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

Echoing Mentor John Glick

I’m thrilled to share the link to a video interview with studio potter John Glick reflecting on nearly fifty years of being a full-time artist and mentor, plus a fantastic segment on his glazing (a truly wonderful treat).

Anyone who has taken a workshop with me knows how important and influential my one-year residency (1996-97) with John was and continues to be in my own life as a studio potter. I credit John with teaching me everything from properly packing pots and caring for my back by standing to throw, to my use of particular decoration techniques and—most importantly—that play is a crucial part of studio practice.

Pictured stills from the Cultural Connection: John Glick video interview, produced by the City of Farmington Hills Video Division. Watch the video here.

It’s a humbling delight to hear John refer to my year in his studio (04:15 – 07:45), and think back with fondness about that time of exploration, which helped pave the way to my being a full-time artist now. He uses the word “echo,” which is perfect as his support, energy, and influence have indeed reverberated through my mind and work (and back!) for the last sixteen years. He played a big part in my sense of discovery and exploration, and I’m thankful.

Thank you, John & Susie!

Garden Influence & Flora Faves

Details of my pots above: Deluxe clover cup, Small covered jar, Large plate,
Flower brick, Screen vase pair, & Wall pillow tile.

More flowers have been popping up on my work in the last couple of years. And why not? I love them! In the dead of a Massachusetts winter, I long for spring and summer, and daydream about those floriferous seasons by placing a little bit of them on my pots.

Penstemon & Eupatorium  Knautia  Geranium & sedumLady's Mantle, Alchemilla  Allium bulgaricum  Heuchera and dicentra

First row: Penstemon & Eupatorium, Knautia, and Sedum & Geranium.
Second row: Alchemilla, Allium bulgaricum, and Heuchera.

I am completely preoccupied with being outside during this time of year, specifically, with being in or sitting beside my flower garden. I wrote about my lovely distraction four years ago in this Perennial Influence post, which still perfectly articulates every sentiment I have for gardening, so I hope you’ll give it a read. A recent pic I posted to my Ceramics Page of my main perennial bed and the corresponding number of thumbs up seems to indicate a universal need and appreciation for beauty and diversion, so I thought I’d do an updated pictorial from garden.

Dicentra & Lamium  Sedum  NepetaSpirea & Knautia  Digitalis & Knautia  Heuchera, Hosta & Fern

First row: Dicentra & Lamium, Sedum, and Nepeta.
Second row: Spirea, Digitalis & Knautia, and Heuchera, Hosta & Fern.

I seem to think about my plantings very similarly to how I think about my pots: How do they look from farther away, as well as close up? What colors best compliment a grouping? What shapes and textures add to the whole? Which are heartbreakers not worth the effort, and which make me the most happy?

Salvia  Lupine  Dogwood, Heuchera, Geranium & HostaIlex  Hosta Patriot  Dicentra

First row: Salvia, Lupine, and Geranium, Heuchera, & Red-twig dogwood.
Second row: Ilex, Hosta (Patriot), and Dicentra.
All images courtesy of my gardens.

Happy Summer!
Below are detail pix of pottery and sculpture faves that have hugs & kisses of flora.

Michael Connelly  Matt Wedel  McKenzie SmithMakoto Kagoshima  Baraby Barford  Kurt Anderson  Michael Kline  Michael Sherrill  Steve Colby

First row: Michael Connelly, Matt Wedel, and McKenzie Smith.
Second row: Makoto Kagoshima, Baraby Barford, and Kurt Anderson
Third row: Michael Kline, Michael Sherrill, and Steve Colby.

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.

Polka Dot Origin, Influence, & Faves

Dots on my pots!

  Corset series vessel w. dots    

My recent work with dots: Screen vase pair, yunomis, flower vessel (Corset series), pitcher, small covered jars, small stamped bowls, and plate.

I started layering dots (and stripes, which will be a future blog post with more influences and faves) in early 2010. The added pattern came through self-critique and seeing a need to both visually pop the raised slip-trail patterns by providing small background color, as well as add some modern fun to the Victorian flavor of my work.

So the primary purpose for the polka dots was to further my love of layered surfaces for the pots, formally creating even more richness and depth. The dots punctuate the patterns.

A close secondary function for the dots has been to add some joyfulness; polka dots are rarely somber. Though I do receive some comments by folks who favorably see ‘Disney,’ I think my pots can appear more serious than I actually am or intend. In some ways, I’m still the five-year-old tomboy who hated my freckles (my own personal polka dots), deciding one summer day that, with the aid of my grape-smelling marker, they would be much better purple. So, the dots are a way to include my influences of sweets, for example, as well as infuse connotations of informality and playfulness.

You can check out all the dotty pots in my online shop here.

