Sculpting jewels of clay

After working as a ceramic consultant, Shrutii Mascarenhas, Socorro, chose to be her own boss by starting her own ceramic pottery studio, finds out Serilda Coutinho

Nurturing her love for art and with an effort to bring clay back to the table, Shrutii Mascarenhas a ceramist based in Soccorro, is on the bandwagon of customization.  Starting with terracotta water bottles, wall hangings and crockery items as a freelance ceramist,  she has now moved on to take orders for  hand painted tiles for ancestral houses, ornamental planters for resorts and even intricate jewelry  beads for exports through her venture Cerracotta .

Her clientele comprises residents, architects, cafeterias and resorts. “I work on about 300-400 orders per month and have kept the production low as I have to pay attention to all the detailing. Sculpting a piece of pottery is similar to the labor a construction worker puts into building a house” reveals Mascarenhas.

Having specialized in ceramic art at the Maharaja Shivaji Rao University Vadodara, Mascarenhas is a national fellowship award winner in the young artist category by the Ministry of Culture, Delhi, during graduation. “I was the only ceramist to be selected along with 21 other artists from various fields across India.” She further adds that the fellowship program that lasted for two years gave her the opportunity to profile her work through exhibitions and interaction with other artists.

After the national exposure for her work she decided to come down to Goa. “I am married to a Goan and we both wanted to come back to our roots and start working,” says Mascarenhas. Prior to setting up her venture Mascarenhas got on to industrial manufacturing through her first big break at Marcou artifacts unit in Corlim.

“I was offered a job as a freelance ceramic consultant for two year and later taken on board as a factory manager. This was where I learnt the production, procurement, costing and the designing aspect while managing the manufacturing and dispatch of artifacts” explains Mascarenhas. With three years of experience with the company, Mascarenhas quit her job in 2014. “My daughter was seven months old and I would get her to the factory so that I could give her sufficient time. But this art form comes with a hectic schedule that interfered with my duties as a mother,” she explains.

With over 15 years of experience in the field of sculpting she works out of home and has employed three helpers to assist in the casting and molding. “I had to invest around Rs 8 to 10 lakhs for the infrastructure which includes the furnace, potter wheel, etc. “

According to Mascarenhas, investment in ceramic art form is costly as one ton of terracotta that lasts for a month and it costs nothing less than Rs15,000 to Rs 20,000. The cost is much higher for earthen and stoneware.

Initially, she manufactured under the brand name, De Finesse, but later changed it to Cerracotta. “I had to change the name of my brand to something simple so that customers can relate to my products. When I started with De Finesse three years back, I would get calls for financial services as the name was misinterpreted.”

Mascarenhas work is interesting and also attractive. Racks of ceramic sculptures, bottles and crockery made out of terracotta, stoneware and earthenware are shelved up along the corridors of her house. “Once the customer chooses the clay base then the painting and glazing work is done on the product and the ceramic wear is ready to deliver,” she explains.  She reveals  that, ceramic is a laborious art and requires 24-hour attention until completed. “But the best part of working on smaller scale production without automated machinery is that you get to create a new mould for every order and add a personalized touch it.” Her collection consists of around 200 moulds that have been self designed by her.

Owing to the unavailability of clean clay, it is procured from Gujarat. “I have tried working with local clay earlier but the high content of iron oxide makes it inelastic while sculpting out ceramic wear. Also the chances of the pots breaking in the furnace are high due to the impurities present.” The lady uses a mixture of fast and slow setting POP to make the moulds. Better quality of POP allows proper shape of the object once it solidifies and last for up to 80-90 casting after which it has to be thrown away.

The pricing her products range between Rs 350- Rs 5,000 per piece.  Although on the ladder of success,  Mascarenhas  is eager to share her knowledge and skills with locals and provide them with employment opportunities. “There is currently no course specializing in ceramic art for fine art students in Goa. It  creates a shortage in the availability of skilled artists for this art form in the state,” she points out.

She imparts training to students through workshops and also employs a fine art student or working artist on contract basis for the painting. “The technique and application of colors is an important area so I have to train the person first if they have not worked on ceramic before.” Understanding the nature of colors and the thickness of the paint coat is very crucial as the shade of the color on the final work differs once it is fired in the furnace. For example, something that looks grey with the naked eye once baked turns grey,” she reveals.

He future plans are to shift the two electric furnaces from rented to her backyard. Further she also plans to add two new wooden furnaces. “During the monsoon we have to slow down production as the products take a longer time to dry. ‘This is the time we build our buffer stock and repair the furnaces.” Mascarenhas wants to convert a part of her house into a training center. “I want to invite international artist and accommodate them in my studio so that through me even those interested in this art form can learn.”