The Color Odyssey

I could assert that the first characteristic most people notice when laying eyes on most anything, including a handmade piece of pottery, is its color. The color can compel you to stop and note the form, drawing you in to glimpse the details, or drive you to keep on walking if its hue doesn’t strike your fancy. Color is important to us. Whether it’s the first feature we notice or the fourth, and whether we like less or love more, it can be the deciding factor towards a purchase.

Over five years ago (when I switched from cone 10 soda reduction to cone 7 electric, which means everything from my clay to glaze color to surface quality changed), I did months of testing to create my current palette pictured above (clockwise from top right): Ivory, Frost, Honeycomb, Lime, Rosa, Blackberry/Garnet, Grape, Caramel and Cornflower blue. Because of necessity and aesthetic interest, I’m in the exciting (and exhausting) throws of testing once again to re-vamp my entire glaze palette.

I began this new round of testing with specific colors in mind, but since glaze is nothing like paint (i.e. what you see is not necessarily, even rarely, what you get), allowed process and discovery to sway those expectations. There are a variety of thoughts that swirl through my head as I make the elaborate test tiles that mimic my pottery surfaces, weigh materials while donning my Darth Vader-sounding respirator, and stare at the resulting tests willing a small segment of tiles to call my name the loudest. See photos from my studio in the “Glaze testing” photo album on my Facebook Ceramics page here.

First, as I am the person who by far spends the most time with my work, I need to like the colors I choose. Sounds obvious, but if I didn’t need to like the color, my palette (and pots for that matter) would be quite different. (All potters are aware of a handful of colors that have a higher probability of sale, thus the name Cash Flow Blue for a particular cobalt glaze.) However, salability doesn’t win over likability for me as the maker.

So as a lover of color, it won’t be in my palette if I don’t love it, but the close second in my decision-making is needing you —my collectors, buyers and supporters— to also love one or many in my palette. This point also plays into the reason I have, and will continue to have, so many colors. I would be bored to tears if I was surrounded by only one, two or even three colors, finding it impossible to pick so few anyway, but variety is a way of broadening my audience-base while also attaining my first criteria above. Converse to my ruling out colors of which I’m quite fond because their audience-interest would be too narrow, by increasing the kinds of color (lights to darks spanning the color wheel) I offer, I can potentially garner more clientele than if I only sold green pots, for example. So, I do recognize and appreciate the need for balance between my taste and that of my customers.

There are many more important considerations in choosing color, but their rank is indecipherable to me after those first two key criterions. So in no particular order, I also consider:

The color should compliment the style, content and vision of my work, which of late means a lean toward “light-hearted,” infusing some modern merriment into my Victorian modern style.

The individual colors should work together as a whole (including underglaze stripe and dot colors) to create a pleasing palette when the work is grouped in my online stores and brick-and-mortar galleries.

I like there to be a balance of lights and darks, softs and brights, and colors on the wheel for variety as well as photogenic potential. (I’d say it’s a truth that images are more broadly “consumed” than product.)

There are colors (like purple and gold, and more recently, blue) that I’ve used for a while that feel like “signature” colors (i.e. colors my audience expects and enjoys on my work), so I like to continue those in some way for, well, continuity.

I try to be thoughtful of colors that suit the function. From food to flowers, I want to have colors that feel suitable to the use I put forth in the pots. (Not all the colors will work for both tortellini and tulips, but I like all to work for some.)

So! The image above illustrates a grouping of potential new colors in the front row (also in swatches below), and most of my current palette in the second row of tiles. I included some of my finished pieces with the stripes of Red, Lime, Light blue and Tangerine in the background to show how those warm bits of color will continue, and play with the new colors.

  
  
 

In addition to deciding on the colors themselves is the need to name the colors! Since everyone conjures up a different mental picture for the simply named “blue,” for example, I seek to find short names (usually relating to fruit, flowers or nature in general) to conjure the right “color flavor.” Here are some names I’m leaning towards for now, and may ask for your help with in the future!
First row: A. Honeydew, B. Gold or Golden, and C. Kiwi/Dark Celadon/?. Second row: D. Apple green/Citron green/?, E. Aqua, and F. Sky/?. Third row: G. Ocean/?, and F. Violet/?. There are more tests to do (I have the glossies to tackle next!), decisions to be made, and several months to pass before new colors begin to appear, but stay tuned as the odyssey continues!

P.S. My humble take on color trends. It’s not very feasible for most potters to change colors seasonally or according to trends put forth by Pantone (a company I love) or other color moneymakers. (Should color trends apply to art unless it’s a commentary about color trends anyway?) Some ceramic artists use brushable glazes, which would actually make both change in color as well as vast numbers of color possible. All my pieces, however, are dipped in 5 and 10 gallon buckets of glaze. This volume of material means that there is both a physical (or rather spatial) and financial restriction to change as well as numbers of glaze. (I mentioned earlier that my current glaze palette began with nine, but all of my glazes have a glossy counterpart that I use on the interiors and as accents, so the number is actually double!) This is in addition to the length of time required to test and find new colors. So, I’m aware of trends and their potential but they’re too finicky and fleeting for me to follow with my current techniques and logistics.

