My House is Filled with Birds

Owls_on_bike Fridge_bird
Hummingbird Candlestick

Clockwise from top right: Bird magnet (Kathryn Finnerty pot in background); Robin candlestick (John Glick pot in background); Hummingbird from a French deco/vintage bird illustration calendar; and Owls on tandem bicycle tea towel.

I made my first bird stamp during a workshop I taught in spring of 2006 at the Odyssey Center for Ceramic Arts in Asheville, NC.  The idea of incorporating animals into my patterning had been brewing for a while, and a little chubby bird was the first to make his way around one of my pots.  Since then I have made over 20 animal stamps, but birds are definitely the dominate animal in my stamp bin.

Brick_birds Chicken
To-do_bird Bead_bird

Clockwise from top right: Glass chicken from my Great Grandma; Beaded Hornbill by an African artist; Bird ornament;and a Kiwi (?) on a reclaimed brick from the Non Fiction Design Collective with a blue, glass bird from my Grandma.

The birds pictured in this post came from almost every room in our house. I don’t consider us collectors of bird items and imagery, but noticed one day how many keep us company. I did a post recently about pattern in our home and how those things we see every day happily creep into our creative minds. I imagine this bird menagerie has certainly influenced my work.

Coo-koo_clock Benjie
Birdcage Duck

Clockwise from top right: Earthenware Rubber duck from Benjie Heu’s Trophy sculpture series; Female Mallard Duck painting by Andrew Woodward; Cockatiels in cage image; and Cuckcoo clock image.

There are three primary reasons I began to incorporate bird (and animal) imagery into my pots.  One, by adding a bird into the layers on a piece, the surface is more than just a pattern: it becomes an environment.  The second is my continuing interest in Art Nouveau pattern and decoration.  There are many gorgeously rendered animals with flowing lines and curlicues I admire depicted in illustrations, textiles and objects from that era.  A Nouveau bird as a repeated motif blurs into a lacey pattern and then re-emerges as a stately flock as our eyes choose on which lines to focus.  The third reason is because they make me happy.

Glass_Bird Kiwi
Joe Bluebird

Clockwise from top right:  Porcelain and fabric Kiwi by Roberta Massuch; Angry Bluebird fridge magnet;Soda-fired porcelain Bird by Joe Bova; and Glass Dove by Beth Lipman.

I developed the fascination for animals and plants from my family of ardent nature-lovers.  From my fifth-grade science teacher Mr. Morton, the love for birds, their names and calls grew even more.  (He could imitate any bird, and I thought that was super cool.)  I have binoculars sitting on my desk by my computer to see “who” is flying through the trees in our backyard.  I plant perennials to attract different species, and was ecstatic this summer to see gold finches treating our garden like their own private, gourmet hangout.

Birdcage_tweet Gingko
Glass-candle Oven_bird

Clockwise from top right: Nuthatch in Gingko ink and color painting by Liang Wei; Blackbird toy; Hummingbird glass candleholder; and Wind-up caged bird.

I imagine artists are drawn to animal imagery for a variety of reasons.  Aside from the long, long history of birds depicted in ceramics by every culture imaginable, the use of animals in contemporary ceramics imagery—and birds in particular—has become popular in the last couple of years. (I’ve indeed heard that “birds are the new fish” for pottery.)  We see birds every day (fish, not so much).  Their image represents everything from hope and history to peace and protection.  In this era of technology and fast-pace, I wonder if makers now are drawn to nature and its animals for the same reason we hope the general public will continue to be drawn to handmade objects.

Heade_birds Owl
Shaw_bowl Toucans

Clockwise from top right: Barn Owl photograph by Sharon Montrose; Toucans in a Guinness beer sign;Porcelain Bird Flock Man Bowl by Sandy Shaw; and postcard of Passion Flowers and Hummingbirds painting by Martin Johnson Heade.

“Be as a bird perched on a frail branch that she feels bending beneath her, still she sings away all the same, knowing she has wings.” –Victor Hugo

KK_bird_Corset_detail KK_Bird_cups_detail

Details from my work: Two Sparrows Flower Vessel (Corset series)
and a grouping of stamped bird cups.

