First row, left to right: Mark Rothko painting No. 22, 1949, 1920s Chicago Transit Authority poster, and Bev Hisey Reflective Folk CushionSecond row: autumn leaves, Andrew Zuckerman bird photograph and my warm-toned glazes;  Third row: Berlin Festival of Lights, Dave Jordano Storefront Church photograph and a Sevres potpourri vase;  Fourth row: Andrew Zuckerman Masked Lovebird photograph and my cool-toned glazes;  Fifth row: Hindu (Holi) Festival of Colours, JollyBe Chrysanthemums wedding cake, and peacock;  Sixth row: Cole & Son Dorset wallpaper, botanical print and Felissimo’s Colored Pencil SetLast row: KiBiSi chairs and a Viola Frey figure.

Oh, how I love color.

I suppose most everyone enjoys color, but if there were a 1 to 10 rating for color love, I would be at a 9 or 10 on the scale. I envy synesthetes and think about color throughout my day, in and out of the studio. I have a similar response to color that others do when they eat a piece of chocolate—that little butterfly feeling of yum.


These tumbler images (above and below) represent the myriad of ways the nine colors in my palette can be placed together to give a completely different color feel.


One of my grad school (MFA, Ohio U. 2001) professors, Joe Bova, recently commented to me that he believes “color is the most personal element in art”.  I certainly took a lot of time considering my color palette when I switched from high-fire soda (a more limited inherently glossy palette) to mid-range electric where the options are delightfully and overwhelmingly limitless.


I spent several months testing glazes to find both the color and quality (“breaking” satin vs. glossy) that best suits my work and me.  There were several determining factors.  The first and most important is that since I spend more time around my work than anyone else, I wanted colors I enjoy.  I also wanted colors that work well together, that compliment each other.  Finally, I wanted a palette that gives my collectors options: some people prefer neutrals, some prefer brights, and I have both as well as what’s in between.


Because my work is predominantly monochrome*, I don’t think it’s as recognized for its color because an individual piece isn’t particularly colorful (i.e. having multiple colors).  Though I am currently running some new tests to add stripes and dots of patterned color, “colorful” in my pots comes from their proximity to each other.  I love seeing which colors my customers pair, mix and match when they buy 2, 4 or 12 pieces.


All of my glaze colors are warm-toned, meaning that even the cool colors (blue, purple and green) have yellow undertones.  The names I have given the nine colors are Ivory (an off-white that looks almost like leatherhard porcelain), Frost (the super pale turquoise that looks a bit like a celadon), Honeycomb (a pale, warm yellow), Lime (a fruity yellow-green), Rosa (a salmon-y, mahogany pink), Cornflower blue (a rich lighter blue), Grape (a warm, plum-y purple), Caramel (a very yummy gold brown) and Blackberry (a deep wine, purple-y red).

On most forms, the satin glaze is the most visible, but the interiors are lined with a glossy version of the outside color, so I really work with 18 glazes.  Some forms, like my bowls and serving pieces, reveal more of the glossy color.  I like the contrast of satin to shine, so in addition to keeping the food surfaces functional with a glossy glaze, it is an aesthetic choice too.


Choosing glaze colors is not like picking out paint (potters will sardonically laugh and nod at that statement) because there is chemistry, elemental change and heat involved.  Red and blue does not necessarily make purple in the clay world.  My color palette came from having a sense of colors I wanted ( a green, a purple, a red—one of the hardest colors to “get” in ceramics, etc.) and then testing to match that expectation with the possibilities paired with my clay, cost of materials, firing temperature and application, not to mention aesthetic goals.  As my husband would say, it’s tricky business.


I gather inspiration for color from everywhere.  There are my “usual” sources (period clothing, Art Nouveau prints, Islamic architecture, etc.), but there are also more obscure suggestions for color, like the images at the beginning of this post.  Right now I’m liking the blue in the shadows of the snow, the transitional green from light to dark inside an avocado and I keep thinking of that orange that was in a room my husband and I stayed at in Iceland six years ago.


I believe the color in my work is one of several elements which makes my pots unique.  I agree with my professor that color is personal, a way to relay an emotion or spark a memory.  It’s a fascinating subject.

