July Visiting Artist: Leena Muley
This month Moon+Arrow is welcoming local ceramicist Leena Muley. Born in London and raised by a Chinese-Malaysian mother and Indian-Kenyan father, Leena uses her multicultural influences and the practices of her own home lifestyle to inspire the form and function of her work. Muley creates small-batch functionally beautiful pieces for your home.
Q: Tell us about how you started your business?
A: A few years ago I was living in New York with three roommates, and as I approached my 30th birthday I decided it was time to move into an apartment on my own. Suddenly, I was living alone in Brooklyn with a bed and a table inside an otherwise empty apartment. It dawned on me how little I had to make the space feel like a home, but it gave me an opportunity to treat my apartment as a blank canvas that I could unleash some creativity onto. During this time, I had barely any kitchen items, so I enrolled in a wheel-throwing class to learn how to make myself a set of dinner plates. Having worked as a Fashion Designer for 10 years I have always felt the importance of making beauty out of function, and very quickly. Ceramics became an outlet for me to marry my creativity to my day-to-day needs at home. I started making mugs, incense burners, cheese boards—and friends started to show interest. Word of mouth led to initial requests and orders, and as interest grew, I launched my web-store. I’ve since moved to Philadelphia where I now continue my practice through the Associate Artist program at The Clay Studio.
Q: What do you enjoy about being an artist?
A: Being an artist is such a freedom. When I go to the studio it’s time to put everything buzzing around my head aside, get dirty, and make something out of a lump of clay. For me, the excitement to make things started young. Art was my favorite subject at school. I think that’s because in art class you can learn about everything – an art project can be inspired by anything, and the things you can learn are limitless. I think that’s the best part of being an artist. Art allows people to explore, keep learning and grow.
Q: Where do you find inspiration?
A: Inspiration comes from all directions, inside and out. My designer brain gets inspired from wanting to fulfill functional needs - I started making ramen bowls and cheeseboards because they help me eat foods that I love! My artist brain, on the other hand, is all over the place. I’m easily distracted when walking around the city, seeing things like details in a fence that I think could translate to amazing handles. I relish going to museums and independent bookstores. Its humbling and nourishing to take a day trip to the New York Metropolitan Museum and see their incredible collection of antique vessels from around the world. Coming from a mixed heritage, I’ve been exploring my multicultural identity by learning more about the ceramic and jewelry works from China and India.
Indian jewelry and adornment has been a focal inspiration for some new pieces I’m launching in July here at Moon and Arrow; a series of trinket trays that I’ve named Bindi Bowls. Growing up I would wear a red round bindi (kunkoo in Marathi) on my forehead whenever we went to Indian weddings or events. There are many different designs of bindis, but married women traditionally wear round red ones; Aji (my grandmother) only had red round ones so that’s what we wore. The bindi also symbolizes our third eye. There is something so elegant in the representation of the third eye through a small red circle. I’ve come to see the single dot as a symbol of the incredible inner power that’s within us all. The Bindi Bowls are playful explorations of finding the third eye. On some, I’ve hand-painted singular circles against colorful backgrounds, positioned so that when you look at the dot of glaze at a certain angle, the rim of the bowl interacts with the dot to form an eye. On others, eyes are represented in the handles, which are also influenced by the designs of traditional Indian jewelry.
Q: How has your business grown since you started?
A: It’s been 2 years since I launched my web-store. Setting up my website was the moment I decided to turn my ceramic art hobby into a business. It was intimidating at first. I felt vulnerable putting my work out to the world and was worried no one would want it, but having a web-store made it feel official, and as pieces started to sell it encouraged me to not only make new ideas, but to also keep improving how I make my work, as I want every piece to become a cherished detail of someone’s home. At first it was a lot of supportive friends’ names coming through on order confirmations. They each have played a huge hand in encouraging me to keep going! At this point I had also turned my Instagram into purely my ceramics work, and some lucky hashtags brought new eyes and opportunities my way. I was invited to sell my work with other makers at pop up markets, and I connected with stores who I’d sell my work through on consignment. Slowly but surely, names of people I didn’t know started to arrive on order emails, and I went from consigning with stores to making small batch wholesale orders. Now I have my work available in stores from here in Philly, to New York, Phoenix, Portland and Toronto, and I get a lot of joy from the idea that people have access to my work in cities I’ve yet to visit.
Q: What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned throughout the process of starting your own business?
Most definitely a big lesson has been in the importance of time management. In my ceramic process I choose to make everything by either wheel-throwing or building by hand. Both techniques require time and perseverance as I make everything myself. Trying to work faster is not necessarily more efficient - I end up making mistakes or getting sloppy, and pots take love and patience to make right. I have a tendency to set myself much bigger tasks than I have hours to spend at the studio. But I recently discovered that I don’t have the energy of 23-year-old me, and I need to give myself more time to relax than I used to! I’ve come to the healthy realization that I’m a mere human and can only take on so much before it takes away from other aspects of life. Balance is everything. Call your mom!
Q: What is your favorite part about being an artist in Philadelphia?
When my partner Aaron and I moved to Philadelphia a year ago, we were over the moon that it was possible to rent a house that gave us each a space to create in. Coming from New York we were accustomed to tight quarters, but both being artists, we have a lot of stuff! Our home here has allowed us each to spread out
our creativity in ways we couldn’t before. Upon settling into the city, I’ve discovered wonderful fellow artists and makers that have become my community, and it’s really encouraging to see how local businesses like Moon and Arrow support the work of artists in this city! I feel lucky to be part of it.
(All images by Aaron @aaronrichterstudio)
What an articulate young woman. Her work is beautiful as well!
These are such cool pieces. It’s really interesting to hear about your process.