If you’re on Facebook, I regularly post a pic, link or blurb here on a weekly basis —like images in the “Glaze testing” album— if you’d like to keep up with my work and studio in between my blog post musings. You can also subscribe to this blog in the upper right column under the heading Blog Subscription so that new blog posts go directly to your email inbox and you won’t miss a thing!

“Veys,” “Veyz,” “Vahz”

Spring means it is finally warming up here in north, central MA. For me, this primarily means things will start to bud and bloom which gets me all excited to sit on our porch and observe my gardenwhich makes me want to make vases.

Last summer (July ’10) during a two-week residency at the Watershed Center for the Arts in Maine, I made a new prototype vase (finished right). As is not uncommon for me, play and design are waylaid by deadlines, so I’ve just gotten around to making a next and improved version now (in-progress left).

Vase forms are a perennial (the pun that had to happen) favorite for me because they can be any shape, size and color, but are equally challenging in the balance between function and beauty (i.e. the potential to elegantly arrange flowers matched with a form that doesn’t overpower the display, but looks attractive and interesting sans posies). “Vase” is such a vague term though because it can be any size, shape and color. I wish there were more specific names for vases intended for certain flowers (like the “tulipiere”) or names that designate a certain size or shape (like the “flower brick”). This Vase In Floral Design page I found gives something close to what I’m craving, giving nice summations on various vase shapes and how they’re used best with tips and notes.

My new, large (15″ h) wire lattice vase is intended, however, to be more sculptural than functional, and is a slight mash-up of form inspiration between a small, cobalt blue glass vase of my Great Grandma’s (similar to the first image below) and a brass antique find that sits in my studio. The wire creates an airy finish to the top of the vase, appearing a bit like a blue-print drawing, a crinoline framework or the unfinished, underlying architecture of the clay part itself. The wire is a way for me to draw in three-dimensions and is a nice contrast material to the clay. (I enjoy working with the wire, but the humbling nature of clay and its shrinkage does not always cooperate with my master plans for elaborate wirework, so we’ll see how it fairs in the firings). I, of course, finished this muscular form off with suggestions of Victorian wallpaper layered over mod candy stripes.

Below are a selection of vases, from antique to contemporary, in a variety of sizes and materials that caught my eye for this post. (You can see the trend that I tend to like pedestal or footed vases.) There are more of my favorites in this post here too. Enjoy!

   
   
 
   

From top right: Laced-edge glass vase c. 1920; Vintage trumpet milk glass vase; Antique brass vase; and “Eva” solitaire glass vase. Second row: Etched vintage glass vase; Vintage ruby and gold glass vase; Vintage 1950s Hull vase; and antique Louis Majorelle glass and iron vase. Third row: Anika Engelbrecht ceramic, and balloon Swell vases and Petite Friture Ikebana vases. Last row are all KleinReid: Cyril vase, Chateau bud vase, Upright vases by Eva Zeisel for KleinReid, and Peep vase.

In Progress—Corset Vessels

Corset In Progress I Corset In Progress II

Left: Altered, darted and footed.  Right: Cut and defined lip/neckline.

Corset In Progress III Corsets in progress IV

Left: All four in-progress.  Right: Handles and further definition.

Corsets In Progress V

The first two ladies complete with their slip-trailed deco.

I began this Corset series around six years ago (a story I’ll delve into at a different time) and though I don’t actually make them often, they have become somewhat of a signature form. This vessel idea began as corset-like, becoming more literal before morphing into something I think of now as more akin to upholstered furniture than vintage undergarment.

It was gratifying to spend the last week and a half (not at my computer) making some pots I just felt like making. The four are now complete and drying slowly in anticipation of joining other smaller pots yet to be made for a bisque firing.

The images above show some of the stages in the making process, minus the most dramatic image (because it didn’t occur to me till later to document it). These begin as straight-sided cylinders…subsequently altered, darted, built, added on, refined, defined, slip-trailed, slip-sponged and carved.

Sketching & Prototypes

As I wrote in the last post, when I am working out a new design I tend to draw, make and then draw again. How many I make, and how many times I draw, depends on how different the new design is from my “regular” repertoire of forms.

Pitcher_Sketchbook Pitchers_InProgress

The pitchers above are an example of a shorter development cycle.  I had been making creamers (as part of a creamer and sugar set) for years, but never really made pitchers, so last year did some drawings for a milk-sized pitcher.  I originally did some drawings of four different pitcher ideas (see Sketchbook & Pitcher post); made one of each of the four; decided I like the one above the best; and have since made several more with minor variations from the original.  Ideally I would make the time to re-draw or document the revised design in my sketchbook.  Realistically, and more often than not, I look at a finished piece on the shelf in my studio as a reminder of proportion and for cues to readjust details on the next series.  (How studio artists work in series could be a whole post in itself, note to me.)

