Layered Layers

Kristen Kieffer Yunomi Mishima groupingYunomi detail

I spend most of my studio time thinking about (and blog time writing about) form and pattern interplay. My decoration can’t exist without the forms they wrap around, and the forms are incomplete without their surface layers. I make decorative ceramics because I love clay as a material, function as a parameter, and pattern as a layer that ties it all together.

I’m not sure where my love of decoration and pattern began. Perhaps going to antique shops as a kid had influence. Maybe it was the endless drawings with my Spirograph. There’s just something about pattern that feels like home to me. Like touching my Grandma Idene’s funky necklace or filigree bracelet as a kid during a car ride, and asking her to tell me its story for the millionth time. However it came about, I’ve liked ornamentation forever; pattern and symmetry are in my nature.

Kristen Kieffer Large plate Periwinkle floral Plate deco detail Periwinkle floral
Plate deco detail Frost : tangerine Kristen Kieffer Large plate Frost Victorian Moroccan

Why I choose a particular pattern and layer is no simpler to solve than why pattern at all. I can’t say I layer intuitively. I do pick and chose pattern on impulse, but it’s probably more about what I’ve learned in the 2D and 3D design classes I loved for my degrees than instinct. There’s not always an answer to why we’re drawn to certain colors, shapes, or decoration. I suppose I could just say I love ‘pretty’ and need loveliness in my life, know others do to, and these pieces are my response. But there is more to it.

I’ve been decorating my pots for years, but layering began in earnest when I changed how I glaze-fire my pots, switching from cone 10 soda to cone 7 oxidation in 2006. I could no longer rely on the kiln’s atmosphere to provide depth, so took control of adding levels of richness myself.

Patterns create depth, add visual and tactile interest, as well as invite pause. With forms like these new plates and pillow tiles, I layer in part to create an environment in which my customers can get lost for a moment (like the atmospheric paintings I love by Martin Johnson Heade). In a form like the yunomi cups, the extra layer of stamped pattern can spark reflection on a customer’s own history, culture, youth, or vacations abroad perhaps. What I bring to pattern and form as the maker can be quite different from what a viewer takes. What I see as Art Nouveau flora might remind someone else of their aunt’s cottage garden, for example. I like the personalization that can happen in the translation of decoration.

Kristen Kieffer Large plate Green flora Plate deco detail Green : tangerine
Plate deco detail Periwinkle arabesque 

All of the images in this post represent the recent addition of a new decoration layer; a new series with a ceramic technique called Mishima. Originating centuries ago in Korea, Mishima is a way of drawing on clay by inlaying color into a (usually) fine line. I’ve demo-ed this technique for years, including on my Surface Deco DVD, but this is the first time I’ve incorporated it into my own work. The delicate, navy blue line on all these pieces is Mishima. And for me, that drawn line adds another layer of contrast, another layer of atmosphere, another layer of intrigue.

As I mentioned in my last post, I think of the ceramic layers and assembling the disparate pattern shapes as being like collage. Each of the plates pictured for example (after I throw, trim, and alter) has four separate patterns and techniques layered onto the surface. First, I apply the subtle background texture, kind of the ground for everything else. I brush slip (liquid clay the consistency of heavy cream) across the surface, and press a patterned sponge I make into it, leaving a soft texture reminiscent of the textiles I look to for influence. (This technique is one of many I learned from mentor and friend, John Glick, master of layers extraordinaire.) I use cutout shapes of paper to resist some of the slip-sponging, so there are some smooth areas next to the pattern.

Once the slip-sponging has dried, I apply bright polka dots and stripes of underglaze into those smooth areas, which also requires the use of paper as a resist so the edges are crisp. These pops of color become focal points, and give a perfect contrast background for the next layer of slip-trailing. Once the underglaze has dried, I apply the raised lines, swirls, shapes, and dots of slip with a trailer (like small-scale cake decorating). I think of the slip-trail as the main character of the decoration story. Its imagery ties all the other patterns together.

Pillow tile detail Cornflower blue floral Pillow tile detail Green scroll w. tangerinePillow tile detail Pear Arabesque Pillow tile detail Periwinkle calligraphic

Pillow tiles detail. Full tiles pictured here.

