Ceramic artist Maya of Melissa Maya Pottery has sold more than 1,000 handmade ceramic pieces – mugs, planters, plates, you name it – since she opened her Etsy shop in 2013. A certified yoga teacher who once lived in the jungle of Costa Rica, Maya spends her days making pottery in her one-car garage, looking after her one-year-old daughter, and seeking moments of stillness to recharge her creative batteries.
We caught up with Maya to talk clay, creativity, and what it’s like to make someone’s favorite mug.
How did you get started in ceramics?
I went to college at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. I was majoring in glass at first, and then I started to get sucked into the ceramics program, too. I think what drew me to ceramics is how tactile it is. When you’re working with glass, you can’t touch it – especially hot glass – and you can’t hold it or form it. You always have to be using tools.
With ceramics, it’s such an intimate process: you take the clay, and you shape it with your hands. There’s something very meditative about it. You’re sitting at this wheel, and you can’t center it unless you’re sort of centered yourself. If your mind is off, you’ll see it in your pottery. You have to be present in that way.
Ceramics are also very functional. Glass can be delicate, but ceramics you can use in your daily life. If you give someone a mug, they aren’t going to think, “Oh, I have to put this on my shelf and never touch it.” (At least, I hope people don’t do that with my work!) I want to make things that live in someone’s house – like, really live there. I want them to have a plant in my planter, you know?
I saw on your About page that you spent some time abroad. Can you tell me how that experience influenced your work?
After art school, I needed a break from making anything. I lived in New York City for a while; after that, I went to the Omega Institute. While I was there, I met the man who would become my husband, and after Omega we were like, “Well, all of our stuff is in storage, where are we going to go?” So we went to Costa Rica. I wanted to do a yoga teacher training, and I found a place there. We lived in the jungle with monkeys, right on the beach.
While we were there, I was always figuring out ways to make things; I realized that I needed to do that. I was sewing some, but you could hardly find any decent fabric. I was also drawing and sketching, and coming up with ideas. I guess it influenced me in that way – I thought I needed to stop for a while, and I realized when I did stop that I wanted to keep making things.
How did you start selling on Etsy?
I graduated from college in 2008; I remember hearing murmurings of this thing called Etsy that was cropping up. That stuck in the back of my head, and then I went and did all these different things – meditation and yoga stuff. When we moved to Denver, I was making things and tweaking my ideas, but I wasn’t in love with what I was making enough to put it out into the world. I had a lot of anxiety – I wanted to make sure it was really what I loved before putting it out there. So I took some time before I opened my shop. My first couple of sales were to people I know like my mom and my sister, which is nice. I remember getting my first couple of real sales, and it was so exciting to be shipping off to people who didn’t know me.
Where do you create?
I work in my little one-car garage, attached to my house. I do all of my throwing in my studio, and then I have a kiln where I bisque fire all of my ceramic work. I also do all of the decorating by hand in my studio, and then I take my decorated work up to a ceramic guild nearby. I make my own glazes there, and then do the glazing and the final firing in their kilns.
You make all your own glazes! What’s that process like?
I always feel like a little bit of a chemist, because I have a scale, and I’m weighing all of the powders out. I learned how to do that in college. I love making my own glazes because you can tweak them a little bit here and there. It’s really a process. Fortunately, I work out of an electric kiln, so that creates a very stable environment. I can find a glaze that works and is pretty consistent, which is really what I want out of my work. I like having consistency so I can do made-to-order work and people can expect an idea of what they’re getting, even though everything is going to be a little different here and there.
How would you define creativity?
For me, being creative is stepping back a little bit. Especially nowadays when we have so much input – you know, the computer, TV, phones. My creativity usually comes from taking a minute to daydream and just put all that stuff away. To be quiet, with nothing coming in, just letting myself just sort of drift off. Sometimes, you have to put aside time for that. It’s like, “Yeah, okay, now I’m going to be quiet.” That’s where a lot of creativity comes for me. When you have input, input, input, it’s hard to be creative. I have to purposefully stop looking at everything.
What are you trying to achieve with your pottery?
Whenever I’m creating a design, I’m very much interested in it being beautiful. I want it to look really nice when it’s sitting on your table, or in your cabinet. I’m also very inspired by the function of a piece: for a mug, I want it to feel really good when you hold it. I want it to be your favorite mug. You always want to reach for it in the cabinet, and you clean it by hand if it’s in the dishwasher because you don’t want to use a different mug. I want to make that kind of thing in your life, that feels good to use, and you really have a relationship with. Everybody knows what it’s like to have a favorite mug, it’s like, “I love it! This is my mug!”
How does it feel knowing you’re making someone’s favorite mug?
I love that! That’s one of my favorite things to think about with this work. Sometimes I’m just sitting in my garage working on stuff, and then I realize after it’s all done and shipped out – it’s going to a person’s house and leading this whole other life. Maybe it will be their favorite mug, or maybe they’ll give it to somebody, or maybe it will survive for a decade, or a couple decades. Especially with ceramics, because they can hold up. I mean, we have ceramics that we dig up from the ground from thousands of years ago. Who knows?
Thanks to Maya for sharing her story with us! Follow Maya on Instagram to keep up with her work.