Wire_vase_Sketch Kieffer_wire_vase

This wire vase form is an example of an idea that is going through a longer developmental cycle.  I made the drawings above as well as the finished prototype during a Watershed (a ceramic center in ME) artists-invite-artists residency last year (’08).  My definition of a studio pot prototype is the same as that for industrial design: “an original, full-scale, and usually working model of a new product or new version of an existing product”.   I needed to practice working with the wire, and to see how the wire interacted with the form, so completed this one form to understand the idea better in three-dimensions.  I still have a ways to go for the prototype to better match my ideas and drawings.  The role of “designer” is one of my many jobs to which I’m not able to devote a lot of time.  I will continue to pick away at this idea (using the wire to create an additional form or layer that corresponds with the clay, and allows the flower stems to be visible through the body).  However, it will definitely take time to evolve.  More drawing and play are in order!

Home as Sketch & Vase

I first made a small house form (little, 4″h maybe) almost four years ago when we bought our home. It currently sits in a windowsill near our front door, reminding me of its idea. Though this little guy was not a vase, vase forms in general have interested me for years because I like the idea of beauty holding beauty, and there are so many possibilities for shape, form and scale. Our house purchase and accompanying sense of Home, gave me the idea to pair my interest in flower display with the new feeling of place, and that first little house sculpture was the beginning.

House_forms_SketchIII kristen_kieffer_house_vases

Three years later (!), when I was at Watershed in June of ’08, I worked out an idea for a slab-built house form as a vase for three flower stems. It was related to both the tile forms I’ve been making, but a free-standing version with openings, and the flower bricks. The drawings, above left, are from Watershed (with the addition of a collaged-on bungalow illustration I found and liked). This last year I made more (above right; a detail of this grouping is also my current website header), and have been drawing new ideas since: salt-box and cottage style vases, different “door” and “window” decoration, various “roof” shapes and size concepts in relation to different flower types.

I’ve written before about how important my sketchbook is to my development of new forms. The sketches are like bookmarks for ideas, like the little house in my windowsill. I have one place where I record my brainstorms (even if I draw on random pieces of paper, they ultimately get taped into my latest sketchbook), and so can easily flip back through a current or older sketchbook to re-work or tackle an idea.

House_Forms_SketchI House_Forms_SketchII
House_vases_In_Progress

Though not all ideas become pots, my tendency is to draw, then make the form and then draw again to reassess what I learned from the first round. There could be a 24-hour or 4 year gap between those stages, but that’s a typical progression. So the  drawings above are from the last six months after that first round.  I still haven’t made the “compound” house form (above right), but did complete the pictured  grouping of small (7″h) house forms yesterday that incorporate some of the different architectural styles I had been contemplating in the above image, left.

I will post these again after they have been glaze-fired, hopefully outfitted with some approriate posies.  This round of houses was thrown on the potter’s wheel instead of slab-built which gave them a natural fuller form (kind of marshmallowy).  I had to laugh when I finished the second or third.  I scaled these down by a couple of inches and also experimented with a square “footprint” in addition to rectangular.  The result for one in particular was a bit more outhouse than house, especially with the little window slit in the door.  I do laugh a lot in my studio, but this is a good example of the unexpectedness that can materialize from translating two to three-dimensions (though I do 3-D paper and/or clay “sketches” too), how improvisation and scale can impact an idea, and that fun is really important to my making.

Baskets In Progress & Upcoming

Kristen_Kieffer_Wire_Baskets KK_Wire_basket_I

This is just a quick blog post to show some recently finished (leatherhard) wire baskets, and let you know what’s coming up in my schedule. First, the Small Wire Flower Baskets. These little pieces (7-8″h) were thrown on the potter’s wheel, altered, stamped, built and finally, finished with slip-trailing and sponging accents and of course, the wire. I will post the finished (glaze-fired) pieces in a couple of weeks. I see these as small variations on the Wire Flower Brick I began making in 2005 (image in last post and some explanation of Kanthal wire on my Process page).  I imagine them to also be used for flowers; small, informal bouquets maybe from your garden.

And now, my schedule:
Kristen_Kieffer_JarsI posted a couple more pots to my Etsy store.  These will be the last adds for a few weeks.  I hope you will consider buying handmade for upcoming gifting needs.  (Dads like my pots too, hint, hint.)

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LillStreetThis week is the end of a short making cycle specifically for new work to send to both Red Star Studios and Northern Clay Center for a July show and gallery feature, respectively.  This week is also the opening of the 4 x 4: Twenty Women, 100 Pots show at Lill Street.  This should be an outstanding show with an amazing range of pots to behold.  Thank you to my fellow OU alum Lorna Meaden for the invitation!

For the month of July, I will be teaching a Monday afternoon class at Harvard University’s Ceramics Program.  The class is getting full, so if you have interest, sign up now, and I hope to see you.

Details for all of these events are on my Schedule page.

Lastly, just a reminder that you can still receive two postcards from me (details here), and a recommendation to become a FaceBook fan of Kieffer Ceramics.  Because I can post a quick sentence, the fans are the first to enjoy new images and updates.