Galloway, Kline, & Kieffer on Tales of a Red Clay Rambler

Julia Galloway, Michael Kline, and Kristen Kieffer on Ben Carter's Tales of a Red Clay Rambler
pFellow potter Ben Carter has a wonderful podcast, Tales of the Red Clay Rambler featuring studio potters and “culture makers” from around the world, that I love and listen to regularly. This past February, while we were all together for the Florida Heat Surface workshop symposium, he invited studio potters Julia Galloway, Michael Kline, and me to sit down and discuss for the podcast some of the individual and group conversations we had been having about pottery trends, design, copying, imagery, and how social media impacts all of those as well as our studio lives.

I admit it’s hard to talk with a microphone so close to your mouth you could lick it and knowing your words are being recorded to be replayed by hundreds, but it was neat to listen back because that was such a fun week together.  This conversation could have gone on for hours, there’s so much more to say and add.  Thank you to Ben for being such a great host with tough questions, and Michael and Julia for the fast-paced and smart exchange.

Have a listen right here to episode #61, and enjoy!

Florida Heat Surface 2014 Pictorial

The Florida Heat Surface 2014 presenters (left to right) outside St. Pete Clay: Michael Kline, Kristen Kieffer (me), Julia Galloway, Forrest Lesch-Middleton, Ben Carter, Chandra DeBuse, Adam Field, and Lisa Orr.

This past week I had the good fortune to co-present with seven outstanding potters for St. Petersburg Clay Company‘s first Florida Heat Surface Workshop, and had such a wonderful time, I wanted to share some pix of the five days.

Florida Heat Surface Workshop 2014

Roll your cursor over each image for the brief caption, or click to enlarge. Most of these images I took on my Instagram, and there are plenty more pix folks shared with the hashtag #flheatsurface on their Instagram, which you can also see compiled here.

Chandra DeBuse demo  Forrest Middleton demo    Adam Field demo    Chandra DeBuse and Kristen Kieffer demo    

Big, huge thank yous to the hosts with the most, St. Pete Clay crew Matt Schiemann, Adam Yungbluth, Valerie Scott Knaust, and Artists-in-Residence Bryce Dyer, Sarah Holt, Jess Carter, Jeremy Wallace, Lydia Johnson, and Holly Siggelow; my rockin’ fellow presenters; all the lovely participants; and Ben Carter and Adam Field for the invite!

Workshops 2014

Florida Heat St. Petersburg Clay Symposium ad
Time to start thinking about warm and fun! I have a variety of workshops coming up quick, so wanted to share with you.

First up, February 19 -23 is the Florida Heat Surface Design Symposium, which is a five-day extravaganza of awesome with Ben Carter, Chandra DeBuse, Adam Field, Julia Galloway, Michael Kline, Forrest Middleton, Lisa Orr, and me at St. Petersburg Clay Company. Details including the daily schedule are right here.

Archie Bray Foundation 2014 Workshop adI just heard there’s one slot left for my three-day hands-on workshop at the Archie Bray Foundation Memorial weekend, May 23 -25. If you’d like to be in Helena, MT this spring, click here for more info.

I just booked a three-day demo workshop to present alongside Adam Field and Matt Long at the Mary Anderson Center for the Arts in Mount Saint Francis, IN (just over the bridge from Louisville), June 12 – 14. Info should be available soon here.

And lastly (for now), I’ll be back for a five-day hands-on workshop at Sugar Maples Center for the Arts in the Catskills, NY, July 24 -28. Check out that registration info here.

If I’m not coming where you’d like to be, please do pass along my website as that’s frequently how they come about. As always, you can see the full list of where I’ve taught in the past, and more info on my Workshops Page. And you can see the full list of my teaching and exhibitions with links for more information as they’re scheduled on my Schedule PageHope to see you!

Homage Skulls

Kristen Kieffer guy skull cupKristen Kieffer gal skull cup in Frost

In July, I finally read Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty after buying the catalogue from his extraordinary, haunting, gorgeous, and (very unfortunately) posthumous exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the summer of 2011, which I was lucky enough to see in person.

