Student Spotlight: Isabella Comai on Getting Unstuck
November 2, 2017
Getting creatively unstuck can be tricky, even for the best of us. For Stamps sophomore Isabella Comai (BFA ‘20), the best tactic is to follow your eyes. “Last year, I was really having trouble feeling inspired as a maker,” said Comai. “So I turned to things that I like to look at. And I like looking at nature.”
Comai’s reverence for the natural world is coupled closely with her love of family, the two concepts caught in a loose tangle of scientific observation and personal history. When talking about the bluegill patterns that grace her bowls and earthenware, she reminisces about catching fish with her grandfather and sisters. When discussing her paintings, Comai recalls the warm summer day when she painted outdoors at the peony garden with her mom (Gretchen Comai, Stamps BFA ‘87). She talks about the time her dad (Andrew J. Comai, also a U-M alum, AB ‘87, MS ‘95) schooled her on rhizomorphs — the branched root systems found in Lycopsids, the oldest group of living vascular plants — and she translated the information into a ceramics installation. “I can text a picture of a tree to my dad and he’ll tell me what kind it is,” Isabella says. “Nature is something we share a love for in my family.”
Over the course of a year, Comai worked diligently to reignite her inspiration — and it worked in two important ways. Not only did it get her creatively unstuck, it left her with a robust body of highly accomplished work. Recently, Comai was a one of two recipients of the Michigan Ceramic Art Association (MCAA) 2017 Scholarship. This award recognizes students enrolled in Michigan Colleges and Universities who demonstrate great promise and interest in pursuing a career that involves clay. She’s currently exploring new terrain: faces and the nuance of human emotion. A work in progress explores the fragility and comfort of sleep as an escape from the stresses of everyday life.
Surprisingly, Comai’s passion for ceramics is a new one. “I’ve only been doing ceramics for a year,” she said. “But the swirls, coiling, and filaments found in my sculptures are also motifs found in my 2D work. I use the same flowing lines; it’s all related and inspired by the natural world. If you enjoy what you’re inspired by, it will resurface in all that you make.”
In addition to her art and design coursework and collaborations with ceramics studio coordinator John Leyland and instructor Kate Tremel at Stamps, Comai is mentored by a local alum and ceramicist Yiu Keung Lee (MFA ‘95) at his project-based teaching space, Clay Work Studio. She also creates work at U-M’s residential college under the mentorship of alum Ray Wetzel (MFA ‘80)
“Being in the studio...it’s my home,” Comai said. “The longest time I’ve ever spent in the studio is 36-hours straight. Most of my friends I made are from the studio. It’s where I need to be.”