My Sketchbook: Not Just for Sketches

KKActualSketchbookII KKSketchbook4_09 KKSketchbook11_08KKSketchbook11_08II KKSketchbook_09_weaves KKSketchbook_chinaKKSketchbook_layers KKSketchbook_lighting KKSketchbook_oldKKSketchbook_oldII KKSketchbook_WW_Queen KKSketchbook_yummy

More than half my sketchbook is made up of gathered images, making my sketchbook as much an idea book as a place to draw.  Collected images, often mashed-up and flipped around, have become an important part of my process and influence to my work.  When I teach workshops, I usually pass out my last sketchbook because I think it is just as important to see how an artist develops an idea (the origination of a form, texture or sensation) as it is to see a demonstrated technique.  I gather images from all over (magazines, catalogs, museum pamphlets, postcards, etc.) so it’s hard to know where an image came from or when, and while I’ve gotten pretty good at noting what is in the image, sometimes there are lapses, so if it’s not noted now, I didn’t note it before.

KKActualSketchbookII KKSketchbook4_09

First row: This is my current sketchbook (’08-present). I made it using coptic binding, sewn with black waxed thread, allowing it to sit flat when open.  I use duct tape to strengthen and protect the corner edges and signatures for studio use and travel. The outside is collaged with sections from soap boxes. The second image has pictures of women’s and boy’s Russian munisak robes from late 19th to 20th century mixed with architectural details from a contemporary home.  I put these disparate images together because I liked the highly ornate from one time period next to the minimal of another, and both carry ideas for pottery deco.

KKSketchbook11_08 KKSketchbook11_08II

Second row: This first image is a mixture of writing and animal drawings of mine for stamps, collaged with animals from a catalog and Deerfield, a sculpture by Anne Lemanski. The second are notes I jotted next to a variety of industrial design objects and furniture I find influential for form and detail, including Devils wallpaper by Waterhouse for Brunschwig & Fils; Bluffer fauteuil by India Mahdavi for Ralph Pucci; wire birdcage candelabra by The Conran Shop; Variér Eight chair by Olav Eldøy; Now Isn’t That Lovely #7 sculpture by Stephen Johnson; and My Beautiful Backside couch by Doshi Levien for Moroso.

KKSketchbook_09_weaves KKSketchbook_china

Third row: The left image is a pairing in textures.  I love the negative space in each, but I mostly enjoy the dense texture that creates each shape: Light of Tomorrow sculpture by Mimura Chikuho and Welcome the Cube black jacket by Giles Deacon for Fay.  The second image is a collaged influence mixture of manufactured china by Calvin Klein, Paola Navone, Royal CrownDerby and Royal Copenhagen with a photograph I took of a painting in a window storefront in Berlin.

KKSketchbook_layers KKSketchbook_lighting

Fourth row: In the first image, the first page shows the dining room in Donatella Versace’s Milan apartment with murals of Chinese vases and jars on the walls.  The second page is a collage of fabric and wallcoverings by Jakob Schlaepfer with Baccarat Apparat crystal cups and decanter by 5.5 Designers.  On each page, I like the layering and the “real” mixed with its 2-D version.  The second image shows my affection for lighting as influence.  I have both these George Nelson pendant lamps and this Murano glass chandelier (I love the other colors it comes in too) in two different sketchbooks, I like them so much.  They are purposefully flipped sideways and upsidedown to suggest other forms.

KKSketchbook_old KKSketchbook_oldII

Fifth row: The first image is actually an old pairing I use in my slide presentation and had on my studio walls for years.  I put the two together because both Art Nouveau advertising images and Haute Couture clothing are influences, and because their stance and gesture are remarkably similar.  On the left page of the second image is a magazine ad with imagery that becomes tattoo-like, collaged over with a bird I cut out from a friend’s card.  The layering and suggestion is something I would like to have in my work.  The right-hand page is also a very old magazine ad that has been on various studio walls and in my slide presentation.  I purposefully taped this upsidedown to change the context from a couture Miyake dress to the silhouette of a footed vase with striking shadows and pin-stripes.  A reminder to play and change my perspective.

KKSketchbook_WW_Queen KKSketchbook_yummy

Last row:  The left image features two well-known characters and actors.  The costume/dress of both Wonder Woman (a childhood hero of mine) and Queen Elizabeth have been influences because of  their decorative and structured forms.  The contrast and similarity of these two pictures of strong women is both humorous and striking.  The second picture is another interesting pairing that I have titled “yummy” in my mind.  The shapes are curiously similar, but what I appreciate in each is their very different take on extravagance, decadence and compound form.  A crystal chandelier on the left and a sculpture detail of Cherry Bodies by Nikki Renee Anderson on the right.

PS: A hazard of having a glass of (red) wine while doodling in your sketchbook is a spill that results in wrinkled and lavender-tinged page edges.

