There are certain artists and designers that I am drawn to for their quiet elegance, and Michele Michael is high on that list. She first won me over with her New York prop shop, Elephant Props, and her sophisticated approach to styling — clean with handmade, imperfect touches punctuated by painterly washes of color. Her new line, Elephant Ceramics, celebrates all of that with an added layer of texture. I am so thrilled to share the creative world of Michele with y’all! — Ginny
1. Design*Sponge: What is in your toolbox?
Michele Michael: Homespun linens, wood modeling tools, vintage rolling pins, Shimpo banding wheel, set of vintage letter and number rubber stamps, my Elephant Ceramics rubber stamps, Caran D’ache gouache and oil pastels and my Lumix camera.
2. Design*Sponge: Fill in the blank, “When I am in my studio, I feel ___________.”
The rest of Michele’s interview continues after the jump…
3. Design*Sponge: What are on the top shelves of your inspiration library right now?
Michele Michael: Nature is the inspiration library for Elephant Ceramics. I live part of the year in mid-coast Maine where I spend a great deal of time outdoors. My glaze colors and forms are influenced by my natural surrounds — lichen growing on trees, the deep blue of the ocean, the shape of the boulders along the coast, the seashells and seaweed that get washed up on shore or live in tidal pools, the soft white of the Queen Anne’s Lace that grows along our country road.
4. Design*Sponge: How do you keep yourself organized? Do you have an agenda book, and do you make to-do lists?
Michele Michael: I am a bit old fashioned in that I still carry a Filofax agenda with me everywhere I go! Between that, and my “to-do” lists, I am fairly organized. I’m afraid otherwise I would not remember to do anything that really needs to get done. I owe this to my very first boss when I was an assistant in the decorating department of House and Garden magazine. She bought me a daily journal on my first day of work and told me to write my “to do” list in it every day, crossing off things as they get done. I learned many great things while working there, but this might be the most valuable!
5. Design*Sponge: If you could have one superhero (or magical) power, what would it be and why?
Michele Michael: To fly! My father was an airplane pilot, and as a kid, I flew with him. I loved looking down at the ground seeing everything in miniature . . . little cars moving along roads, houses with their reflective blue pools, the patterns that agricultural fields created. I love that feeling, so to be able to fly without a plane, just take off whenever you like, would be super magical to me!
6. Design*Sponge: What is the best advice you have ever received, and what is the one piece of advice you would offer to a young artist/designer?
Michele Michael: The best advice I have received may be “to go slow,” which seems to apply to most things in life. If only I would follow it more often than not!
The best piece of advice I could offer would be to keep an open mind. It’s amazing the things that may come your way that you never, ever thought of or planned for.
7. Design*Sponge: How do you combat creative blocks?
Michele Michael: With my ceramics, I don’t really ever feel like I have creative blocks . . . quite the opposite. There are so many things I’d like to make [and] I don’t quite have all the tools yet to make them . . . namely the knowledge of chemistry. But I am learning, and I am very excited by the possibilities.
8. Design*Sponge: Where do you like to shop for inspiration?
Michele Michael: These are a few of my favorite shops. Each is beautifully curated by its owners:
- Paula Rubinstein — antique textiles and early American antiques
- John Derian — new and old everything
- Ted Muehling — decorative objects and jewelry
- Dosa — clothing
- Rabelais — bookshop for food, cocktails and farming
- Rock Paper Scissors — paper products and decorative items
- The Marston House — French textiles and antiques
- Ferdinand — handmade items and cards
9. Design*Sponge: If you could peek inside the studio/toolbox of any designer/artist/craftsperson, whose would it be and why?
Michele Michael: I would love to look inside the studio of Christina Kim, the designer and artist behind the fashion company Dosa. Not only do I love and wear her clothes, I admire the philosophy behind her business. She employs artisans and craftspeople from all over the world to do traditional handwork. Her fair labor practices and preferences for long-lasting garments, many made with recycled scraps of fabric and natural dyes, place her work in high demand. Each piece is practically a work of art.
10. Design*Sponge: If you could make a master mix-tape of music that is inspiring you at the moment, what would it include?
Michele Michael: I listen to WFMU a lot on the weekends. They have amazing DJs. Much of my play list comes from their shows. Here are a few songs I have added recently:
- Summer Wine — Nancy Sinatra
- Jump into the Fire — Harry Nilsson
- Tighten Up — The Bamboos
- Bohemian Like You — The Dandy Warhols
- Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key — Billy Bragg + Wilco
- Grazing the Grass — Hugh Masekela
- Keep It Comin’ Love — KC + The Sunshine Band
- The Big Dig — Family Fodder
- Baby Did a Bad, Bad Thing — Chris Isaak
- Sun Sinking Low — Mr. Airplane Man
- Do You Realize?? — The Flaming Lips
- A Girl Like You — Edwyn Collins