Made by Hand: Isabel Montoya.
I met Isabel via one of my friends, who had told me she was looking for a food photographer to capture the cover of her cookery-book, Freedom Lifestyle. As a consultant, baker, and lover of gut friendly, delicious food, we worked together to capture a few different covers to choose from over a half days shoot. This is when I found out Isabel is also a passionate potter and with a spot of brilliant timing, we caught up over a few sessions to capture her creative process.
Based out of Turning Earth in Hoxton (a stone’s throw from where we both live), Isabel kindly showed me how she produces her cups and wares.
Isabel started by selecting her clay, and mixing it on a clay rolling table - making sure that it has the same consistency throughout and doesn’t contain any air bubbles; in a similar fashion to kneading bread, minus the kneading part.
From here, a potters wheel is set up and a chunk of the clay was added to the top for shaping. This was done by slowly building up the sides of the clay with her hands, whilst keeping it hydrated with a sponge to stop cracks forming. This is done over 10 to 15 minutes until the desired shape is created. With the clay cup in it’s initial shape, Isabel gave it a quick blast with a heat gun, before adding it to her studio shelve to dry for a few days.
When we came back, the clay cup was added back to the potters wheel for trimming. Using a few rogue pieces of clay, to hold it in place with a touch of water, Isabel turns the wheel whilst carefully trimming off excess bits of clay; which is done for style and aesthetics for the final piece. From here, the glaze colour was selected for the cup and it was left to rest for another few days. Once this is done, it’s placed into the kiln for a first fire - removing most moisture from within the clay, giving it a more pourus texture for the next step.
As we’d selected the glaze we wanted to use on the cup, it needed a thorough mix to make sure all of the pigments were all incorporated. Depending on which clay you use, your glaze results can vary, so the studio had a wall of clay and glaze combo swatches to take the guessing work out. With this done, the bottom of each item is coated in a fine layer of wax. This is done to stop cracking and the cup sticking to the bottom of the kiln (which I’ve been told takes ages to get off). Using a large pair of potters forceps, the cup was lowered into the mixture, making sure that everything is coated in the glaze.
After it’s final long firing and cool down, my cup was ready to take home (to actually be used as a really nice pen pot on my desk).
As my first subject and craft in my photo project, Made by Hand - it was really interesting to spend time with Isabel to learn all about pottery; from a technical and creative stance. I’d love to add it to my list of hobbies, so hopefully I’ll get a bit of spare time to do an induction this year. Lord knows I don’t need any more props, but it all looks so fun!
As a Portuguese ex-pat, Isabel was recently featured by their national TV station, RTTP for their series ‘Hora dos Portugueses’ that follows nationals doing their thing in other countries. If you’d like to learn more about Isabel, and want to see a little segment with me in it (sounding strangely well-spoken), check it out.