Slip-trail is the last step for most of my pieces, but now I’ll be adding the technique of Mishima here and there, as with these. This requires first laying down a layer of liquid wax to protect all the prior layers. Once the wax has dried, I use an Exacto knife to incise into the leatherhard clay surface, and then fill that line with underglaze. I like the navy underglaze because it’s a dark classic color, and not severe like black. It’s not as quick and easy as drawing with a fine Sharpie, but it does result in a similar drawn line that I love. These lines feel like memories or echoes of the raised slip-trail lines.

All of these ceramic decoration techniques result in very different qualities of line (as I mention when I teach and on my Deco DVD). Each line yields a different shape and pattern, and when paired and layered, they become a formal investigation of 2D decoration on a three-dimensional form. Or they tell a story. Or they’re just pretty. I think all three, but am happy with what you see.

This new series of Mishima pieces is debuting exclusively in my online Etsy shop. I did a countdown to New Year’s listing a pillow tile a day in my shop with updates on my FB page, so those are available now. The plates and yunomi cups will be listed daily throughout this week in the same fashion, so check the top of my shop here. And stay tuned!

DVD at Two & You

Valentine’s Day 2012 happens to mark the two-year anniversary of my DVD release! The ongoing appreciation the video has garnered by fellow makers and instructors from very near (fellow Bay Staters) to quite far (Australia) fills me with warm fuzzies. Thank you so much for all your support! Wanna find out what all the hoopla’s about? See the trailer, read past viewer comments, and get your copy of Surface Decoration: Suede to Leatherhard right here! XO

Happy (International) 1st Year!

Valentine’s Day happens to mark the one-year anniversary of my surface deco DVD release, and what a great year! Dozens of DVDs have sold to folks from as close to me as Worcester, MA and as far as Australia, Brazil, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Lithuania, New Zealand, Spain, South Africa and Sweden! DVDs have gone to 47 of the 50 U.S. states and 8 of the 10 Canadian provinces. WOW! (So a special shout-out to the clay folks in North and South Dakota, P.E.I. and Newfoundland! Maybe it’s just too cold to deco? And, where ya at, Oklahoma?!)

Those of you who have seen the DVD and the “about” chapter know that this was a father-daughter project. This anniversary gives me another opportunity to give a big, huge thank you to my Dad. This project was his idea, and he was indeed the man behind the camera. The DVD could not have been done at all, let alone in such high quality, without his patience, superb directing eye, and tenacity in the editing process.  Thank you, Dad!

If you have yet to see the trailer for the video, have more questions, or would like to read comments by fans (like the wonderful ones by two very talented and well-respected ceramic artists below!), please visit my DVD page right here to see what it’s all about! Thank you to everyone for your amazing support and comments this last year!

“This DVD shows that Kristen is not only a talented potter, but also a gifted teacher. It is a great resource for both students and teachers alike. Kristen demonstrates a wide range of decorating techniques for soft to leather hard clay, in a friendly and articulate manner. If you have ever stood before a row of freshly made pots wondering how to enhance the surface, this DVD is a must. You come away feeling that the possibilities for surface decoration are endless”. ~ Sandi Pierantozzi, Studio Potter and Ceramics Instructor, Philadelphia, PA

“The video suggests that a workshop with Kristen would be informative and fun. Technically clear and focused, the video is well made: lighting and sound are professionally done and filming supports the demos to give a clear view of the processes being demonstrated. Tips are insightful and practical, and include aesthetic as well as technical advice. Kristen shows how she uses these methods in her work, and offers suggestions about how other people may find somewhat different uses of the tools and methods helpful for their own works. She generously and clearly shares the methods she’s developed over time in her own studio. Her discussion of line, design, and pattern concerns offer an understanding of her working thoughts and the potential for personal application by the viewer. Kristen’s video shows a variety of well-illustrated decoration techniques that make me want to get to my studio and try them as soon as possible.”  ~ Linda Arbuckle, Studio Potter and Professor, University of Florida

KK DVD in CM

Thank you to Ceramics Monthly for doing a synopsis (p. 62) for my Surface Decoration DVD in their November issue. And welcome to those of you who came to my website looking for more information after reading it! Everything you could possibly want to know about the DVD (including fan comments, techniques covered for pots to sculpture, a sneak peek trailer clip, and the link to buy!) is on my DVD page right HERE.