*I tend to use one color or two similar colors on a piece because I feel this best shows off the form, where multiple colors tend to divide the form. Imagine a woman wearing a purple shirt, blue belt and yellow pants next to one wearing a purple dress.

12 thoughts on “C O L O R

  1. I think the way you describe your color palette is ambitious and intriguing all around. I really like the way you observe and deal with the complementary surface treatments between satin and glossy glazes inside and outside of your pots. I’ve been told by an ex-professor of mine, Steve Roberts, that a limited color palette isn’t necesarily limiting, but rather a guide from which to develop an aesthetic eye for placement and combination of color. I think your work is inspiring and gives real light to issues I’ve struggled with in terms of color choices, or lack thereof. Thanks for the post!

    • Thanks for the comments, Phillip! I agree with Steve (one of the kings of soda and carbon-trapping, which I do consider as much a color in his palette as the green that develops like a jewel in those high soda spots) and hoped to point out that there are different interpretations of “limited color”.

      Some would consider my palette minimal because there is a single color for a piece…I just happen to like several single colors. :) Some of my favorite works are by artists who use 1-3 colors. Color is one of those parameters and details that defines our interests and is driven by our personalities and goals with the work.

      I have been adding more additions of the interior gloss to the outer satin to give surface variation and slight color change to the outsides since I began electric. I’m quite sure it came out of my decade of salt and soda firing.

      I think this is a fascinating subject and one easily pushed to the side in ceramics because we can’t choose color the way artists in other media are able.
      Best, Kristen

  2. This was a great post, it was really nice to read your way of describing the way you use color. It seemed casually written, yet described very clearly and precise. That would be so fun to mix and match your colorful pieces to create a set.

    Oh, and by the way, I’ve been coveting your wire handled flower basket! I love that piece!


  3. It must have taken you forever to get your colours exactly how you want them! They are beautiful though. I’m presuming you mix your own? That’s a lot of glazes to mix! I’ve been buying ready made glazes and yet they’re still not as predictable as I would like. Do you dip your pieces or brush on the glaze? Just curious. What I like about these ready made brush on glazes is that they don’t run! So I can take the glaze right to the bottom edge, which my previous tutor wouldn’t let me do. Can you imagine one of your lovely pieces with a half inch gap around the bottom? *shakes her head* anyway, I’m waffling.

    Sorry for the long post, I’ve lost my voice so I suppose I’m chatting any way I can!

    • Hi Linda,
      It never occurred to me to mention I mix my own?! I’ve never used commercial glazes…those kind of defy my statement that you can’t just pick a color, huh? I guess because I was high-fire soda for so many years, and am only recently mid-range where there are many more commercial options, I just don’t think that way.

      I mix all my glazes and all my work is dipped. My glazes don’t run, so I do go all the way down to the edge.

      Hope you feel better soon!
      Best, KK

      • Hi Kristen,
        Yours is the first blog I will attempt at responding to, just because there are soooo many areas I can relate to; ie gardening, colors, enjoying the combinations of solitary colors. I often wonder how I can manage to drink out of four mugs at once so I can enjoy the diffenent colors together:))))
        I guess that’s why I try combining on one vessel. But your analogy to the combinations of colors on one outfit gave me a powerful visual tool. My question is “how and where does one begin in order to make their own glazes?” This has been one of my most frustrating and disappointing experiences in my short time at pottery (only two years). I have my own studio: kiln, wheel and commercial glazes (hundreds, looking for the right ones).. Thanks so much; I have enjoyed ALL of your blog. Will continue to read it. Cyndi

  4. Hi Cyndi,
    Thanks for your note and glad you are enjoying my blog. In regards to learning about glazes, the ideal is to take a class. If that’s not possible in your area or with a workshop, there are lots of books on the subject, Clay and Glazes for the Potter being the most well-known. Glaze application and choice takes as much time and effort as the learnin’ of the makin’. Best wishes, Kristen

  5. Hi Kristen,
    That was a great read about color. I love the photo’s with the description beside each. I felt like I was looking at that famous book that came out in the 70’s about “ARE you a SPring or a Summer”? ( I was a Fall just for the record).Always good to visit your blog and all the great information you put out on it! Comes at a good time when I’m thinking of accents colors for my glaze palette!

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