As human beings, we have taken our ideas of the world around us and shaped them in clay for as long as we’ve existed. Dedicated to this hands-on medium, Jessica Merle insists that clay takes her everywhere, and she is its happy follower.

This week, we joined Jessica at her studio in Hillcrest, Durban, to see how her creative process unfolds.

“I’m currently working on the alchemy collection, which is a series of saggar fired functional ceramics,” she explains, “the intention with this collection is to create pieces that overlap art and utility.”

I want to make intentional, beautiful, usable objects that can be treasured forever,” says Jessica. We were keen to understand how this artist fires pieces of natural design directly into her clay.

The physical messiness of being human is an intriguing thing, and I find such repulsive beauty in the spillage and detritus of our bodies and nature,” she explains, “it is fascinating, then, that these very remnants are what create the magic on the surfaces of saggar fired pieces.”

During the firing process, a saggar is used to contain or protect the ceramic ware from the flames inside a kiln. Jessica’s love of nature and desire to live more sustainable has greatly influenced her ceramics process.

“I like to think that one of my hidden talents is being able to observe and spot small, secret things that are hidden in nature around us…anything that I can incorporate into the saggar firing process and to create a beautiful, organic, smokey finish in my work.”

“What I love about working with nature is that it almost brings an energy to my process,” explains Jessica, “I feel like when I start a new batch of work, just having these elements around me brings a sense of excitement.”

We joined her back inside her studio as she showed us the step-by-step process behind her remarkable creations. Every piece is shaped in Jessica’s hands and fired by her imagination, as much as the heat of a kiln.

By choosing to saggar fire my work I can cut out the second, higher firing necessary for glazes and be a little bit more eco-friendly in my studio,” she says.

Jessica’s journey began when she started her studies at the Ceramic Studio at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. During her studies, she received traditional ceramics and glaze chemistry training.

Her training also incorporated indigenous ceramics knowledge, which is where her love for smoke firing and saggar firing first developed.

The best thing for Jessica is knowing that her ceramics bring a sense of joy to people in the everyday rituals of their lives.

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