This artist makes handmade accessories using mother-of-pearl and cold porcelain

Published April 14, 2021, 11:40 AM

by Jessica Pag-iwayan

How May Samson established her small business, Mirth & Yift

Art comes in different sizes, shapes, and forms. There’s mixed media painting, sculpture, or even skin tattoo. All these require certain knowledge, skills, and expertise. With these in mind, artist and businesswoman May Samson has decided to create beautiful handmade accessories using mother-of-pearl and cold porcelain.

May Samson

In an exclusive interview with Manila Bulletin Lifestyle, the artist behind Mirth & Yift shares her journey in pursuit of art, and what inspired her to work with two complicated media—mother-of-pearl and cold porcelain.

Carving an artistic path

Prior to putting up her small business, May has years of experience marketing beauty brands. “Even when I was younger, I loved making accessories made of glass beads and cotton cords, and knotted necklaces from recycled fabrics,” she says. “I started Mirth & Yift in 2018. It launched as a local brand of handcrafted costume jewelry and accessories because I told my then boss that I wanted to create something.”  

When she said something, what she meant was intricate accessories handcrafted from complicated mediums such as mother-of-pearl and cold porcelain. 

Working with pearls and porcelain

With the Philippines, particularly Cebu and Palawan, rich in nacre, the iridescent substance made of calcium carbonate that an oyster or mollusc secretes, producing pearls and mother-of-pearl, it seemed easy for May to find the right materials for her handmade flower-shaped mother-of-pearl earrings. 

“Our mother-of-pearl earrings are handcrafted—shaped, cleaned, smoothed, and polished all by hand,” she shares. “No two flowers can ever be alike. Some clients expect them to be. But they are not, and will never be.” 

As if manually shaping nacre is not challenging enough, May even levelled up her game by working with another complicated medium—cold porcelain. Compared to ordinary clay used in making pots, cold porcelain is more sensitive. The water combination, humidity, and the artist’s way of kneading the clay are big factors that affect the look of the material. 

Sampaguita full tiara and simple earrings set made of cold porcelain and pearls

“I’ve been eyeing cold porcelain as an ideal material for Mirth & Yift since 2019. After several attempts trying and buying what was available in the local market, I just couldn’t get the correct finish I was aiming for,” May says. “What’s ironic about it was air dry clay seemed like an easy material. It has easy to buy, ready-to-use variants or, if you want to make your own, there are easy ingredients, which are non-toxic, no baking needed. Easy. But it can’t be that easy. Research, lots of reading, and watching probably hundreds of videos allowed me to self-learn the process, adjusting some of the steps, so that at last I was able to work with the ideal consistency.”

Using cold porcelain, May is creating made-to-order bridal hair pieces such as hair combs and tiaras. It takes her 30 days to finish a tiara. 

“Cold porcelain can get tricky. Seemingly an easy material, yes. But it has its moods,” she says. “Kneading slowly with light strokes produces a nice feel. Knead it fast and hard and it will get crumbly. It’s also difficult to sculpt if the room temperature is hot.” 

Bridal comb

The final process

Her hard work, dedication, and persistence are now paying off. According to May, there’s now a demand for her mother-of-pearl earrings. Sometimes, the available pieces are immediately sold out. 

“As an artist, I am too committed. I never sleep, if I have to finish something. I’m self-taught so my craft requires me to do a lot of research and a lot of trial and error,” May explains. “My art is very personal. I’m unafraid to be different. The bridal pieces, like the cold porcelain, are very intricate. The earrings and pendants, I always aim for classic, polished, and simple elegance.”

May has this message for young aspiring artists: “Being young is a privilege so make the most out of it,” she says. “Have patience. Like your art, everything else is a process.”