Somehow, I can’t remember where I first saw a piece by this amazing fashion designer and couturier, but I do know I immediately fell in love with his imaginings.  His work readily embodies Victorian modern style and “ornamented strength” for me (phrases I use and aspire to in my own work). So, I decided to create an homage stamp to pay respect to Lee McQueen in the form of a skull, a long-time motif associated with his work.

I drew a skull, but it felt too stark. So me being me, I was compelled to add ornamentation and then a bit of a smile, both of which kind of automatically yielded a Day of the Dead sugar skull. I was so excited with the ‘guy skull’ stamp (pictured top), that I made a ‘gal skull’ too (pictured bottom), delighted to embrace the sugar skull tradition, which is fittingly about honoring the deceased.

The skull-stamped mugs recently debuted at my studio sale and online shop here. If skulls strike your fancy (Día de Muertos, Halloween, McQueen, or otherwise), I will be adding more of these spirited cups in very limited quantities (guys, gals, and combo) in other colors in early December.

“You’ve got to know the rules to break them.
That’s what I’m here for, to demolish the rules but
to keep the tradition.” ~ Lee Alexander McQueen, 1969-2010

Needlework as Influence

Kristen Kieffer Flower bricks Embroidery patterns in Periwinkle and Green

Fashion (from all eras, Elizabethan to Couture) has been a long-time influence for my work. The structure and detail of clothing inspire my own functional pottery forms and their decoration. Basically, there is always something new for me to uncover from clothing and textiles as influence. My most recent revelation is the expansive genre of needlework, which includes everything from crochet and embroidery to a myriad of techniques I’ve only begun to learn.

Kristen Kieffer Deluxe clover cup in GrapeI own pillow cases tatted by my Grandma and Great Grandma, love quilts of all kinds, and knew that some of the 18th century clothes I adore had embroidery, but I’ve only just recently tuned into the wide-ranging variety of needlework design as influence, particularly for slip-trailing. I’ve been collecting needlework pix and details here with some faves below. New adventures into deco have begun!

Flower bricks and cups as pictured above, as well as other pots with deco influenced by embroidery and quilt appliqué are available in my online Etsy shop.

Detail of Look 8, Erdem Spring 2013 Ready-to-Wear  Crochet flora  Embroidery flowers Sashiko embroidery  Aemilia ars needlelace  [Micro] quiltingCourt Suit embroidery detail, c. 1770-85  Antique Carolina lily applique quilt detail c. 1880  Reticella samples

Rollover or click on the images above for details. Pictured: Crochet, embroidery, sashiko, aemilia ars lacework, quilting, applique, and reticella.

AKAR 2013 Yunomi Invitational

Kristen Kieffer Yunomi AKAR 2013

These are my five, springtime yunomi for AKAR Design‘s Annual Yunomi Invitational, an online only exhibition. This year, 206 potters were invited to send five cups each, so this show will have over 1000 yunomi (a Japanese cup with no handle that is taller than wide with a trimmed foot, and used for daily, informal tea drinking) in a wide range of styles. Each of my yunomi are wheel-thrown, stamped, trimmed, slip-sponged, underglaze detailed, and slip-trailed, yielding an elegant, tactile, and spring-y cup for joyful use.

This is an excellent show and the cups sell fast, so create your account, and be ready ONLINE at 10 AM CST Friday, April 19th right here!

Lovely Intangibles: A Statement

This is the article I wrote for the NCECA Journal, Volume 34 as one of the
demonstrating artists for the 2013 conference in Houston; my thoughts on
function and ornamentation:

Kristen Kieffer Cups 'Clover deluxe'

“Look Doris, someday you’re going to find that your way of facing this realistic world just doesn’t work. And when you do, don’t overlook those lovely intangibles. You’ll discover those are the only things that are worthwhile.” ~ John Payne as Fred Gailey in the 1947 film Miracle on 34th Street

I believe beauty is a worthwhile pursuit, and my pots are a celebration of that beauty. Stated simply, I make decorative pottery that is meant to be used. While working in my studio, I simultaneously consider the aspects of a well-functioning pot and the elegant decoration that enhances a strong form. These three components (function, ornamentation, and form) combined yield a beautifully designed object celebrating the beauty of everyday use. This “ornate utility” is probably an oxymoron to some, but it is my goal as a potter. I seek to make pots that balance good function with robust decoration, which is very different from making complex pieces for special occasions. The latter pursuit is more about elaboration than use. Making decorative pots for everyday requires equal consideration of function, form, and surface; an attention and tribute to what I call the “lovely intangibles.”

