Amelia Waliany

Nocs Naturalist

Can you tell us a bit about your passions beyond “work” + Do you find that these passions blend, merge or complement your work?

I recently learned that my name has a few different meanings: “work” in German and “hope” in Arabic, and “water” in Scots Gaelic. In too many ways to list (but I will try, briefly!) I see these meanings reflected back in the passions I’ve naturally gravitated toward and cultivated, strangely enough.

Lately I’ve been finding that my passions and my “work” are increasingly blending into each other as I evolve and grow as an artist, community builder, educator, surfer, yogi, and runner.

Weaving these once disparate worlds of mine into each other, uncovering the metaphorical universal truths that overlap and connect them, and seeing how their lessons are brought to light and reinforced across realms and in my life has been the greatest, most humbling and worthwhile experience.

The paradox of course is that it has also required a great deal of work! Perseverance, resilience, discipline, balance, and effort, too - not to say I’ve got all of these in check at all times because I sure don’t, but I’ve evidently been up for the challenge of trying for as long as I can remember - I guess fittingly so, given my name’s German meaning, “work” or “industriousness.”

My name’s Arabic meaning, “hope,” (the only one I’ve been aware of since I was a kid) definitely resonates, because to me, there’s something really hopeful about making and appreciating art in all its forms, which I’m deeply passionate about.

The act of making, whether in clay, words, music, movement, dance, paint, sticks, rocks, feathers, whatever the medium - is a timelessly hopeful endeavor. Art and creativity are how humans have survived - how we make meaning in this life, bring beauty to the world, preserve our histories and cultures, nourish our bodies, process our emotions, foster dialogues, connect with nature, lift spirits, advocate for changes, etc! I can’t think of anything more hopeful than that. I make art mostly with clay these days, though my first loves were drawing and creative writing. I’ve dabbled with painting and textiles, but mostly admire and find inspiration from these mediums and the hands behind them.

The surprise meaning of my name in the mix here is the Scots Gaelic meaning, “water,” which upon learning caused me to almost fall out of my chair because it resonated so strongly. (I subsequently learned that it is actually the meaning of a slightly different name, Amalie, but I’ve gone ahead and adopted it for now given its significance). Moving from Brooklyn to San Francisco certainly required some significant lifestyle adjustments, but once I found my footing, I was overtaken by California’s sprawling natural beauty. This made it easy to maintain my first love of outdoor running, swapping out the Williamsburg bridge with Golden Gate Park’s remarkable biodiversity and Ocean Beach’s shoreline as my main running routes. When I inevitably gave in to my growing curiosity and took the plunge to begin learning how to surf the ocean’s waves as an adult, I never could have imagined how much it would expand my world and broaden my perspective. Since then I have spent quite a bit of time on the water and in my blue mind, accessing a deep awareness of how even being near water sets my mind and body at ease. In addition to the extensive physical, mental, and emotional health benefits, surfing also instantly brought to my world a welcoming and supportive surf community, lifelong friendships, incredible adventures, and an indelible impression on how I connect with and gain inspiration for my creations from the natural world.

Running has been a constant for me - my first love outside of art - since I first started on the 6th grade track and cross country teams. To me the beauty of running lies in its simplicity, that it is the oldest human physical activity outside of straight up walking. Similarly to why I love surfing, running outside offers me a way to commune with nature while doing something good for my mind (i.e., getting out of it) and body (i.e. getting into it). I’ve also found that running is a great way to simply familiarize myself with my surroundings. Whenever I find myself in a new city, I’ll try to start off my time there with a run so that I can (somewhat, ha) efficiently explore what’s around me. Natural or urban, the scenes I take in while running fill me with a sense of freedom, adventure, and abundant lightness. Running taught me about the power of my breath, and how regulating it soothes the system in the face of the inevitable physical and mental strains that come with challenging oneself. It also taught me about the importance of stretching, which laid the way for yoga to eventually enter the fold and make its enduring impact. My mom took me to my first yoga class in 7th grade, introducing me to a practice that would continue to ground, inspire, and challenge me into my adulthood.