Artist Favorites

Shepard_Fairey_Mujer_Fatal_mural Martin_Puryear_Bower_80
Alphonse_Mucha_Summer_1896 Wayne_Thiebaud_Boston_Cremes_69 Claes_Oldenburg_Dropped_Cone_2001
Charley_Harper_Shadow_Dancers_1969 Chuck_Close_Lorna_Simpson_2006 Shepard_Fairey_flowervine_red_2009 
Charley_Harper_upside_downy_1988 Kehinde_Wiley_Encourage_2007 Anish_Kapoor_sky_mirror_2006 Piet_Mondrian_Composition_1936

From top left: Shepard Fairey, Mujer Fatal mural; Martin Puryear, Bower, 1980; Second row: Alphonse Mucha, Summer, 1896;  Wayne Thiebaud, Boston Cremes, 1969; Claes Oldenburg & Coosje van Bruggen, Dropped Cone, 2001; Third row: Charley Harper, Shadow Dancers, 1969;  Chuck Close, Lorna Simpson, 2006;  Shepard Fairey, Flowervine Red, 2009; Fourth row: Martin Johnson Heade, Brazilian Orchid, 1875;  Charley Harper, Upside Downy, 1988;  Kehinde Wiley, Encourage good manners and politeness; brighten up your surroundings with plants, 2007; Last row: Anish Kapoor, Sky Mirror, 2006; and Piet Mondrian, Composition, 1936.

These are some of my favorite artists: disparate and similar, spanning over 100 years.  The culminating traits I see here are: formal investigations of line, space and contrast; decoration; beauty; minimalism; poignancy; humor; attention to detail; and a desire for viewer attention and/or participation.  There is overlap of two or more of these elements I enjoy, and hope to have in my own work, in the work by each of these artists.  Good stuff.

Favorites & Influences from the PMA

After teaching my workshop last Thursday at a community college outside of Philadelphia, I spent a leisurely afternoon at the Philadelphia Museum of Art on Friday. It was my second visit, and I highly recommend it.  Larger images of the entire collection are posted at the PMA website (I could only snag the smaller to post here).  These are some of my favorite objects, many of which I sketched and noted in my little sketchbook for future reference and influence.

animals_in_diamond_delft chest_over_drawers compote
green_vase bird_on_a_trough candlestick_sevres coffeepot coffeepot_ri
cylinder_desk_and_bookcase document_box dressing_table_pa
footstool_american bird_tree giorgio_morandi_still_life_1946
interior_of_a_cafe jug_iznik lilac_blossoms
mj_heade pair_of_candelabra persian_tabouret
pillow_song side_chair_pa spice_box two_hares vase_on_brass_mount
vase_with_lid wardrobe
surtout_centerpiece sofa yuan_pillow

From top left, first row: Animals in Diamonds (Dutch/Delft tiles) c.1585 Netherlands; Chest over Drawers, Pennsylvania c.1792; Compote, c.1846 France for President Polk; Second row: Vase, Chicago Terra Cotta Works 19thc. Illinois; Bird at Trough, c.1850 Pennsylvania German; Candlestick, c.1761 Sèvres, France; Coffeepot, c. 1800 Pennsylvania German; Coffeepot, c.1899 Rhode Island; Third row: Cylinder Desk and Bookcase, c.1800 PA; Document Box (painted tin), c.1830 PA; Dressing Table, c.1715 PA;  Fourth row: Footstool, c. 1730 PA; Bird Tree, c.1810 Pennsylvania German; Still Life by Giorgio Morandi, 1946; Fifth row: Interior of a Café by Santiago Rusiñol, 1892; Jug, 17th c. Iznik, Turkey; Lilac Blossoms by Christiaen van Pol, c.1800; Sixth row: Orchids in a Jungle by Martin Johnson Heade, c.1870s; Pair of Candelabra designed by Louis-Constant Sévin, c.1862 France; Tabouret (Persian), early 13th c. Iran; Seventh row: Pillow, Song Dynasty (960-1127) China; Side Chair, c.1870 PA; Spice Box (Painted maple), c. 1870 PA; Two Hares in Moonlight by Cho Tai Eok, Chosòn Dynasty 18th c. Korea; Vase on Brass Mount (glass), c. 1910 U.S.; Eighth row:Vase with Lid, c. 1768 Sèvres, France; Wardrobe designed by Sir Ambrose Heal, c. 1910 England; Last row: Centerpiece (Surtout), Strasbourg faience factory, c.1729 France; Sofa (one of a pair) c.1725 England; Pillow, Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) China.

