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Mel Gras holding clay casting Florence Italy.jpeg

About Mel

Hi, Welcome to my shed.  

 

I am a sculptor and ceramicist.  I found clay about 15 years ago, and like everyone else who has clay in their life, I was hooked from the first touch.  Clay is my peaceful place, a place where I can breathe, contemplate and evolve.  I feel a humble connection to our earth, inspired by the elements, creatures great and small, and amazing people I meet along the way.

Last year I made the shift from hobbyist to artist.  I left my career of 30 years, I commenced studying a Diploma of Ceramics at Hornsby TAFE NSW, and settling into a life with clay. It has been a time of transition and learning, diving into a completely different way of life, and I am looking forward to finding my rhythm with my studio practice. I exhibited my first body of work, a site responsive installation,  as a finalist of the Eden Unearthed Exhibition November  2022.  

I am predominantly a hand builder and figurative sculptor using a range of techniques such as slab and coil building.  I make plaster moulds creating press moulds for my works so I can explore replication and variation. Attending TAFE has helped me expand my skill set and I am starting to incorporate slip casting and kurinuki into some of my work.  I make my own slips and glazes to finish my work at Midfire cone 6.   I enjoy working with a variety of clays and experimenting with clay and glaze waste combinations through my ReClaym process.  

 

As I continue to learn and grow as a sculptor and ceramicist, the Clay Effect brings together all the elements of my journey, my passion and vision of my life as an Artist. 

Education

2022 - 2023

Diploma of Ceramics

TAFE Hornsby Campus

2019 - 2021

Life Study workshops

Sydney Art Space

2019 Apr

Master Class Life Study

Jason Arkles , Sydney Sculpture School

2018 Oct

Workshop life study & traditional plaster mould making

Jason Arkles Studio

Florence, Itay

2012 - 2019

Saturday classes life study

Sydney Sculpture School

2010 - 2011

Saturday classes hand building 

Tom Bass Sculpture School

Achievements

2023 Mar

Women in Art Exhibition

AAD Gallery Sydney NSW AU

2022 Nov -

2023 Apr

Eden Unearthed Exhibition

Eden Gardens Macquarie Park NSW AU

2021 Oct

Cup Competition 

Crackpot Gallery Freshwater NSW AU

  • Can I request a commission or custom order?
    Unfortunately, at this time I am not offering commission or custom orders due to my commitments at TAFE. Once my studies are complete (December 2023), I will be open to exploring commissions and custom style work.
  • Do you offer classes and /or workshops?
    I offer individual mentorship sessions and provide flexible arrangements specific to personal projects and learning outcomes. I am best suited to individuals who already have some experience with clay, are interested in hand building techniques, figurative exploration and need support in achieving an artistic goal. I do not offer group classes or workshops.
  • How are items packed for delivery?
    We always prefer and prioritise the use of recycled and recyclable packaging and shipping items where possible. Larger items are double boxed to avoid breakage, and all items have a fragile notification to encourage our delivery community to handle with care. At times, I will recycle bubble wrap and other plastic material that is passed on to me, specifically for padding between the inner and outer boxes for larger items. I do not purchase any plastic items for packing and shipping.
  • What items are made from ReClaym?
    All products made from ReClaym have a batch number next to the The Clay Effect Stamp on the bottom or inside each piece. Example b15 = batch 15. If there is no batch number, then your piece is made from virgin clay, straight out of the bag from the supplier.
  • What is the best way to contact Mel?
    There is a contact section at the bottom this website where you can send through your details and message. We will aim to reposed within 24 hours.
  • Where else can I follow The Clay Effect?
    You can find us on Facebook and Instagram @theclayeffectstudio. Social buttons are located at the bottom of the website. You can also subscribe and select your area of interest to receive updates for the shop, learn, and/or Shed. Subscribe option is located at the bottom of the website.

Sustainability

The topic of sustainability and the impact we have on our wonderful planet is an important one.  In the area of ceramics and working with clay, there are many environmentally and ecologically focused practices and processes already established and accessible to creatives and makers.  There is an increasing amount of information regarding circular economies and closed loop business, which suggests there is more we can do.  So, we set a goal of understanding how a closed loop studio may operate in a small business setting, and in conjunction with all the good stuff out there already, here are our key areas of focus in our studio practice.

Clay and Materials

Be discerning and source locally

  • Locally source clay to minimise the impact on global transport and logistics.