Polka dot influences below with more here:


Norma Kamali dressTattoo round rug by Deanna Comellini  

.Pictured above from top right, first row: Peter Murdoch ‘Dot chair’ for kids; Dot window building in Beirut, Lebanon; and ‘Confetti’ tree skirt.  Second row: Draga Mathilde sofa; and Yayoi Kusama concept store for Louis Vuitton.  Third row: June Leaf organic canvas in Marine; Mod fashion;  and vintage dress.  Fourth row: White-grey ombre dot cake; paper straws; and slipper chair.  Fifth row: Norma Kamali dress; Tattoo round rug by Deanna Comellini; and ‘Op-art Attracts’ wedge by ModCloth.  Last row: Quilt in progress by Judy Martin and starfish.

The origin of the Polka Dot: It is believed that the name “polka dot” came from the Polish polka dance, and first appeared by name in 1854 in The Yale literary magazine. At the same time that the polka dance and music began in the mid 19th century, polka dots were popular and common on clothing. The pattern name was chosen simply because the dance gained such acclaim, which led to many contemporary products and fashions also taking the name. (There used to be “polka-hats” and “polka-jackets,” for example.) Most disappeared with the popularity of the actual polka dance in the late 1800s. Only the printed fabric pattern remained fashionable, and the name stuck.

Polka dot favorites of fellow studio potters and ceramic artists:

Andrew Martin  Brenda Quinn  Malene Helbak
Kari Radasch  Jun Kaneko polka dot sidewalk, Art Museum of South TX
Chiho Aono  Sandblasted process, Hans Tan Studio via Ateliér Keramiky  Ayumi Horie
Harrison McIntoshMeredith Host  Harumi NakashimaTetsuo Hirakawa  Betty Woodman  Sean O'Connell

Pictured above from top right, first row: Andrew Martin, Brenda Quinn, and Malene Helbak.  Second row: Kari Radasch and Jun Kaneko.  Third row: Chiho Aono, Hans Tan Studio, and Ayumi Horie.  Fourth row: Harrison McIntosh, Meredith Host, and Harumi Nakashima.  Last row: Tetsuo Hirakawa, Betty Woodman, and Sean O’Connell.

Pierced Pottery: Basket Faves & Influence


A couple weeks ago, I was in my studio pondering, and had a ‘piercing epiphany.’ I haven’t had time to do more than draw just yet, but am excited about expanding my use of piercing/reticulation/cut-outs (as pictured above) on some new and existing forms as a way to play with line, light and shadow, and form through articulated pattern.

The development of new forms paired with new surfaces is a given goal, but some days I feel more inspired (a.k.a. internally pressured) to bring that back-burnered desire to the fore. That drive usually sends me to my books on silver, my favored springboard for new forms. (It is perhaps odd to be influenced by centuries-old objects with functions so specific, many are now obsolete, but most any form for me can become an idea for a vase, which can then lead to many more ideas.)

So I was down in my studio thinking, but my books were upstairs and are worn from years of gleaning, and my computer was downstairs with me and filled with new, enticing images I’ve been bookmarking, so of course, I opened my computer. I visited my own Pinterest boards where I ‘pin’ both objects I enjoy (favorites) and objects that inspire my forms and surfaces (influence). A common thread popped out to me from my Form & Pattern, Oldies But Goodies, Ceramics: Vintage/Historical, and Ceramics: Studio Potters/Artists boards, and sent me to my sketchbook to draw: Piercing.


Pierced work was very popular in both silver and pottery in the 18th century (particularly the latter half) in England and Europe. I haven’t found specific information claiming so, but piercing seems a wonderful blend of form and function: the cut-outs allow air circulation (for food service and storage) while both visually defining form and lightening materials (silver, clay, wood) that can otherwise appear a bit more heavy or dense. (I sometimes envy glass’ ability to be simultaneously solid and transparent.) I also enjoy pierced elements in architecture, furniture, clothing, and many more mediums.

So, I’ve yet to get started on my own cut-outs, but have done some drawings, am very excited about minimal and maximal piercing (particularly for fruit bowls and baskets), and collected some of my favorite basket-y forms by fellow studio potters mixed in with ones from the 18th c. for you below. Enjoy, check out my new Pinterest board Cut-out & Cagey, and stay tuned for some pierced pots from my own studio!


From top left: Rebecca Chappell; Shorthose & Heath creamware; and Kari Radasch. Second row: Dr. Wall chestnut basket, c. 1750s; and Bryan Hopkins. Third row: Baddelly creamware basket, c. mid 1700s; and Creamware basket, c. 18th century. Fourth row: Brian Jones; and Bruce Cochrane. Fifth row: Odette fruitbowl w. silver stand; Steven Godfrey; and Monticello creamware basket (reproduction). Sixth row: Malene Mullertz; and Julie Crosby. Seventh row: Spode Pierced Creamware Basket and Stand, c. 1820. Last row: Sunshine Cobb; and Remodelista ‘Farmer’s market basket’.