The Buzz!

Kristen Kieffer Stamped cups with honey bees

The new addition to each my ‘pollinator’ and ‘colorized’ series is here: the honey bee! I made just three (Yellow Pear, Frost, and Spring Green) this round, and will post them in my online Etsy shop at 9 AM EST on Saturday (9/27).

The bee is the latest addition to my collection of stamps I design and make (accompanied by a flower and honeycomb stamp too on the Frost cup). I hand-brushed one on each side, which brings a focal point as well as dreamy dissolve to the cup pattern as a whole. I’ll write more about each series soon, but suffice to say –in my Victorian modern style– I am celebrating the incredible honey bee as an important part of our ecosystem with an additional nod to the Egyptian belief in them as a symbol for royalty.

Worcester Living Highlight

Worcester Living cover, Winter issue 2013 Worcester Living title page with Kristen Kieffer

Pictured: Left, Worcester Living cover, Winter 2013 issue.
Right, me on the article title page throwing in my studio, p. 51.

I’m delighted to share a local feature about me, my work and studio in the article “12 Crafters to know in Central Mass” for the new issue of Worcester Living magazine.

Kristen Kieffer Ceramics in Worcester Living, "12 crafters to know in Central Mass,"Winter 2013Author Julia Quinn Szcesuil wanted to highlight artists who live, work, and sell in Worcester County, but have also developed a following and sales nationally through online shops and social media. She did a great job summarizing my thoughts as a maker (which you can read by clicking the image left), and photographer Tom Rettig did a great job of getting me to smile.

Central MA-ers can always find my work in Worcester at the Worcester Center for Crafts where I also teach adult community pottery classes, as well as visit my my biannual home studio sales here in Templeton, usually in early May and early November. (To receive updates about new work, studio sales, and more, sign up for my not-too-frequent enewsletter,  connect with me on Facebook, and/or subscribe to my blog in the upper right of my website.)

And everyone can shop my online Etsy store, which is open and chock-full for the holidays with a few new pots to come in early December!

Garden Influence & Flora Faves

Kieffer Deluxe clover cup in Periwinkle Kieffer Small covered jar detail in Grape Kieffer Plate detail w. leaf pattern Kieffer Flower brick detail in Cornflower blue Kieffer Screen vase pair detail in Yellow pear Kieffer Pillow tile detail of Lilac pattern in Frost

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 & sedum Lady'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 Facebook 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 Nepeta Spirea & 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 & Hosta Ilex 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 Smith Makoto 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.

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!