Porcelain beetles + blooms came to life at 7x7's workshop with Malia Landis
Ceramic artist Malia Landis lead our debut workshop, teaching guests how to make porcelain flowers and bugs, at 7x7 Social Club.

Porcelain beetles + blooms came to life at 7x7's workshop with Malia Landis


Balls of paper clay morphed into endless iterations of beetles, flowers, petals, and leaves when we hosted our debut creative workshop at 7x7 Social Club on June 25th.

In the house was Mendocino-based ceramic artist Malia Landis, who let us into her world of beautiful organic objects in this two-hour, sold-out class.

Malia demonstrates how she presses her proprietary paper clay into homemade molds.

Guests donned their aprons and settled in with some wine and pastries from Maison Nico as Landis talked about her material, a proprietary mix of porcelain clay and paper newsprint. Paper, she said, makes the clay more forgiving, and leaves a transparency behind after a piece comes out of the kiln. It's this technique that gives her exquisite pieces their signature delicacy.

To demonstrate, Landis began with a golf ball–sized patty of clay, pressing it into the cavities of a homemade plaster mold of a leaf. She focused on making the edges thin to achieve the illusion of a willowy leaf, while the body remained more substantial. “Meat in the middle is good," she said. “Take that home with you.”

The resulting leaf, delicately pried from the plaster with the aid of a small hunk of clay, garnered oohs and ahhs from the crowd after she gently shaped it into a leaf's natural bow. Then, after showing us how to create beetle bodies using more homemade molds, the eager would-be ceramists dove right in.

The intimate crowd—10 women, plus the three-year-old daughter of 7x7 Social Club contributing artist Caroline Lizarraga—was eager to start. Some had previous experience working with clay—after all, 7x7 collaborator Erin Hupp was also in the house)—but all were new to the art of hand-building in porcelain.

The table crawled with cute clay beetles, which were adorned with dollops of slip and wire antennae.

Jane Dulay from Berkeley has a pottery studio but left the craft behind for the past decade after switching over to painting. The timing of the workshop was serendipitous; she heard about it right as she was considering coming back to it.

“It’s nice she has so many easy techniques, I don’t have to start from scratch,” she said.

With Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong as a soundtrack, an easeful focus took over the space as the group immersed in the task at hand. Dulay began by making a beetle, dozens of which would come to life in various sizes and iterations. Slip, a liquid mix of clay and water, helped add texture to the shells, dotted and painted on to provide ornamentation.

Guests chattered with each other as well as to their own creations while coaxing the clay into the flora and fauna inspired by Malia's home in Mendocino. Some commented on the fun and playful nature of the tactile activity (“I haven’t done this since I was a little kid"). Engineer Georgina Baca, who had never worked with clay, delighted in the new experience.

Malia Landis guides Georgina Baca in putting the finishing touches on a peony.

This sense of play and fun is important to Landis’ work, too, who also reminds herself that there are limits to how realistic she can make something look. That has “always been a dance in my work,” she says.

As the workshop winded down, everyone’s pieces came to life. Wire antennae dotted the heads of beetles and flowers got ornamentation from clay squeezed through a garlic press. A multitude of petals and leaves bloomed on the table in the shapes of peonies, poppies and roses, which Landis will glaze and fire in her Ukiah studio for guests to take home as keepsakes.

“It’s kind of this magic trick,” said Landis. “You take mud and make it into something that outlives you.”

The remaining blooms will find their way into a one-of-kind collaborative art project: a mirror wreathed in a lovely porcelain assemblage that will be displayed in the 7x7 Social Club pop-up. The piece will live alongside the works of various other Bay Area ceramic artists including Linda Fahey and fellow Yonder sculptors Sarah Becker and Daria Davydova, who will teach a face vase class here later this summer.

// 7x7 Social Club is a three-month pop-up as part of the Vacant to Vibrant program. Look for a calendar of July programming on Instagram coming soon; 524 Washington St. (Jackson Square), 7x7.com/social-club.

Look what Georgina made!

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