In the long history of clay, rituals and ceremony play an important role in the evolution of the craft. In today’s digital age, many people seem to have lost that connection. Not Mariana Abaroa, the creative force behind Easy to Breathe, a ceramics studio based in Ojai, California. Each piece in her collection harks back to a ritual, ceremony or celebration of its purpose. A flask that celebrates the ancient water carriers who sourced water for their villages. An incense holder that bears symbols of guidance for your cleansing rituals.  An altar for smudging (or a catch-all for your rings). Mariana focuses on her work in a way that storytelling plays an important role, so they hold a deeper meaning other than just random objects for the home.

Mariana’s journey in ceramics started at an early age when she came to the United States from Mexico at the age of four. She didn’t speak any English when she arrived and relied on creative expression with clay as her way of communicating her feelings. When she reconnected with clay seven years ago, it felt natural and she intuitively knew she wanted to pursue ceramics as a career.

Here we talk with Mariana about her journey as well as her rituals in clay…

Where does the “Easy to Breathe” name come from?

Easy to Breathe was born from a pretty terrible throwing day. Haha. My first day throwing on the first wheel I ever bought, in fact. I had just left my job working at a ceramics studio in Los Angeles to commit to my clay work full time. Little did I know, a healing journey with clay awaited me! That terrible throwing day moved mountains for me. As I attempted to center ball after ball of clay, I realized I had been holding my breath the entire time. Quickly, the revelation of centering the ball of clay revealed the longing to center my self. Breath by breath. How often do we consciously acknowledge the blessing that is our breath? Breathing is quite frankly simple when we become mindful of each inhale and exhale. It’s truly a gift to have easy access to a deeply healing tool for our well-being.

You started ceramics at an early age (4!) what made you decide to pursue ceramics as a career?

Clay became one of my first friends. When I moved to Florida from Mexico at age 4, my English was put on the backburner as I really only felt comfortable speaking Spanish. I turned to different mediums of art to express myself and explore language creatively, eventually cultivating a fond friendship with clay.

When ceramics came back into my life 7 years ago, it was a natural, intuitive calling to pursue clay as a career path that could financially and passionately support me.

What are some of the biggest challenges of becoming a professional ceramicist?

Phew… I’d have to say the biggest challenge for me is timing. As we may all know, the nature of clay takes its precious time. The process from start to finish is one that requires patience and surrenders to its impermanence.

In the beginning, everything moved slowly, giving my creativity more freedom to explore ideas and designs. As work picked up over the years, the rhythm became order after order leaving me with pressure to meet deadlines with a craft one cannot rush. I then got behind and found myself always catching up. Handling a physically demanding and complex craft on my own has also been a lesson on boundaries. Thankfully after an intense period of production, I gifted myself time. Time to slow down, recalibrate and re-create a workflow far more sustainable, fluid and nourishing to my soul. Clay has taught me to soften and honor the time I need to rejuvenate and re-center myself, as it takes its precious time.

Your work is graphic and iconic, what is your creative process like?

My creative process mirrors my perpetual inner growth. Most of my work comes to me through visions or meditative moments when my mind creatively receives messages from my heart and symbolism from the animal and Spirit world. Each object tells a story, whether it’s translated as a common thread, nostalgic memory or a realization when holding a warm mug between your hands.

Writing and illustrating are the catalysts for bringing each piece to life. Through my clay work, I feel that I’m able to pay homage to indigenous potters who’ve revolutionized this primitive craft into storytelling and form into function for generations to come. My process is driven by reverence to the creative language we carry as storytellers in order to make art functional and transcendental.

If you had to pick between hand building and wheel throwing, which would you choose and why?

Over the last year, I have been having a love affair with both. If I had to pick one, it would be hand building at the moment. As much as I love the process of wedging and creating a symmetrical vessel on the wheel, there is nothing as raw as hand-building. It takes me back to the basics. Back to the root of it all. To the freedom and forgiveness of having a ‘blank canvas’ at your fingertips with the possibility of it becoming anything you want it to become, completely, imperfectly formed by hand.

What does a typical day in your studio look like?

Always evolving. I recently moved my wheel outside on my back deck where I throw in the company of hummingbirds and a beautiful, big oak tree casting over me. Ideally, I reserve time in the mornings to check e-mails and pack orders before my hands get covered in clay. Once I get into the studio, I begin by reviewing the production for the day whether it’s fulfilling orders or diving into prototypes and new work. Sound also accompanies my workflow every day, be it the songs of the wind, Indian, Afro-folk music or a podcast. No matter what each studio day has in store, setting the ambiance is essential to my groove.

What are you working on now?

Lately, I have been working on a few new offerings that are about ready to share. I will be expanding the online shop with sacred crafts from different indigenous cultures, to pair with and accompany the new line of ceremonial, ceramic objects in the works. My vision is to create vessels and offer naturally harvested botanicals that may assist you in cultivating daily rituals for your well-being.
Apart from the online shop expansion, I will be returning to host my Women’s Clay Circles, Mujeres de Barro in Ojai this Spring. I’ve also been organizing new Clay Gatherings + workshops open to women, men and children. Teaching and facilitating space for those who feel the longing to work with clay in an intimate, ceremonial way is a calling I’ve been carefully curating in honor of gathering in celebration of our creativity and connection to the Earth. I’m excited to be sharing my practice with those who wish to explore their relationship with clay!


Images courtesy of Easy to Breathe and Kayla Lili