Meet the Maker – Melanie Van de Velde from Melanie Made Mud
Melanie Van de Velde from Melanie Made Mud is a potter based near Abergavenny in Monmouthshire, where she makes functional ceramics in stunning glazes that evoke the Welsh landscape, sculptural pieces inspired by her lurchers and an enduring fascination with whales, and collaborates with House of Hawks on a collection of illustrated pots. Here Melanie talks to fellow Folksy seller Helen Milen from Studio Milena about her creative journey from illustration to ceramics, via paint-your-own pottery classes, what it’s like to fire a kiln on a narrowboat and the importance of community.
To celebrate being our featured maker, Melanie is offering a 10% discount on all her pottery. Use code ‘FolksyFeature’ when you checkout.
Shop Melanie Made Mud on Folksy – https://folksy.com/shops/MelanieMadeMud
Craft gives me purpose. If I didn’t make I’m not sure I would feel very fulfilled in my life.Melanie Van de Velde, Melanie Made Mud
Hi Melanie. Could you introduce yourself and tell us a bit about what you do?
Hello! I’m Melanie from Melanie Made Mud. Last year I moved from London to South Wales with the dream of setting up my own pottery studio. We’ve made our home in a small rural village outside Abergavenny called Llanelly Hill, where I live with my husband, daughter and three rescue lurchers.
I create my ceramics in the conservatory-turned-studio. It’s extraordinary light to work in but still very much a work-in-progress – it needs work this year to insulate it and improve the storage.
I’m inspired and fascinated by whales, particularly humpbacks. Whales and lurchers feature quite often in the work I make, which is mostly functional thrown stoneware pieces, pots, mugs, planters, vases, jugs and dishes, although my passion really lies in getting lost in the process and methods of sculpture. At the moment, I dabble here and there with whale and lurcher sculptures but this is also something I plan to do more of now I have my own creative space and am in charge of my time!
I also collaborate with Ben from House of Hawks on a collection of ceramics: his illustrations on my pots. Our creative relationship is mostly based on our shared love of rescue lurchers (he has three too) and fondness for gorgeous blue Delft tiles. We try to shop-and-drop our wares two or three times a year, but as we now live closer to each other, we’re planning to expand our collaboration much more. It’s very exciting and we have all sorts of ideas buzzing around!
I’d love to hear your pottery journey. Where did it all start?
I studied illustration at uni in the early ’90s and would often work in three dimensions and mixed media but never clay. After graduating, I took a job in publishing and did some freelance illustration on the side. After my daughter was born in 2005, I started taking her to our local paint-your-own-pottery (PYOP) shop and was instantly hooked. When I was offered redundancy from my publishing job, I took the opportunity to buy a kiln and go on a ‘start your own PYOP business’ course.
I attended throwing days and evening classes with Mary Howard George, who taught me to throw back in 2008, and I became immersed in learning all things clay. As my skills developed, I started teaching ceramics, and before we moved to Wales in 2021, I had been teaching pottery to adults for eight years.
I’m intrigued to hear about the creative process behind your ceramics. How do you take your initial idea through to the finished piece?
For my own work, it usually starts with a list of ideas. Anything that I want to take further will end up in my sketchbook and then it’s really looking at glaze samples and experimenting on the wheel with the form.
For the work I do with Ben as part of our House of Hawks collaboration, we meet in my studio to talk through and sketch our ideas. I then make the clay prototypes.
My passion really lies in getting lost in the process and methods of sculpture.Melanie Van de Velde, Melanie Made Mud
I can see your lovely lurchers inspire you but what is the connection with the humpback whales in your ceramics?
You know what, I have no memory of where that started but I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t fascinated by whales – it’s always been with me. I knew loads of whale facts as a child. Just like when kids know everything about dinosaurs (my daughter did), for me it was whales. I guess it must have been a telly programme in the early ’80s that inspired me. I have since been very lucky to have been whale watching in Maui, the Arctic Circle and Iceland.
Apart from your dogs, what do you like to have around you in your studio while you are working?
I have an inspiration shelf full of pots, objects and samples. But as my studio is a conservatory I have an almost 360 degree view of the valley where I live. The light I’m surrounded by can be quite extraordinary.
As my studio is a conservatory I have an almost 360 degree view of the valley where I live. The light I’m surrounded by can be quite extraordinary.Melanie Van de Velde, Melanie Made Mud
Do you have a technique or glaze that you particularly enjoy using? Is there a favourite piece you’ve created?
I love getting lost in coiling and modelling sculptural pieces but currently, while I grow my business, I’m concentrating more on throwing functional work, as that does sell more. Over the last few weeks I’ve been developing a new range of homeware with a stunning deep glaze combination that I found by layering two glazes.
I want to progress this further… and put it out to the Folksy community to come up with a name for this new glaze!
How would you describe your signature style?
Nope, I can’t answer that. I’m nearly 50 now and still experimenting to find out what that is!
As an illustrator, I was never able to settle on a style, and during my nine years as a pottery tutor it was the same because I needed to be able to teach a broad range of styles and techniques.
I’m fascinated to hear about your life on a narrow boat. Can you tell more? Were you creating ceramics at the time?
Have you heard the word ‘gongoozler’? It’s the term given to people who like to look at boats on the canal. My husband and I did that, then we decided we didn’t want to gongoozle anymore but to live on the cut instead. We’ve always jumped into new adventures, so in 2013 we sold our house and bought a narrowboat.
I made the pointy end (the cratch) an area for a small kiln and the stern housed my wheel. In the summer I’d work outside and in winter I’d work at the kitchen table. At that time I was a pottery tutor rather than a maker, so I had regular use of a studio too where I would make small batches on occasion.
How do your current surroundings in the Welsh valleys influence your work?
Mainly through the use of glazes. I created a few ranges in 2021 that I called ‘valley cups’ made up of the colours of blue skies, purple heather, dark brown mountains and lush green valleys. Next I’d love to experiment with surface texture and colour to produce work with an industrial heritage focus.
Who do you particularly admire in the world of ceramics?
Grayson Perry is a definite firm fave – particularly with his joyous programme Art Club shown during lockdown. It was a total saviour each week and something so creative I really looked forward to. It was an inspiration to keep on making and to connect with people expressing themselves creatively.
What does craft mean to you?
Craft gives me purpose. If I didn’t make I’m not sure I would feel very fulfilled in my life. It’s a wonderful experience when someone enjoys your work and wants to take it home. It’s also about community: the love of craft brings makers together to support one another, and I’m really enjoying becoming part of the ‘Shop Small’ community.
Get 10% discount off Melanie Made Mud with code ‘FolksyFeature‘ – valid until 10th April 2022.
Meet the interviewer
The maker asking the questions this week is Helen from Studio Milena, a textile designer based in North Yorkshire who specialises in contemporary hand weaving.