal clay as your primary jewelry making material? What qualities do you particularly appreciate?
MV - I like it's malleability, it's ability to be sculpted and formed. To do this in milled metals, you'd need to be working in wax, which adds another barrier between the maker and the finished piece. I also like that you can make a piece, get it all ready to go in the kiln, and if you don't like it - grind it up and reconstitute it. I tell all my beginning students this, and find it frees them up not to worry whether their first piece is perfect.

CS - What would you like new users of metal clay to know?
MV - While teaching metal clay to yourself is all well and good, find a competent teacher!! Teachers have made all the mistakes, know why one thing works and another doesn't. Don't reinvent the wheel, learn from them. I've had self-taught students who are so proud of things that have taken them weeks or months to figure out that a teacher would have explained in the first half hour of class. While it's wonderful they figured it out themselves, just think how much further they could have taken their work if they'd had a class first. Ask around and find a good teacher in your area.

My second piece of advice is, let yourself go, don't try to create your masterpiece the first time you use metal clay - as above, if you hate it just grind it up, reconstitute and start again. You need to learn the zen of the clay. Give yourself time and forgive your mistakes.

Thanks Mikki! Your work is so inspirational !

Posted by Lora Hart

Artistic Advisor


Kim said...

Thank you for this wonderful interview, I've always loved your work Michela! Especially this fawn sculpture--incredible!

Caron Michelle said...

Bravo - what an inspiration! Love your designs and this is a fabulous interview!

Mary Wolf said...

Loved reading this article and getting to know more about the artist. Thanks for sharing your story and for the timely words of advice. Your work is amazing.

Vickie Hallmark said...

Beautiful work, Michaela!!!! Interesting to see MC handled much like other clays. I'm leaning more toward working wet myself, but without your training.