Thank you for your interest and support for this independently made, produced and distributed instructional video.

Serving Up Stripes


Brand new serving plates in three sizes and a variety
of sumptuous and striped colors! Some available for purchase here.

I throw each plate on the potter’s wheel, trim the foot and alter the rim, giving it some undulation. I also decorate the surface with sponged and trailed slip (the clay version of cake-decorating), swirls and dots of shallow texture and relief patterns. The stripes and/or large dots of color are underglazes and are finished by dipping into one of nine glossy glazes from my palette and fired in an electric kiln to cone seven. If you are a maker and would like to learn more about my and other surface decoration techniques, check out my instructional DVD here!

In Studio & Online Goodness

The warmth and energy of spring has struck for me, and I hope for you too.  I will be away much of June (to teach at Penland) and July (to do a residency at Watershed and teach at the Appalachian Center for Crafts), so I am cranking away in my studio, as well as hoping my hubby will shoot pictures of my perennial garden while I’m away.

This is a brief update about what’s coming up for my work and studio prior to my travels:

Studio Sale
Saturday, May 22nd 10-5  and Sunday, May 23rd 11-4
My Spring Studio Show & Sale is just around the calendar corner, here at our home in Otter River, MA. This year it falls the weekend before Memorial weekend.  As usual, seconds will be available for purchase (come early!) as well as gallery-quality pieces.  Cash, check or Visa/MasterCard are welcome.  Visit my Contact page to drop me a note for directions. Please bring a friend, and we look forward to seeing you!
Pictured: Three stripe and dot plates, in progress.

My online store.
KiefferCeramics.etsy.com
My online pottery store is open for your springtime gifting needs, and filled with new pots like stripe-y plates, house vase forms and of course, cups! Because of upcoming travel, I may be closing my stores from 6/10 – 7/24.  I apologize for the inconvenience, but wanted to let you know so you could shop in advance for gifts, and stay tuned soon after for new work to be posted.
Pictured: Plates in progress with shadowed striping from blinds.

“Salad Days” Pottery Sale at Watershed
If you happen to be in Maine, or would like a reason to be, I will be participating in the pottery sale at the Watershed Center for the Ceramics Arts in Newcastle, ME on Saturday, July 10th.  The sale is in conjunction with Salad Days, a fundraiser for this great ceramic center and residency studio where I will be one of many resident artists for two weeks also in July.  Check this link for more information.
Pictured: In progress pitcher handles.

If you happen to be in CO, l will soon have three pieces juried by Pete Pinnell in the Contemporary Clay Biennial at the Western Colorado Center for the Arts in Grand Junction, CO (5/14 – 6/26).

See more details about my exhibition and workshop schedule here.

DVD
On a different pottery note, the feedback from my Surface Decoration DVD continues to be a delight.  If you haven’t already, I hope you will check out the trailer and enthusiastic comments by viewers on my DVD page, which will also take you to the buy page.  Makers will see some new ideas in the DVD, and ceramics teachers/professors may be interested in buying, or having your school purchase it for your program and/or your library.  I appreciate your support!

Deco DVD is Here!

It’s here, and ready if you are!

As some of you know, in late spring of ‘09 I spent about five days demonstrating in my studio for my first how-to/instructional DVD for ceramics (pottery and sculpture), Surface Decoration: Suede to Leatherhard.

I believe this to be a high quality video with fun and informative techniques.  Indeed many on my emailing list had the chance to purchase first, and have left some glowing comments (below).  I thank all of you for your patience, interest and strong support for this project.  And without further ado, the link to both see the trailer (if you have not seen it here yet) and to purchase my new video is here!  Enjoy!

Fan Comments:
Received my DVD. Patiently (not) waited for my family to go to bed and stayed up til 12:50 watching. It was like eating really exquisite chocolate, and I can do it over and over. Thank you so much. ~ L. W.

Thank you so much, there is no doubt I’ll use some of your shared techniques and advices in my works. Very particular, full and interesting information. Once again – thank you :) ~ L. B. in Lithuania

Got my DVD today and I must say its wonderful. Its like sitting next to you and having a private tutor. But being able to rewind to any part and relive it again. Great video. Worth every cent. ~ T. vD.