What are your materials and how do you think about them?

Clay is my main medium these days. I love it for so many reasons, especially its versatility and the endlessness of options for what one can create with it. And there’s something about the delayed gratification and the surprise element of the process of working with the medium that is also inherently meditative, enjoyable, and satisfying - a yoga, of sorts. There’s something magical about how the clay starts off squishy in your hands and ends up solid on your shelf, holding flowers or just hanging out taking up space.

I work with a lot of different clay bodies, but lately I’ve been loving working with Cassius, also known as Obsidian clay, as well as Moroccan Sand clay lately. Both are very different from each other, with Obsidian having a dark dramatic black finish like that of its namesake volcanic glass, and Moroccan Sand having a light beige earthy finish like that of its namesake granulated rock. Obsidian has a smoother texture and is super flexible and pliable, making it a dream to work with, whereas Moroccan Sand has a slightly gritty texture, adding a different kind of earthy depth to my pieces. Working with these different clay bodies and others challenges me to adapt my techniques and appreciate their unique qualities through how I use them to create my pieces.

I recently learned more about foraging wild clay when I took an intensive course at a studio in the mountains of Granada, Spain. Learning to identify, collect, process, and fire local clays from scratch was an eye opening experience that deepened my appreciation for clay as a medium. One day I hope to develop a body of work using mostly foraged materials, further incorporating the essence of the earth and sustainability in my art. It's all about staying connected to the earth and letting it inspire me.

How are you inspired?

For me, making with my hands whatever the material is a soul retrieval that I feel compelled to, as a way to maintain creativity and build community.

Being in nature - the unending source of inspiration. The ocean, with all of the shapes and textures it takes and holds, the mesmerizing patterns of the waves, the bulbous parts of seaweed washed up on the shore, the arms of an octopus, ETC.And the forest/ jungle: the delicate petals of a flower, the tremble of a fern, the sun shining through the leaves (there’s a japanese word for this - Komorebi!), the canopy of tree branches hanging overhead, all the textures, colors and shapes of foliage flora and fauna.

I'm really fascinated by the human body and mind, psychology in general, why we are the way we are, all the stories we’ve lived and the emotions we experience. It's wild how our brains work, both consciously and unconsciously. So, when I create, I like to dive deep into this mix of the subconscious and reality, equally inspired by organic forms and natural settings and landscapes.I do a lot of what I call “3D doodling”, playing around with intuitively making forms and shapes that are somewhat recognizable but also kinda abstract.

My tendency to incorporate holes, bubbles, and clusters makes me, among other things, a “tripophile” - someone who appreciates this representation. Specifically the seed head of a lotus flower is something I really love to weave into my sculptural forms, which is also fun because the shape with multiple holes works really well for ikebana displays (which roughly translates from japanese to "making flowers come alive"), another art form that I’m inspired by.

When I first learned of the Japanese aesthetic, wabi sabi, the practice of not only accepting - but also embracing, the transience and imperfection of life and nature - I was washed over with a sense of relief. This concept gave me the permission to let go of the perfectionism I’d dutifully cultivated up until that point.

I’ve been letting go since, embracing an intuitive, instinctual approach to my art and my creative practice, where making the unconscious conscious is the main objective. It’s more about the process than the product for me in that way, so when a piece comes out well, it’s just a bonus because the process of making the piece was the actual purpose.

In that way, I think of each of my pieces as a time capsule of sorts, or a tangible journal entry, carrying the thoughts, memories, songs, reflections, epiphanies, rabbit holes, whatever it was, that was floating through my mind as I created it.

Much of my Inspiration comes from the paradoxes and dualities of life / the ubiquity of duality / Yin yangs, everything they stand for ~up / down, sun/ moon, hot/ cold, past / future. The chaotic beauty of nature, balanced by its inherent order, really speaks to me.

