For our second instalment of 'Eat & Sip goes Local', we turned our attention to the brand behind these wonky line of tableware, Ummuramics!
Ummu Nabilah, the person behind her namesake brand, got her first introduction to the amazing world of ceramics way back in secondary school. Interestingly, she disliked the medium then and had wanted nothing to do with it as she only wanted to paint. Her second brush with ceramics came in NAFA when she was introduced to wheel-throwing in a ceramics module.
Instead of taking 'Western Painting' as her major as planned, she chose to do ceramics instead because she badly wanted to learn to turn clay on the wheel. And the rest is... history.
Can you tell our readers why you love pottery so much and are there any aspects of it which you don't like?
I love the fact that I am making a product that serves so much purpose - it could just be a cup that holds your morning coffee or that plate that serves your family dinner every night. Ceramics is also 'permanent' in the sense that it goes down with earth, it is so cool that the first found objects humans dug out were pieces of pottery!
A berry pink smoothie in her own handmade mug
Currently there is nothing to dislike about ceramics, I thoroughly enjoy every bit of it. Maybe except for the dust, it's not good for you!
How cute is her cat watching her work!
We've heard about that (the dust part) from so many other ceramicists too! Anyway, since you were an art student, was there any other medium that came as close to clay in capturing your heart?
Painting, acrylic paint. I ventured into the art world by painting, so that is one medium that is very close to me. Whenever I get a ‘ceramics-block’, I will usually go back to painting for a bit, it helps me get out of it. I am not a serious painter, so its really fun for me.
Painting sunset on a slab of porcelain with underglaze
We noticed that your works are... wonky - in a good way! What is the inspiration behind your ceramic line?
I wanted to make things that could provoke a thought or a feeling. So much so that when someone sees that mug in your hand, they would instantly know it is handmade. I feel that it adds a bit of personality to an otherwise inanimate object.
Pretty clear from these bisqued mugs that each piece is uniquely distinct!
The bottom of her mugs and pinch pots are always carved out individually with her logo and designs
I get inspired by colours and feelings such as the quick ever-changing sky colours during sunsets or the moving clouds. The feeling of floating about on the ocean, especially floating facing the seabed and watching the sand dance inspires me.
Seems like you have a very fluid conceptualisation process. What is your creative flow like?
I studied ceramics as an art subject so when I started making functional pieces, it was very conflicting for me. Am I making art, or just producing your basic everyday functional ware?
"Some ideas never really leave you alone. Viewing a seabed whilst adrift is something that never left me. So, I am bringing in a piece of 2015 back into 2019."
The Ocean seabed she made during her first year in NAFA, that hasn't left her mind even till now
So whenever I make my pieces, I will go through the same conceptualisation process. I will write about the set of colours I would use, then I'll test it out by painting the test colours and also do some sketches. It’s a lot of writing for me too actually, about how this particular idea is going to make me feel and then I’ll get really excited to make it out of clay!
Sketches of the colours and mugs
"I do quick sketches in between breaks at work & on one particular day I just painted horizontal lines continuously, so that's how this mug came about."
Blue geo watercolour platters
The blending of colours on your mugs always looks so good and random! Do you plan it before hand or do you roughly apply the glaze, not knowing how the colours will turn out when they mix together?
Back when I was a student, I went through a whole process of playing around with glazes. I had so much moments of ‘crazy glazing’ and sometimes I will forget which glaze I use, so I have learnt to write down glaze combinations so that I can achieve the same colours.
Believe it or not, this colour came about from random mixing of colours. 'Rojak' as she would call it!
Freshly-glazed raindrop mug
Of course, being a creative, I can't help but be spontaneous sometimes and not plan, the go-with-the-gut feeling mindset! Glazing is always unpredictable anyway, so there is a 50-50% chance that they will turn out good, or otherwise.
"I'm glad I coated it with white at the last moment, because the ones without white glaze outside isn't as pleasing." We agree too!
Do you have a particular type of clay and firing conditions that you like to work with?
It has been a few years and I am still exploring different clay bodies. Currently, I work with a few clay bodies, white stoneware, terracotta and even porcelain. I can't seem to decide which I like to work with but I have given each clay body a specific role. For example, with porcelain, I mainly use it for pinching small bowls and not on the wheel.
Carving out lines on the terracotta landscape vases
You seem to be comfortable using all three pottery methods. Do you have a favourite method?
The liking and disliking of the methods changes all the time. Currently, I enjoy wheel throwing and glazing. I dread slab work as it requires me to roll it out manually and its pretty hard to get it even.
Wheel-thrown vases, one with its shape slightly altered
Work-in-progress of her raindrop mugs - coloured slip is added before it is glazed and fired
However, when I was in school, it was the complete opposite. That's possibly because we had a slab roller in the studio, so making slabs were so easy. But one thing I always dread will always be sanding.
Each line on her seabed series is carved out individually.
Why do you think pottery is becoming a bit more popular recently?
I think it is because we have more art markets popping up all around Singapore so naturally, more people is introduced to the art of pottery. On social media, especially so on Instagram, pottery is gaining a little bit of traction because it's a very visual thing! Who can resist the videos of sexy clay being thrown on the wheel? People then become very interested in the process.
More greenware drying on her balcony
Which other ceramicists do you follow closely or are inspired by?
I love this artist from Thailand, her Instagram handle is Long-Lai. I'm also inspired deeply by Sage’s work ethic from Hand and fire from USA and Magnolia Mountain from Australia and so many more. I found them all on Instagram. they are super nice humans, even though we have not met in real life, Instagram has really helped with interaction.
Some of her final products
Any advice for budding ceramicists?
Experiment a lot! Try all possibilities of style and see which one you like and of course, be patient!
PS. Most of the photos used in the article were taken by Ummu herself.