I just finished watching your DVD ~ LOVE IT!!! Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge and expertise. It’s extra special that you did this project with your father :) ~ K. C.

Wow I received my DVD this afternoon!!!  I have watched it through and am so inspired to try all of the techniques out.  I am new to pottery and have admired your work on line for some time, have tried to make stamps, but was carving them in clay, not very successful.  I can’t tell you how thrilled I am.  Thank you sooooooo much for making this great dvd,  I look forward to the next one you make. ~ S. A.

About. This DVD includes techniques I use and some I enjoy but don’t currently incorporate in my own work. All are “suede” to leatherhard decoration techniques mostly using slip, including stamp-making and stamping, slip-trailing, sponging, paper resist, water-etching, sgraffito, mishima, carving and sprigging. Eleven techniques are covered.  My goal is to show techniques with which you may not be familiar, offer a new take on the traditional and generally excite interest in the potential of the ceramic surface.

P. S. I strongly feel that in-person instruction is best, and a video by anyone is no substitution for classroom interaction, workshop question-and-answer or one-on-one discussion. I know not everyone is able to take a workshop or class, and I realize that many of those who are able to attend one of my workshops may like a video to review some learned techniques.  I hope to see you at a workshop sometime in the future.  This DVD is just a taste!

Click here>>> Link to buy DVD <<< to purchase.

Coming Soon to a DVD Player Near You!

This trailer is a sneak preview of my soon to be released DVD Surface Decoration: Suede to Leatherhard with teasing glimpses of all eleven chapters. Watch the clip and then read more about all the excitement on the DVD page.

“Surface” DVD Progress

Kristen_Kieffer_video_I

As some of you know, in May I spent about five days demonstrating in my studio for my first how-to dvd: Surface Decoration, Suede to Leatherhard.  I thought I’d let you know that I’ve seen the rough cut, and am pretty excited about it (especially after I got over the weirdness of watching myself).  Videos have as many steps as ceramics, so for this big first foray, it’s not surprising to report we are a bit off schedule.

Video_II
This dvd will include techniques I use and some I enjoy but don’t currently incorporate in my own work. All are “suede” to leatherhard decoration techniques mostly using slip, including stamp-making and stamping, slip-trailing, sponging, paper resist, water-etching, sgraffito, mishima, carving and sprigging. My goal is to show techniques with which you may not be familiar, offer a new take on the traditional and generally excite interest in the potential of the ceramic surface.

Kristen KiefferI strongly feel that in-person instruction is best, and a video by anyone is no substitution for classroom interaction, workshop question-and-answer or one-on-one discussion. I know not everyone is able to take a workshop or class, and I realize that many of those who are able to attend one of my workshops may like a video to review some learned techniques.

I will continue to keep you all posted!

How-to Poll Results: Surface #1

I’ve ended the poll I conducted to rate your interest for each of the five ideas (below) I have for a how-to dvd series, so thought I’d let you know how the tallies shaped up.  The poll numbers ranked in the order I would have imagined, verifying Surface Decoration as first.

kk_surface_deco_iikk_surface_deco_iiikk_surface_deco_ikk_surface_deco_v

The vote totals:
127 votes (30%) for Surface deco
97 votes (24%) for Altering
82 votes (20%) for Advanced Techniques
37 votes (10%) for All five in the series
35 votes (9%) for Intermediate wheel-throwing techniques
19 votes (5%) for Basic beginner wheel-throwing techniques

So, like Star Wars, I will be starting with #3 instead of #1!  After that, I believe I will truly need to begin at the beginning with the basics and progress to each next section in sequence to keep things straight for both of us.  I have scheduled the Surface shoot for the beginning of May. It will include about a dozen different techniques including stamp-making and stamping, slip-trailing, sponging, paper resist and water-etching.  I hope to show techniques with which you may not be familiar, offer a new take on the traditional and generally excite interest in the potential of the ceramic surface.

Thanks again for your feedback and participation.  It’s helpful and great to see your interest!  PS: For those interested outside the States, I will have better answers about playability closer to the shoot date.  It’s a priority for me to make the dvds as “universal” as possible.