Meet The Creative – Sue Mifsud

Published: 08 Mar 2018
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Tell us about your style of work?
My work is predominantly wheel thrown ceramics and I have a love and connection with textured surfaces, be that through application of glaze or treatment of the clay.  I enjoy producing functional pieces that are handled and used in everyday life.  Clay is such a unique medium and the touch, sound and visual aspects of it should all be enjoyed.  My glazes are generally vibrant and quite organic in appearance, I’m not one for crisp lines and block colours, multiple layering gives me minute details which can be appreciated when pieces are within our personal space and under close inspection.
Your work is appearing in the trendiest local restaurants. How do you develop a range?
Chefs are magnificent creatures.  I’ve worked and am working with people who are at the top of their game in the culinary field both in Malta and abroad.  They get what I do and see my work as blank canvases to present their creations on.  I build a relationship with them so that I can understand them as individuals, the business they are running, the menu they are serving and the clients they are catering for.  The development process is lengthy; after these initial discussions I produce a number of prototypes, they are my clay ‘sketches’ so that ideas can be handled and considered.  Any fine tuning is then done to produce exactly what the client wants and finally, when all is agreed, the work goes into production i.e. I work some lengthy hours to make the pieces.  I’m very lucky that restaurants approach me because they like my portfolio and trust my judgment.  No one, as yet, has come to me with a photo that they want me to replicate, maybe I give out a subliminal message that it’s not something that I would do.  I want work to be unique and full of fresh life.  The top end restaurants want to give their clientele the full dining experience that includes interesting dinnerware that draws attention to and alters the perception of the food that is being served.

Can individuals commission their own designs or indeed create them themselves?
I work on many private commissions, from single items to full dinner sets.  Again, on the larger projects, I spend time getting to know a person and their general likes and dislikes.  I like people and conversation so always find this process fascinating.  As I become more familiar with a person, I start visualising forms and surfaces that I think would be appropriate for them.  I like to keep clients up to date with the progress of the work and constantly share images with them through the stages of making.  I think this gives them a greater appreciation of what handmade truly means and also a documented history of the work they will be owning.
With the design and production side of my business increasing I am slowly reducing the number of classes that I offer on a one to one basis. Teaching is something that I enjoy immensely (and it prevents me from talking to myself) but it’s also extremely time consuming with the amount of preparation required before hand and the TLC that is needed afterwards with handling student work.  I still continue to accept large groups which normally buzz with activity as most experience handling clay for the first time, these include corporate events and summer school and I sincerely love the teaching I do at Guardian Angel Resource Centre who have now created a fully equipped pottery classroom.

What is the best part of your work?
The very best part of my job has to be handling clay, we are like lovers; sometimes we fall out and disagree but at the end of the day we are inseparable and the most joyful of moments are spent up to my elbows creating new designs and permanent items that, hopefully have an element of beauty.   Through the medium I also get to meet the most amazing creative individuals who inspire and support me and wonderful clients who have an understanding and appreciation of what I do.  I should also mention the satisfaction felt from passing on knowledge to students, I hope I transfer the passion and addiction I have for ceramics to those I teach. 

What are the limitations of clay?
Clay is a living entity.  Unlike cardboard you can’t cut it out and expect it to automatically retain its shape.  It shrinks, warps and its structure has a memory which can bite you at any stage of the making process.  The experience you build up as a ceramist allows you, to a large degree, to predict those changes and so work with or around them.  I like to keep pushing and constantly experiment so build up a mental catalogue of things that work and don’t.  Ceramics also obviously break which I think adds to their precious quality and a general respect for them.  You can have something of great beauty which can outlast us all but one kiss with concrete and it’s lost forever.