Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Interview with Bead Artist Melissa Gabelle

Ceramic Beads by Melissa Gabelle
Today I am pleased to bring to you an interview with Melissa Gabelle, a ceramic bead artist from Australia.
 I originally connected with Melissa on the Ceramic Art Bead Market where we both sell out work.  I was so impressed with her creations that I wanted to share them with  you.  Melissa graciously agreed.  Our interview has been done by email as she lives in Verona on the South Coast of Australia.  Melissa graciously sent beautiful photos and answered the questions that follow about her work.
So let's begin!!
Mary:  How long have you been working with clay and how did you first get into it?

Melissa:  My first experience in clay was when I did a course in 1991 – 92 in ceramics. It was an excellent course that taught me all the fundamentals of ceramics, from throwing to glaze technology. From then on I was hooked. I just love making things with clay. I have been working in clay on and off for about 25 years, although I did have a break for a few years and worked as a web publisher in government.
Early Work  Melissa Gabelle

Vessel by Melissa Gabelle

Mary:  What lead you to start making beads?
Melissa:  I first had experience making beads in a course where we made our own Egyptian paste and then made beads out of it. I would love to make Egyptian paste again. I was talking to a woman in my local town who owns a bead shop and she makes exquisite beaded jewellery. I was saying I would love to get back into ceramics, but I didn’t have a big enough space to set up all my equipment. She suggested I make her some ceramic beads. I though wow, what a great idea, little works of art, perfect. That is when I set myself up with a tiny studio and pulled my old kiln out of storage, presto beads!
Mary:  How did you come up with your wonderful  name for your business.
Melissa:  Hmmm, that took a little while. I actually read the ETSY guidelines for naming a shop and they suggested something that was easy to remember. I love clay and my other love is chickens and birds. So The Clay Hen seemed like a great name for me. I am also into anything whimsical so it fitted my personality.
Clay Hens by Melissa Gabelle  Icon for her shop The Clay Hen

Mary:  Do you ever make jewelry with your beads? 
Melissa:  I do make some earrings from my beads for a local handmade shop and occasionally for exhibitions. I find I don’t have a lot of time to make jewellery as I am busy making beads! I also don’t enjoy working with metal much…too hard for me, I like the soft squishy nature of clay.
Earrings by Melissa Gabelle

Ceramic Earrings Melissa Gabelle

Mary:  What other creative adventures are a part of your life—past and present?
Melissa:  Wow, now that is a list. I still love print making (not that I have time lately).When I was at art school in my youth I studied etching for about 2 years, this is where I got a love of printmaking, I also really love lino printing. The whole process of designing and cutting the lino and the excitement of seeing the whole thing printed up is such a wonderful process. Knitting, crocheting, drawing, sculpture and ink drawings. I have also worked in web publishing/design. My biggest love and the thing I have been doing the longest is ceramics. I use to create quirky wheel thrown functional ware that I sold in galleries around NSW, Australia. 
Ceramic Vessel by Melissa Gabelle of The Clay Hen

Mary:  What is your workspace like? 
Melissa:  I have one word to describe my workspace….tiny! It is a meagre 1.5 metres x 1.5 metres, just big enough to make beads and small sculptures. I am planning for a bigger workshop in the future. This will allow me to mix glazes, do some throwing (on the wheel), plaster work, teaching etc.
Studio Melissa Gabelle

Mary:  Are there any ceramicists or bead makers that have inspired you.
Melissa:  Yes, many! With beads I just can’t go past Claire Lockwood’s stuff, original, different and quirky, just love it. I also love Joan Miller’s work, especially her whimsical robots and figurative porcelain and silver work, an amazing talent. There are quite a few potters I love so I will just list them!
Sony Manning amazing inlaid work, Andrew Cope, Barbi Lock Lee’s Australian animal pots, Greg Daley, Sandy Lockwood and Jenny Orchard’s wonderful sculptures. I could keep going but I think I will stop there. (all Australian potters)

Mary: I read in one of your write ups for the Ceramic Art Bead Market that you fire your beads in a solar powered kiln. Could you describe your set up and explain how this works.
Melissa:  I have a small 2.4kw kiln, it was the smallest kiln from the manufacture. We have a 5.0kw solar system that feeds back into the grid. I fire on sunny days (which get lots of in Aus) and that means I don’t actually take any power from the grid. It comes straight from the solar panels. The left over power either goes into the grid and we get a small amount back from the power company or we can use it with our household appliances. I also use 100% recycled packaging for my cards, wrapping and postage material. I have even found 100% biodegradable sticky tape!

Solare Powered Kiln 

Solar Powered Ceramic Kiln Loaded with bisque ware

Mary:  I used to live in  Southern California and noticed that most kilns were kept outside and that drying clay was much faster than here in the Northeast. I understand that you live in Australia. How does the climate there help and or hinder working with ceramics?

Melissa:  My studio has the solar power inverter on the wall and that produces quite a bit of heat and with the hot summers it means my beads dry out quickly. I have a lot of experience in how you can dry clay quickly so I don’t tend to have too many problems; there is one exception….porcelain! So I just take the losses as a part of the process with porcelain. I never wrap or slow the process down.
Bisque beads still to be glazed by Melissa Gabelle

Mary: I like the colors and forms you use in your work. Could you tell us something about your color choices and forms. Inspirations? And without giving away any secrets, something about the glazes you use.

Melissa:  I am not sure how I come to my choices in terms of colour and form, it sort of happens organically. I love nature and I get a lot of inspiration from there. I did a couple of series that were inspired from pollen grains and diatoms as seen through a powerful microscope
Diatoms by Melissa Gabelle
Pollen Grains Drops by Melissa Gabelle
 I live on a block of land with lots of bush and there are many creatures that visit us, I have been getting interested in bugs lately….you may have seen a few of my beetle and bee designs
Bee Earrings by Melissa Gabelle
I also love deco and nouveau design.

Deco Drops by Melissa Gabelle
Nouveau Drops by Melissa Gabelle

My daughter gives me ideas too! I would love to mix my own glazes again but as my studio space is limited I use a combination of commercial glazes, oxides, stains, slips and sand. I try to experiment all the time. I love doing different styles i.e. I don’t really stick to one style. I use terracotta, stoneware, earthenware and porcelain. I am also interested in raku….that will have to come later!
Mary:  Besides making wonderful creative beads, what do you enjoy spending your time on?

Melissa:  Well to tell you the truth, there isn’t a lot of time left! I have started doing small sculptures, which I just love.
Bird Sculptures by Melissa Gabelle
Bird Sculpture by Melissa Gabelle
Bird Sculpture by Melissa Gabelle

 I try to have weekends off, which I like to spend with my family. I also love gardening, swimming riding my bike, going to the beach and watching the seals and waves. Nature is just amazing and I just love watching creatures do their stuff.
Mary:  To end our interview I am going to share a collage  of earring drops by Melissa's beads.

Ceramic Drops by Melissa Gabelle
I hope you have enjoyed this journey to Australia to meet Melissa Gabelle. I have included some links where you can find her and keep up to date on what she  s making.
Thank you again Melissa!! 

Where you can find more of Melissa's work.

Thank you readers for stopping by today.
posted by Mary Harding


bairozan said...

The alien looking ceramic vessels are so unusual and I love the bird sculptures, too! The beads would be an asset to any jewelry piece!

Unknown said...

Fantastic! I love her shop name too! I am inspired!

Unknown said...

Hi Melissa!! The collections are amazing. Earrings are so pretty. I loved the entire handicraft you made but earrings and the vessels are the best. Check out for more attractive African Handicrafts and many more.

Jen said...

A great read Melissa, thank you