The lovely intangibles are what I think about when I’m working in my studio and reference when I teach; the elements that we can be more aware of when they are missing, ironically, than when they are included. They are the aesthetic and functional components that make up the whole of a considered pot, anything from the ribbed edge that delineates a curve to the shadowed reveal of a carved foot. They are the fine details necessary in creating an equally well-functioning yet elegant piece, but something that may not be definable (or even identifiable) to the user. These lovely imperceptible, elusive intangibles are crucial in the completion of a beautiful, useful object.

My active consideration of the details is required for the pots to be both appreciated and used when they leave my studio. The best compliment is when a customer is attracted to my work because of the form, picks up the piece because of the surface, and delights in the strength of the piece once it is in their hands; none of which may have been conscious thoughts. A customer’s split-second conclusion to like and/or buy a piece is in response to my attention to all the micro and macro intangibles, like purposefully making my pottery handles plump, walls strong, and lips full for comfort, for example. By altering and/or stamping the clay at an early stage I refer to as suede, the pots have a soft appearance which makes them more inviting. I use a variety of decoration techniques like slip-trailing and slip-sponging to provide tactility and visual depth. All of my work is glazed with mostly satin surfaces of rich colors adding to the user’s pleasure. The integration of tactile decoration with soft forms and solid components make the pieces touchable and inviting.

I refer to my work as ‘ornately, elegant for everyday’ and classify my pots as ‘Victorian modern.’ Both of these phrases fit my desire for cross-cultural influence, and an appreciation of an era when ornamental abundance was also useful. I want to offer my customers a bit of luxury for their home décor and daily life. My hope as a maker is to marry my diverse influences and the splendor of past eras with a modern desire for artistry and function. My influences range from 18th century, silver service pieces and Moroccan architecture to couture clothing and industrial design for form ideas, and from Art Nouveau illustrations and vintage embroidery to cake fondant and upholstery for pattern ideas. Such diversity combined with my own background and distinct studio processes culminate into a style that I hope is as unique as it is luxurious.

I enjoy my pursuit of beauty, making ornately functional pots for those who would like a little elegance in their everyday. Attention to those lovely intangibles so another can enjoy their morning coffee a little more is what makes being in my studio worthwhile.

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!

Wall Candy


Every other year or so, I make a small series of wall forms, each more elaborate than the last. At almost 3″ deep, they’re too dimensional to be called a tile, and too soft-looking to be called a box; so “pillow” seems the most suitable term for this round, as they are plumper and poofier than ever before. I really like making these forms. I mean, I really like making these…A LOT. They are my opportunity to explore layered pattern over volume without having to balance function. (Though I make sure they hang easily, and their purpose is adding beauty, so they ‘function’ perfectly!)

I think of these pieces as being collage because I’m assembling disparate pattern as well as layering four different ceramic decoration techniques (slip-sponge, underglaze, slip-trail, and mishima). But I also think of them as little paintings because I’m applying color and texture to a surface; the deco and the canvas are just both ceramic. So, ‘ceramic collage pillow paintings’ ~ perfect for adding a lovely focal point to your home décor, solo or grouped. Or just call them ‘wall candy,’ that suits me and my influences just fine.

This is just the beginning of what’s new for 2013 from my studio, some of which are already available in my online shop. These rich layers have also made their way onto some of my yunomis and large plates, all also debuting exclusively in my Etsy shop in the New Year. More posts on form and deco newness coming up with a few teasing glimpses on my Facebook page in the album New Work 2013.

Studio Cycles Pictorial 2012

                  

I enjoyed putting together this second annual, end of the year group of images from my studio of in progress and new work. These are just a selection of images I posted throughout the year on my Facebook page. As with last year’s, it’s not an order, it’s a cycle. I just completed two glaze firings, so more to come —immediately!— for 2013 here and in my online stores. Keepin’ on, keepin’ on!

Thank you very much for your continued support of my work and studio.
A happy, healthy New Year to you and yours!