Rumi - I’ve drawn a tremendous amount of peace when I tap into his poetry and teachings, and continually seek to embody as much of this wisdom as I can on a daily basis. I grew up learning about Rumi as his teachings are rooted in my culture, so the influence has stuck :) especially so because my mom is on top of sending me illustrated Rumi quotes on whatsapp pretty regularly.

Process over product, the journey not the destination - working with clay has helped me in tremendous ways, which is why I started teaching ceramics, so that I could share that with others. I’m always so inspired by seeing others find their creative spark, and I try to facilitate this by infusing light mindfulness themes into my ceramics lessons, encouraging students to step into the present moment and shed expectations as they create . Turns out there’s something about surrendering to imperfection that is really healing. To that end I try to encourage students to let go of inhibitions as much and as often as possible in order to embody the redemptive quality of the medium itself. This helps promote self-reflection, stress relief and personal growth - talk about hopeful!

A key ingredient to building a sustainable future?

I think that if we all tried to focus on integrating these qualities into our daily lives, we can create a more compassionate and resilient world.

A book that shaped your life?

The Giver, Of Human Bondage, The Alchemist, Status Anxiety, All About Love, Doors of Perception, Art as Therapy, The Razor’s Edge, The Body Keeps the Score

Most sublime moment in nature?

Lounging in a human-sized (not) bird’s nest made of sticks and leaves in a very tall tree in the jungle of ubud, bali, on our way to Tenungun waterfall.

Surfing in La Lancha in Sayulita. The day I went was especially dreamy and not without its surprises, i.e. we definitely saw a crocodile in the rivermouth that met the ocean upon arriving. Despite that we still went into the ocean (far away of course), and surfed our hearts out, groovy left after groovy left, for hours. The water was warm and perfect, the waves were consistent, and drinking from a coconut afterwards while sitting in a hammock, exhausted and happy, facing the sunset-kissed ocean under the shade of huge green leaves, was a moment in nature that I don’t think I could forget if I tried.

What have been your biggest challenges?

Injuries for sure: I completely tore my left ACL in November of 2019 while traveling alone in Morocco. I never could have imagined a light game of post-surf kickball in the sand with new friends would unfold in such a way! As the pandemic unfolded a few months later, I was recovering from recent surgery and beginning physical therapy. The entire experience of quarantining while recovering taught me a lot, specifically the truth of the sentiment - “you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone.”

I completely tore my ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) in March of 2021, an injury often referred to as “skiers thumb,” in my dominant hand after flying down the great highway on my rollerskates and getting caught in a destabilizing patch of sand. Rollerskating emerged as a most enjoyable, lower impact way to recreate the benefits of running that I’d missed for months while recovering from surgery. Unfortunately, I had forgotten to wear my wrist guards that night - another surgery endured, another lesson, learned.

What keeps you going?

Flow finding, the throughline when it comes to centering clay on the wheel, balancing on a surfboard, moving through a yoga sequence, managing my pace and footing while running - these practices ground me, connecting me to my body and breath.

The people in my life who inspire me, and the people in the world who I want to inspire. After all, we’re all we’ve got. That’s why creating art and finding perspective are so important to me, and I think community is a critical component of both. I’m here for the inspiration exchange, so building bonds around shared interests makes the kind of magic that definitely keeps me going. I recently hosted an afternoon retreat in Golden Gate Park called “Sculpting Serenity” with one of the amazing yoga instructors from my local yoga studio where we combined a nature-inspired yoga practice that she led, with a nature-inspired ceramic techniques overview that I led. It was a true gift to be able to bring this idea to life and collaborate with a friend to create an experience for others that brings together the shapes we make with our bodies in yoga with the shapes we make with clay in ceramics.

“Poetry and beauty are always making peace. When you read something beautiful you find coexistence; it breaks walls down.” — Mahmoud Darwish.

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