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.

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.