When Tiziana Schembri comes to visit us in Valletta it is always a massive celebration! It means that just a few hours before, at her studio in Berlin, she was carefully packing her signature ceramics in massive luggage to restock our shop. It also means that we get a chance to chat over coffee about creativity, workflow and plans for the future.
These conversations, along with her positive energy and passion for clay, were an inspiration behind "Meet the Creative", a series of interviews with local artists and makers who are introducing a positive change to the Maltese creative scene.
il-lokal: Tell us about your creative background and how you started your creative journey.
Tiziana: In a nutshell, I picked up a piece of clay when I was 11 years old and never put it down. I was introduced to ceramics during a summer course run by Anna Ciavola in Żebbuġ. I was hooked. Nowadays I teach ceramics here in Berlin and hope to inspire others in the process.
A number of years back, I moved aboard and found shared spaces in studios in Edinburgh, East London Tallinn, and now Berlin. I have been lucky enough to work in different environments, and have had my work featured in exhibitions and stocked in shops in Europe. This month you can find me be running my own studio in Berlin: Clayground studio. Whilst it is a challenging time, I have high hopes and plans for the ceramic studio.
il-lokal: What would you say to someone who is intimidated by working with clay?
Tiz: As mentioned before, I teach ceramics in Berlin as well as hold the occasional workshop in Malta when visiting on holiday. Clay is a forgiving subject, especially before the first baking process (bisque). So if one is not happy with the outcome, it is easy to recycle the clay and start again. A lot of information and inspiration can be found online, in the forms of videos and in books. I would say, give it a go, nothing wrong could come out of trying ceramics.
Inspiration & Creative Process
il-lokal: What are your go-to sources for inspiration?
Tiz: Funnily enough, my inspiration at the moment is not ceramics, but my whippet Boudicca. You could say I have become a little obsessed with her features and at times funny characteristics.
Recently, I have been working on a number of illustrations for tableware, and landed on a style that represents the curves and lines of the body of a sighthound whilst being reminiscent of woodblock prints. Using coloured engobes, each design is handprinted onto a cup or bowl, using the sgraffito technique I scratch out various details. Finally the items is glazed and fired in the kiln to allow the illustration to standout with more contrast.
Other than that, I draw inspiration from Japanese and Scandinavian pottery. I love the simplicity and tactility of the materials, shapes and glazes used in these kind of ceramics. From these I try to develop my own personal style for tableware such as teacups and mugs.
il-lokal: What do you do or where do you go when you need a creative boost?
Tiz: I tend to visit a few galleries and art museums - mainly ones that exhibit historical ceramics. We have a lot to learn from these. It helps me to develop new ideas. Talking about ideas to other ceramic artists boosts my creativity as well. Others can offer different perspectives on designs I have in mind.
Workspace & Workflow
il-lokal: Tell us about your workspace - where do you do your creating and what tools do you use regularly?
Tiz: I have my own special space at Clayground studio, in Berlin. I can be found in the backroom, sitting contentedly at my pottery wheel, looking at the garden outside listening to a podcast. It sounds pretty idyllic, and it is!
I tend to work mainly with stoneware on the pottery wheel. My ceramic tools are well used, slightly worn but serve me well. I normally start by preparing the clay I am using that day in another part of the studio. For some reason, I tend to finish the day with at least three cups of half-drunk coffee around my workspace.
Work is divided into items that are drying, ones that need trimming and lastly those that have been bisque and require glazing. I tend to mix my own glazes and store these on the upper shelves of my studio space.
I try to keep my part of the studio tidy, as I feel I work more efficiently if the workspace is organised.
I love the natural light that comes through the window and there is also enough space for Boudicca (my dog) to lie next to me when I am working.
il-lokal: What is a typical day like for you?
Tiz: I usually try to get to the studio in the morning. I look through the list of chores that need to be done to keep the studio running such as unloading of the kilns, recycling clay, watering the plants etc. At Clayground, we currently have an assistant who helps out at the studio in return for learning about the craft and working on their own project. I usually delegate some of the chores to them.
Once these are done, I brew some coffee, pour myself a cup and take time out to plan out orders and projects I am working on that week.
il-lokal: What kind of music do you listen to while working?
Tiz: Recently I have been listening to podcasts rather than music. I do not always remember what was said, but having background noise helps me to focus more.
il-lokal: Do you have any exciting things in progress that you’d like to share?
Tiz: I have a few projects on the go. I am working on a set of ceramic wall lamps for a private client. She recently moved into her new home and requested ceramic shades that match the modern style of her home, whilst creating a cosy and intimate setting. I enjoy these kinds of projects as they allow me to explore hand-building techniques and test out different clay combinations. They are also quite different from my day-to-day ceramic work, and I relish the challenge they bring with them.
I was asked to make 180 small pots for a wedding in Malta. The order was a challenging one, due to the number and size, however, I do love to throw off the hump, which is a technique where one creates multiple items from a single block of clay. I attended a workshop on this in Spain a few years ago, and it is a technique that I use a lot with large orders such as this one.
I recently completed a tableware order for a Berlin-based restaurant (Aerde) opening this month. I created the plates to reflect the style of cooking. I am looking forward to trying out the food and seeing my work in action. It gives me such a confidence boost to see ceramic work I created being used in such a setting and work purchased by private clients. I am humbled by the lovely comments and photos that people send me.
il-lokal: Are there any particular mediums or techniques you'd like to explore in the future?
Tiz: One of the things I would like to improve on is glazes - mainly the chemistry behind them. I would like to attend more workshops and learn about the chemistry behind glazing.
il-lokal: Are there other creatives whose work/products you particularly love or admire?
Tiz: Too many to mention. I recently discovered a Korean artist in Berlin, Park Jung Hong. He creates these beautiful, effortless moon vases. I was lucky enough to get a one-to-one workshop with him and learn about the technique of throwing moon jars on the pottery wheel.
il-lokal: If you could collaborate with another local artist, who would it be and why?
Ryan Falzon - we had spoken in the past about collaborating in some way. I would be keen on a collaborative exhibition that would include his paintings and some of my ceramics. With everything, I just need more time in the day :)