  • Prioritise materials and ingredients locally where possible. 

  • Make finishes (slips  - glazes) in-house.

  • Clay traps and rinse buckets to capture waste clay and materials from cleaning.

  • Reusing and recycling both dry and wet waste.

  • Learn more about making ReClaym >

Fired Ceramics

Once made, it can't be unmade

  • There are lots of ways to reuse and repurpose broken or not quite right fired bits and pieces.  Sharing ideas from the ceramic’s community, one can repair via Kintsugi, repurpose for mosaics, liven up your garden with interesting objects creating places and spaces for little creatures, or perhaps selling as seconds.  

  • For the remaining ceramic waste, recycling centres are the best option where this waste can be used for drainage materials and road base and not end up in landfill.

Kiln and Firing

Fire efficiently and fit for purpose 

  • Clay selection and well thought through make processes can minimise the number of firings and best suited firing schedules.

  • Single fire, where possible, which further reduces time and energy costs.

  • Only put your best work in the kiln for firing and reduce the risk of fired ceramic waste.  Be your toughest quality critic.

  • Ensure clays, finishes and firing schedules are appropriately matched.

  • Learn from each firing, share the mistakes and mishaps with those who can advise, to improve firing results. 

  • Maximising kiln capacity each firing.  

Water

Treat preciously

  • Clay traps and rinse buckets to maximise water usage and ensure no waste ends up in our water ways.

  • Reuse collected water separated from clay and material waste.

  • Gift muddy water and plaster waste water  to your garden.

  • Learn more about water management>

Packaging

Reduce, Reuse, & Recycle before purchasing

  • Reusing bubble wrap and other packaging materials received from my suppliers, friends, and my own purchases.  

  • Using and reusing non-coated carboard boxes that can be reused and recycled.

  • In conjunction with, or when reusable materials run out, I use eco-friendly packaging materials.

Plaster

Plan, prepare and plan again before mixing

  • Mix and work with plaster in small batches.  You can always make more.
  • Where possible, calculate the volume and weight of the plaster mix for pouring.
  • Plaster, also known as gypsum, is great for the garden.  Ceramic Art Network blog in the US note that moulds can be busted up and thrown in the compost. The plaster breaks down as compost does over a few months and integrates into the garden soil.   Locally, there is company named Regyp (refer http://www.regyp.com.au) that recycles plaster and has some good information about the benefits of recycling what they term as “white gold”.
  • Recycling plaster.  This can be easily done at home and there is good internet content, just search for “recycling plaster moulds”.  Plaster can be dehydrated, crushed up and reused several times when returned to its powdered form.  

ReClaym

Clay and glaze exploration is an ongoing practice for ceramicists, which can  create varying amounts of waste. ReClaym is the name we came up with at The Clay Effect for our very own clay waste management and recycling process. We make our recycled clay  from a variety of clay waste, silt captured from water recycling, and left over/ unused studio made slips, engobes and glazes.   Each batch of ReClaym is used in our press moulds to make fired ceramic sculptural pieces.

Expanding on existing practices of some American ceramic studios, we have been working with ReClaym since 2021, to develop and refine our processes and studio testing from making and firing to Mid-fire Cone 6. 

ReClaym is a great way to eliminate a number of waste areas in our studio practice,  keeping our inventory of materials current, and our housekeeping front of mind.

Water Management

Water consumption is a constant in a ceramic making environment, particularly from a cleaning perspective.   Over time we have developed a water trolley, where all our water is recycled, cleaned through natural filtration, and reused.

 

The Clay Effect uses a double sink with tubs and a three 20 litre bucket system to capture, segregate and filter waste types, so water can be rotated and reused. Our average water usage is 4 litres for every active day in the studio constrained by the size of our sink tubs.

The captured water, once filtered, is reused going back into the clay, for making glazes, and making plaster moulds.  This allows small amounts of fresh water to enter the water rotation process as required. We introduce 2-3 litres of fresh water each week in the studio. The water trolley is cleaned every 6-8 weeks to collect silt for ReClaym and ensure that mould and bacteria can not make a home for themselves.  The recycled water is usually returned to the cleaned buckets.  Some water may be released to the garden.

For a budding studio practice, our annual water consumption is a lean 304 litres (equivalent to six 7 minute showers), reducing our overall water consumption by approximately 72%.    This may seem insignificant in the larger scheme of things, but what if we all did it? 

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