#VocalForLocal: Behind the Craft: Atelier Lalmitti's Ceramics

Le Mill spoke to Reyaz Badaruddin about what drew him to clay, how he co-founded Atelier Lalmitti and what lies behind the process. 

You're an artist, you work with ceramics and teach. How is your process different when creating for Lalmitti which is commercial and practical as opposed to when making art. Or do those processes closely align?

Atelier Lālmitti is founded and run by Elodie Alexandre and me, Reyaz Badaruddin. We are both ceramic artists with our individual practices. We collaborate on a range of functional potteries under the name Atelier Lālmitti.

As ceramic artists, our individual practice is very distinct from our pottery – the creation process is different, and the pursuit as well. The skills of working with clay are the same but they are channelled differently. As artists, we work through the material with an intent to communicate a message or to express something personal. Our individual work develops over the course of time. An idea can emerge, evolve and materialise over the course of weeks, sometimes months. Making pottery is much more immediate and doesn’t require the same approach. There is an element of repetition in pottery making which is less prevalent in our practice as artists. Finally, pottery has to match some requirements relating to its use and safety – pottery for eating and drinking has to comply certain rules (comfort of use, safety of glazes etc.) while art-making is totally free of these sorts of obligations.


When did you start Lalmitti?

The name and idea behind Atelier Lālmitti emerged about 4 years ago, but it became a full-time project 2 years ago, when we moved from Delhi to Andretta, a small village in the Kangra Valley in the Himalayas. We started by building our studio at the back of our house and building a kiln shed, which we could do thanks to a whole network of supporters via a crowdfunding project. Once the structure was in place, we worked on developing our products. The ‘early’ Atelier Lālmitti potteries have a similar look and feel to what we do today, but we have developed our distinctive style progressively.


What does your process look like?

    All Atelier Lālmitti products are made using red earthenware clay. Clay is prepared at the studio and the pieces are thrown on the potter’s wheel and/or hand-built. Once they are dry, they get fired in a kiln a first time (this is called the ‘bisque’ firing). After that, they are glazed and hand-painted with colour oxides, and they go through a second firing (about 1050 degrees). We work quite intuitively at the studio and our designs are based on what we feel like doing rather than what we feel we ‘should’ make. This is why we produce small batches, with series that keep evolving. It is a way for us to keep a fresh outlook and to keep enjoying our work.


    What does a typical day look like?

    Working days at Atelier Lālmitti see a range of activities, which often run parallelly. This includes preparing clay, making the potteries in raw clay, finishing them on or off the wheel, unloading and reloading the kiln, glazing, decorating, processing orders, packing. All days are different, and these activities mostly happen simultaneously. We honestly enjoy what we do, and like to think that this joy gets translated into the work.


    When consumers support Lalmitti and buy local, what is the lineage of tradition they're preserving? What does the future look like for the local artisan?

    In older days, people were buying handmade products because those were the only ones available to them in the market. Today, buying handmade is a conscious consumer choice. We believe that, now more than ever, it is essential for those who can afford it to buy handmade objects and support small businesses, who are respectful of those who make these objects, value the time put in the work and hold the end product in high esteem. Making by hand is a slower process but slowness can be seen as a positive value in a world where everything is so rushed that it often loses its sense of purpose. Therefore, buying handmade products, as a consumer, has become a real statement – not only these products are more ethical but the energy of the object has integrity. A mass-produced plastic bowl made by exploited workers in a factory will carry a very different energy from a bowl made by hand on the wheel, with local clay, by craftspeople who enjoyed the process. We like saying that drinks and food taste better in handmade potteries, and it is not just a turn of phrase, it is true!

    We carry on the legacy of studio pottery and although it’s a precarious status, we are in a privileged position in India compared to the traditional potters who make unglazed vessels, and whose work we appreciate and value. Similarly, chai tastes better in a kullar and phirni from a terracotta bowl gains an incomparable flavour.


    Why clay? What drew you to this art form?

    It is through clay that we met – at Cardiff School of Art and Design. Elodie was returning to studies after working as a translator, and was studying for a BA in ceramics. Reyaz came to the same school on a fellowship, to join the MA programme. Our stories of being drawn to clay are different.

    For Elodie, the desire to work with clay was related to childhood memories of using handmade potteries. When she discovered clay work as an adult, there was such a sense of concentration and focus involved in working with clay that she could ‘switch off’ – a beautiful feeling when you have an overworking mind! I discovered clay when I was studying art at Banares Hindu University. My initial plan was to study commercial art, but I found myself drawn towards clay, which  as a material was easy to connect to.


    What would you tell a first timer to do with clay as they try and make themselves a bowl or coffee mug?

    The first time someone experiences clay work, it can be a beautiful, sensorial and spontaneous experience. It’s a natural material that is very grounding, and its malleability offers a sense of openness and possibilities. The most important is to simply enjoy the material and feel its capacity as well as its limits, to get a feel for how it connects and speaks to you. To produce a satisfactory result, it is best to be centred and focus, and to proceed slowly. Clay requires – and teaches – patience. Many times, things go wrong, so it also teaches failure and non-attachment! As a first time experience, it is a good idea to start with making something simple by hand, like a pinched pot, rather than to create something on the wheel.


    What makes Lalmitti different?

    Through our use of graphics and our colour palette, we have developed a style that is easily identifiable. All our items are hand-made and hand-painted, which makes them unique. So, although we can produce them in small series, the potteries often end up being variations on a theme rather than repetitions.

    Thank you for speaking with us! Support local craft and artists, both at Le Mill and beyond! To see Elodie’s and Reyaz’s personal artistic practices, you may visit their respective websites www.reyazb.com and www.elolalalexandre.com. Or follow them on Instagram @ryzbee and @elolalalexandre.