Chili Bowl Intern Profile: Mel Doiron

February 18, 2017 by

With our 20th Anniversary Chili Bowl only a week away, we wanted to catch up with one of the people making this year’s event happen: Chili Bowl Intern Mel Doiron.

Since January, Mel has been a daily presence in our studio, and in only eight weeks she has produced hundreds of bowls for the big event on February 25th. I sat down with her to talk about Chili Bowl, the community at WSW, and how this internship has influenced her practice.

Where are you from?

Cole Harbor, Nova Scotia. Home of Sidney Crosby.

Is that a local celebrity?

(laughs) He’s a hockey player. I don’t really follow hockey but like to watch it. I don’t really know what much about hockey except the default amount you need to know as a Canadian before they revoke my citizenship.

Everything I know about clay, I’ve learned from you, Mel. How did you get involved in ceramics?

 At NASCAD (Nova Scotia College of Art and Design), I took throwing as an elective. Which was my first experience with ceramics—besides paint-your-own ceramics places as a kid, which I was all about.

Shout out to Joan Bruneau for getting me this far! Joan was my instructor at NASCAD and now I work for her.

So what has been your experience of WSW for the past two months?

So far I’m feeling good, a lot has happened since I got here. We went to Washington D.C. for the Women’s March. The community here is so lovely. They took me out to dinner on the first day—it’s been so welcoming, I just showed up and started making stuff… it’s been great!

What’s unique about WSW, compared to other studios you’ve worked in?

Besides Joan’s studio and NASCAD, I’ve worked in a studio in Lunenberg that’s actually really well equipped. I’ve worked at a community studio in Dartmouth which is pretty good. This one is pretty much on par with the community studio in Dartmouth, but WSW is different because there’s so many different people coming through all the time. Renters come through all the time the volunteers are coming through all the time, people that are taking classes are coming in and doing their own work.

It’s alive!

Yeah! I’m so used to being isolated and left alone while I’m making my work.

What do you think it takes to make so many people to feel comfortable?

I guess you just make them feel welcome. Yeah, this studio is really great. So many of the volunteers come through year after year and continue to take classes. They seem to have a really open-door policy; I guess [you attract people] with that.

The thing about it being at WSW, it’s cool being at a studio that focuses on printmaking. I’ve mostly worked in places where ceramics is the primary thing—ceramics or nothing. So it’s cool to see the overlap, such as the transfers came from. There are so many similarities between printmaking and ceramics, it’s ridiculous. Besides one being on paper and the other made with ceramics, like the multiples, production, accessibility is a thing that comes up with ceramics.

Well I liked that thought, because I was thinking about texture and embossments and the surfaces of things which is really exciting and important with paper, different kinds of paper have different kinds of textures.

Yeah, just like using letterpress type as stamps for letters, so many people do that for their names and stuff and, yeah, there’s a lot of overlap there. Working here—I figured out how to make silkscreen transfers onto slabs, and it has filled a void in my work.

Can you explain what that means for the non-ceramicists in the crowd?

Sure, you print an image with a silkscreen onto paper with a clay-compatible ink. Then you can transfer that image onto either an already shaped piece of clay or a flat piece that you can make into a shape. You transfer it with water and a sponge, a lot like a temporary tattoo.

What’s your personal work usually like? Has working production scale influenced your personal work?

Slab built, hand built, loosey goosey, a little wonky, and functional (Mel laughs). I dissect the word functional in my personal work—I prefer the word utilitarian. Because even art on the wall has a function. What’s the point of having something if you don’t use it? My work is already production-minded. I make in multiples and series, and quickly. I’m not fussy about my work, so I don’t spend a lot of time on any one piece. It will definitely positively impact my craftsmanship.

How do you see your work evolving in the future?

I’d love to keep using the silkscreen transfers and do more silkscreen in general. I’ve also started using more texturing on the surfaces of things

So you’re focusing on surfaces?

Totally. That’s all I’ve been focusing on here. I used to spend all my time on form. I’m a “form” person and I feel like you’re born one or the other, but you still have to work on the other.

So, having to decorate Chili Bowls that other people have made is helping you move your practice forward?

 Yes! It’s super helpful! There are quite a few volunteers that are also form people and they throw these beautiful, wide open bowls that are meant for decoration. Then it’s my job to finish them, so I get to take time and focus on decoration. They’ll put so much work into the making part and add texture… I have to work around that. It’s a different sort of problem solving.

So one of the things you said earlier was about the future and realizing there are little artists’ communities all over and I know that is still something that’s exciting to you—


And the way your practice has been evolving has been because of the community here, because you have to engage, there are these built-in collaborations.

Yeah, that’s absolutely true. And I’m, you know when you’re going to school, like I haven’t even graduated yet, like all my work is in school, you’re just used to doing your own thing start to finish so it’s just like you and more of your taste; but, here I’ll make bowls and other people will decorate them and even seeing that—that exchange that happens is so amazing because it gives you ideas that you would never think of yourself. Like Adreena (a fellow WSW intern) decorated some of my bowls that I had no idea what to do on the surface. They were slab-built things that I had been doing before I came here. I made a couple like right off the bat and I let Adreena decorate them and she put the best surface on them ever. It was everything I wanted for it that I didn’t know how to do myself and I saw it and I thought “That’s it!!”

So, Chili Bowl is next week!

I know it’s crazy! It just came up out of nowhere!

Are you freaking out, or has it hit you yet?

It’s definitely hit me now, but I’m still sort of in this relaxed space somehow. Like I understand that it’s happening in a week and all it does is fog up my brain little bit. I’m not rushing or stressing.

Are you looking forward to any parts of it?

Yeah, I’m really excited for the event, honestly.  I’m excited for a couple of days before, when they have all the bowls laid out and they’re pricing them and cleaning them.

Have you checked out the band?

No I haven’t! Have you??

Just a little bit!

It’s weird because they used to have the same band for like 19 years and this year they don’t have them!

What would you say to the next Chili Bowl intern?

So far, keep up on your firings and STAY ORGANIZED. Play good music in the studio to keep the mood up. Good music keeps people happy, and happy people are more productive (laughs). Take advantage of the fact that you can take any idea you have and bring it to life. Don’t go too crazy—take educated risks. And don’t make bowls on your weekend. Make stuff, but don’t make bowls.

What are you doing after your internship is over?

Traveling around the US for a few months before I go back home for my summer job. A friend and I made plans to drive down the coast of California. Might visit my sister in Victoria, check out Santa Fe, or go to the Governor’s Ball in NYC.