Tell us about you:
I am Jelena Mohnani and I’m 36 years young. I was born in Croatia but I’ve lived for many years in Italy, Malta and eventually ended up in Finland. Despite being born in a typically Mediterranean culture I discovered I preferred the cool Nordic weather and wonderfully magical forests to sizzling hot summers and beaches. I’m addicted to stationery and I’m owned by two furrybabies.
I graduated in Psychology, being the usual crazy person trying to fix themselves, but eventually I found clay and from the first time I held it in my hands I realised I found myself. I opened an Etsy shop and from that day on I’ve done whatever I had to do in order to call art my profession. Having been deeply affected by a rare mental condition my biggest goal in life is to raise awareness about mental health through art… that’s the dream!
Four Otter themed questions (to break the ice):
Do you like otters?
How can you not?
When was the last time you thought about otters. What did you think? If you didn’t think about otters recently, why not?
Just this morning while I was creating one of my otters. The ears came out way too big so I had to redo them. I didn’t want this little guy to be teased by other otters for his big ears (I know how that feels)
An Otter walks through your door right now wearing a suit and clutching a briefcase. What does he say and why is he here?
He follows me to my studio where he sits in his usual armchair while I sit opposite him. He puts on his glasses, takes out his feather pen and paper and finally asks: “Are you ready for your therapy?”
What is the funniest/most interesting thing that has happened to you recently?
This spring I have witnessed from a very close distance what could only be described a very intimate moment between two woodpeckers. I definitely felt I was not supposed to be there, but I was also scared to move and break the romance. It was a real National Geographic moment.
Tell us about where you live and the studio you work in:
Just a year ago we moved to Finland so I’m still settling in. Currently my studio is a tiny room in our house but a bigger one is about to be built instead of our garage. Studio space over car space any day! My little studio has two big windows that overlook the wonderful forest around our house. So during a typical work day I’m more used to seeing rabbits, deers, birds and squirrels rather than people (and I don’t mind it one bit). I’m very messy, and yet I love a tidy house, so I’m permanently stuck in the “mess it up-clean it up” cycle.
Tell us about your art and it’s process:
In short, I just make things out of clay…all sort of things, basically if clay will allow me to do it, I will try it. I love pushing the limits of the material to see how far I can go before taking it too far and ruining the piece. Trial and error is the way I learnt all I know about clay. For five years I’ve mainly worked with air dry clay but in the last six months I finally got a kiln (a ceramic oven) so I started experimenting with stoneware clay and porcelain.
I fell in love with clay because it allows you to create something out of nothing, or better said out of a pile of mud. I particularly love the sculpting phase as I can spend hours or days working on a pattern or creating small details. I’m pretty sure claywork should be considered as some kind of meditation. The only part of my work I don’t really enjoy is the sanding phase. I’m not a big fan of dust in my month or sanded fingertips.
What materials/Equipment do you use?
I have all sorts of tools, the ones for carving, sculpting, trimming, cutting, punching etc….and yet despite having all these most of the time all I find myself using is my two hands and a toothpick. However my most precious equipment is Bertha, my kiln, which I got last year for my birthday from my husband after years of subttle, and then not so subttle, hints. But I have to mention my hight adjustable table and my special wobble chair which saved my back and neck. That was an amazing investment for my own health as the long hours spent in the same position can cause some serious damage on the long run.
Can you tell us about some of your otter creations?
One of my popular products is an otter ring holder! I’d love to tell you some really funny and charming story about how this little otter came to be, but I’d be making it up. The honest truth is that some years ago a customer commissioned an otter ring holder. And again to be honest, I was not sure whether the animal I was seeing in my mind was an otter or a beaver (I know I know I should have known it!!!) As usual Google saved the day and made me a little less ignorant. So then I did what I do when I need to sculpt an animal I’ve never sculpted before, I studied it online, I watch videos and many photos from all angles. Somewhere along that process there was a spark and I simply fell in love with their playful nature and yet such a chilled attitude.
I also have an otter wedding cake topper set available. You get two adult otters and can choose to add a baby otter (or two) into the mix. These can be used to hold the wedding rings. I love how otters hold hands with their partners so that they don’t drift away so that was really what inspired these ideas.
Do you have any new Otter art coming soon?
I am in the process of creating an otter cooking spoon holder. This one will be made out of baked clay and therefore food safe and dishwasher safe. The first attempt came a little wonky so I’m working on the second prototype.