In Their Element: Melina LaVecchia Daniels

It's been a while since I've posted another installment for the In Their Element series I've been working on, which features artists and the spaces they create in.  If you didn't catch some of the other ones I posted last year, you can view all of them here

Today I'm sharing photos of the workspace of Melina of Ceramics by Lina LaV.  My husband and I first saw her work at one of the Vintage Charlotte pop-up markets a while back and have loved following her beautiful work on Instagram ever since.  I especially wanted to create an opportunity to feature a ceramicist in this series because I took a ceramics class in high school (almost ten years ago!) and have really been in love with it ever since.  My husband has also taken several semesters of ceramics classes in the past couple of years, and it's just such a fascinating art form to me. 

In addition to her beautiful work, another thing that specifically drew me to Melina is that she's also a mom.  I feel like it took a while for me to figure out how balance life, work and art after having a baby - in fact, maybe I haven't even fully "figured it out" yet, since it's constantly changing!  For the longest time I felt like I was just fumbling forward, always busy, always juggling random things and multi-tasking, hoping that I wasn't dropping anything.  It can feel a little chaotic at times, but simultaneously wonderful.  Melina had posted this fantastic photo on Instagram of her rocking her son, Lucca, with one foot, while using her other foot on the pedal of her wheel to throw and I immediately thought, "Yes!  This is the perfect portrait of motherhood." 

Okay! I'm going to stop talking so we can dive in.  Here's Melina!

Tell me a little bit about Ceramics by Lina LaV!

Ceramics by Lina LaV started in 2012 in college. I studied ceramics as a concentration for my Art Education degree... I was horrible at it! I literally cried at the wheel and begged my now husband to pray that I can magically throw 20 cylinders. I took a leap later that year and bought a fully equipped studio from a gal off craigslist! I made the decision in a day and found a loan for $4,500 that included two kilns (one is priced at $4,000), a wheel, a slab roller, multiple shelves and tools. I spent countless hours in a dark, wet basement throwing pots until I proved to myself that all my professors were wrong and that I could throw lite and beautiful and even! A couple years later I started an Etsy shop and have been working ever since. 

I was really drawn to the inspiration wall you have in your studio and I spent so much time looking at all of the images you have pinned on it. Can you tell me a little bit more about what keeps you inspired now, and what initially inspired you to even get into ceramics as a medium?

I love this question. My history in creating always leads back to my parents, two chefs that met at culinary arts school in Charleston. I grew up with the most extravagant dinners. My father is Italian and my mother is a designer. They would start cooking after church and tell us to invited anyone we wanted over for Sunday dinners. These were extra special and usually included multiple courses, candles, music and lots of dessert. I watched my mother set the table with particular attention to the tableware, the plates, the glasses, the linens, the sterling silver, the placemats, the flower treatments... She didn't care if it was just us, she would go all out all the time because she loved beauty and she loved creating something out of nothing. I will always remember these moments. My father is an amazing chef and would only cook on Sundays. He always said the plate should act as a canvas for the dish, making the food look beautiful and refined. They are my muse. I hope my pieces inspire others to bring out the best for each and every meal, treat it as if it's your last, invite the whole neighborhood over and spend time sharing dreams, thanksgiving and blessings over each other. 

What inspires me now is that the slow-living movement is returning to how people use to treat life. They would grow their own food, cook their own meals, eat whole and purely and invite everyone over to their homes for supper. I can't disconnect food and meals with dinnerware and kitchenware. You need them to serve the food, which in turns serves others. 

I have noticed that the majority of your work is specifically tableware (plates + platters).  What made tableware become sort of your main focus with your ceramic work?

I think I answered this question a little bit above. However, I will rephrase, that I was never drawn to the sculptural hand building methods of ceramics. I prefer throwing and hand building functional, yet aesthetically-minded pieces. Pieces that are so beautiful you want them to sit on the shelf, but I'm (secretly) forcing you to use them everyday.

I know that for some different art forms, you don’t necessarily need to invest in a whole lot of equipment to get started, but ceramics is an entirely different story!  What was your “aha!” moment like where you decided to go ahead and take that leap to buy the equipment and set up a studio in your house?

One random day I decided that I would look up ceramic studios on craigslist, and found this fully equipped studio that a retired woman was selling. She posted it not even an hour ago and I was the first person to call (nearly a hundred people inquired). I told her my heart and dream for opening a studio and she said out of all the people she felt like I needed to have it... I also prayed that God would give me a studio... I thought this dream was literally 10 years down the road but He had other plans.

I love the aesthetic of the gold designs on some of your pieces, which I didn’t see many other ceramicists doing; what sparked that idea, and what kind of a process does it involve?

Gold is very trendy in the ceramic world these days. I certainly did not start the trend, however I think that I am the only one (that I've found ) to get some of my original designs made into real 22k gold silk-screen transfers. I love the use of precious metals in something so non-precious, MUD! It's a captivating oxymoron. 

You and your husband are both full-time artists, which I find to be incredibly inspiring because it can be so scary to take that leap to do art (or really whatever you’re passionate about!) full time.  What kind of advice do you have for any artists out there who are considering taking that same leap? 

Don't give it 5 minutes if you don't plan to give it 5 years. I don't know who said that to me but it has always stuck. 

Also, don't put so much pressure on yourself. My husband paints full time but I work in my studio in the day and I bartend 2-3 nights a week... primarily because I love the hospitality industry and my family raised me in a some-what workaholic atmosphere... but it is a good break for me when I am tired of being by myself all day, vise versa, around people too much, I escape to my studio to work by myself. One more thing, just do it! Commit fully and if you need to change your lifestyle, eat beans and rice or adjust in other ways that make the risk less scary and more realistic. I always think if you follow what you truly love to do in life, the money will find its way to you... and trust God. 

Thank you so much, Melina!  To keep up with Melina + her latest projects, you can follow her on Instagram: @bylinalav