Just the Facts
red clay, stoneware, porcelain, and earthenware
Primary forming method
slip casting, slab building, pinching
Primary firing method
cone 06 and cone 9 wood, gas, and electric
Favorite surface treatment
stains, oxides, texture from natural objects
slab roller, wooden tools, sharp-pointed blade
classical music at a very low volume to create a good working mood
My studio is 950 square feet, but there are also open, outdoor spaces around the studio with natural shade that are good working environments. I am located outside of the city of Thiruvananthapuram, in the southwestern part of India, but not far away, which gives my studio an ambiance of the countryside—a quiet place to work, free from noise, and full of greenery.
I was born and lived in the city, but that area became commercialized with development, which was not suitable for the studio space I was hoping for. In search of a good, affordable place, I decided to settle in the outskirts of the city. Not only did this location provide a great ambiance, but it was also in close proximity with the home of my religious and spiritual guru (teacher/preacher), Sree Narayana Guru.
I find a good, positive energy while working in my studio. Though small when compared with the standard size, I find my studio very practical—it houses a wheel, work table, glazing facility, air compressor, slab roller, electric kiln, raku kiln, and shelving units. My nature is that my living space as well as the studio have to be neat and clean, which enables my mood to remain positive and focused when I am working in the studio. During the day, my studio gets uniform daylight inside. The sunlight hitting the side wall of my home reflects into the studio and provides overall, flat light. The studio has screens on all sides; this provides good air flow. For water, I have dug a well, thus I tap into natural resources and thereby conserve energy as much as possible.
My favorite aspects of my studio are that it is very suitable to my needs and manageable in size. Due to the way it is set up and the size, I can work without a studio assistant. In a way, it’s similar in scale to that of a graduate student’s studio. I also appreciate that the open patios and shade around the studio provide free airflow. My least favorite aspect is that I have to spend the time to make sure the studio and the surroundings are spic and span at the end of the day, so that the next day it will open up to a fresh energy.
During my time as an art student and afterward, I have visited various ceramic studios and have also had the opportunity to work in some of these studios. Ceramic studios in Gujarat, Chennai, and Calcutta (Kolkata) are a few that have influenced my own space. I imbibed the pros and cons of these studios and used the best aspects of each while setting up my own.
Shared Studio Spaces
Apart from the compact studio I have, there is sufficient space outside that I use for working as well. Moreover, I have a covered garage that provides enough space to accommodate a group of artists for ceramic workshops. The raku kiln is a movable unit, so the space constraint hasn’t had an effect so far.
I enjoy working with other artists. This provides opportunities to learn from others that I wouldn’t typically have. In addition, while I work, I can still monitor any students and well-wishers who come to work, and they can learn from me. Normally, an assistant helps me with specific projects, including the preparation of clays, mixing clays and glazes, and assistance during firings. Once these services are completed, they move on.
Paying Dues (and Bills)
I have a degree in sculpture from Trivandrum College of Fine Arts Kerala, India, and a graduate degree in ceramic sculpture from Maharaja Sayajirao University, Faculty of Fine Arts Baroda Gujarat, India. At present, I don’t have a day job, but I was a government employee and am now retired. After my retirement some years back, I turned to ceramics full time. My aim is not to make my studio for the benefit of generating income, but to give a quality education to art students, teachers, and like-minded people in the field of ceramic art.
I spend a lot of time making clay bodies, slip casting, and making different glazes. To apply glazes to my pieces, I use various techniques including dipping, spraying, etc. Making sculptures, handmade pottery, and murals are the areas where I have acquired training as a student, as well as through symposia and workshops. I practice each day, continuing the learning process.
I normally work in the studio 3 to 4 hours a day, preferably during the early morning or late evening, but it depends on my mood. From my experience, late night is more suitable, since there are little to no external disturbances.
Art lovers and well-wishers are the common buyers of my work. I am entrusted with commission work at a few public places, too, like Kakkavayal Dam Site, Wayanad, Kerala; Kalakshetra, Chennai; College of Fine Arts Thrissur, Kerala; and RLV College of Music and Fine Arts, Tripunithura, Kerala. Normally, I sell my work through galleries and exhibitions. Some people visit my studio and purchase directly from me. I can say that almost 95% of my work gets sold.
Until now, I have not concentrated on the commercial aspects of selling what I make. As an artist, I work at my own pace and on what interests me most. The group of people who appreciate my work has grown, and eventually these admirers become a percentage of the customer base who buy my work. The rest of my customers come from exhibitions and displays at galleries. I have thought of launching a website to showcase my art, which might create more demand for my work. But there are certain constraints too, since my pieces are not commercially functional, but rather ceramic sculptures.
Through Facebook and Instagram, I have the opportunity to connect with other artists who work similarly, to learn about their strategies and share ideas and information about me and my work, too. I receive lot of advice and well wishes from my posts. Since I engage with others on these two platforms the most, they are my primary means for marketing my work, and I have not pursued other options at this point. My time spent on social media is typically 1 to 2 hours per day.
I prefer reading various ceramic-arts-focused print journals, which are typically available through the library. I do refer to e-journals, websites, and online resources as well, to get insights on processes like naked raku, glaze application, and different firing methods.
At times I go back to study older pieces of my work in order to see how it has developed over time and to note the mistakes I have made in the past. Looking back to successes and failures with a critical perspective—asking questions about what worked or did not work and analyzing the reasons why—is important for an artist’s creative development. I also look closely at other artists’ work and refer to pieces made by various masters to learn from them and improve myself.
When I take time off, I prefer to travel to the mountains, coastal areas, and tourist spots. Visiting these places helps to lighten my mind. There is a lot of inspiration to obtain from nature during such travel, and I consider these trips to be integral to my learning. I take time to sit—thinking and revisiting ideas, listening to music, assessing my successes and failures in the studio and with different pieces I’ve made. In addition, when I am not working in the studio, I also enjoy spending time conversing with other like-minded friends.
Most Important Lesson
Failure is a stepping stone to success. In ceramics, a lot of trials and attempts have to be done to achieve a good result. There are times where accidental good results also come about. It’s important to document these to learn how the results happened, and what needs to be done to repeat and improve upon them.
I am planning to develop my working environment; however, rather than redoing the existing studio, I want to open up a full-fledged educational studio dedicated to ceramics. My intention is to develop a center of excellence for the education of ceramic art from the kindergarten level to college level, as well as for community members who are fascinated by this art form, from collectors and admirers of ceramics to members of the public who have not had the opportunity to work with clay or don’t have access to a studio to further their learning and self expression.
Facebook: Byju Bybisa