Bird & Botanical Influences

illustration M.J.Heade Orchids Mckenzie engraving Peacock J.Hnizdovsky woodcut
 Plant Ornament book M.J.Heade passion Nouveau pattern
William Morris Tulip and Rose Vallentin illustration JollyBe cake William Morris lily drawing
Nouveau pattern M.J.Heade magnolia

From top left: an Australian illustration; Orchids & Spray Orchids with Hummingbirds painting by Martin Johnson Heade; coloured engraving by Daniel Mackenzie; peacock and peahen illustration; rooster woodcut by J. Hnizdovsky;  Second row: image plate from the book Plants & Their Application to Ornament; Passion Flowers & Hummingbirds painting by Martin Johnson Heade; Kingfishers, Dragonflies & Flowering Rush and Butterflies & Wood Sorrel illustrations by M. P. Verneuil; Third row: Tulip & Rose fabric by William Morris (1876); illustration by Mrs. Vallentin from the book Women of Flowers: A Tribute to Victorian Women Illustrators (J. Kramer, 1996); “Neoclassical floral design” wedding cake* by JollyBe Bakery; Golden Lily drawing for wallpaper by William Morris; Fourth Row: Bats & Poppies and Butterflies & Bellflowers illustrations by M. P. Verneuil; A Magnolia on Red Velvet painting by Heade.

Kieffer corset detailsFloral, or at least curlicue, imagery has been a part of (i.e. handles) or on the surfaces of my work for a while. But it was a more general reference. In the last two years, I have begun to place some of the botanical and animal (especially birds) imagery I enjoy, more literally into the surfaces. (I purposefully wrote “into” instead of “onto” because I hope the way that I apply slip, stamp and carve the surface makes the imagery feel a bit more a part of the form rather than flat.)

When I look at the illustrations above, what I like are the soft, repetitive lines that resolve themselves into symmetrical, organic pattern iced with color. The botanicals are easy to come by at antique shops, and I own a few. These drawings appeal to me more than a photograph would; they have a different kind of detail, slightly stylized and romantic. The Nouveau drawings and prints appeal to my sense of pattern and layering—a bird disappeared into a thickness of leaves.

I’m pretty sure the first Martin Johnson Heade painting I saw was at the National Gallery in D.C. a few years ago. They are striking in person, especially for their modest size. They have a wonderfully mysterious atmosphere and depth I would like to capture in some of my own bigger pieces.

Kieffer cups w. animalsMy favorite class as a kid —other than art— was my fifth grade science class with Mr. Morton in Louisville. He could imitate the sound of every bird in the field and trees behind the school, and describe their peculiar behaviors. I thought that was really cool. Between him and my parents, my interest (that curiosity and admiration) in nature, has been there for awhile, but I’ve only just now figured out how I might include it in my work. I think too, in our current culture, we need to reconnect with what’s outside.

Briefly, the peacock and rooster images have popped up in my work lately as an amusing way to quietly question the gender of decoration. If a decorative male bird is featured on work that is perceived as feminine because it is decorative, is it [the work] feminine or masculine? (Did ya catch that?)

Kieffer covered jars I just completed the two greenware covered jars pictured here (not a great image, sorry). This is a new form for me, and bigger too. The one on the left (15″h) has lilacs, and the other (13″h) reminds me of wallpaper.

On a different note, I am off for two weeks to play in clay with a group of other artists during a residency at Watershed called Artists-Invite-Artists. So I’m signing off for that time. May I suggest, while I am stepping away from my computer, that we all spend some of the summer reading real words on paper, like the imminent issue of SP hitting theoretical newsstands post haste!!

*Another cake, I know, I couldn’t resist. I also forgot to mention in the post below that I listen to CAKE all the time. These cakes from JollyBe are amazing, and will probably be featured here every time I mention an influence because she has one for everything! The one I pictured above stated with the image, “…design derived from a mattress cover chosen by the bride who uses mattress design as a source of inspiration for her own art.” How perfect is that for what I’ve been writing about?!

Back in July!

Cake as Influence

Thiebaud cake A. Steeter cake Oldenburg floor cake Cake Girls
Couture cake Thiebaud wedding cake M. Braun cake Trend de la Creme blog image
Cupcake color Architecture as cake Julia Jacquette cake painting

From top left: Wayne Thiebaud’s painting Let Them Eat Cake; Painted Bird Cake, (a real cake) by Amanda Streeter; Floor Cake by Claes Oldenburg; and couture wedding cakes. Second row: another couture wedding cake; Wedding Cake by Wayne Thiebaud; a real wedding cake by Margaret Braun; a great blog entry from Trend de la Cremé pairing runway fashion with couture cakes; Third row: cupcakes by Dozen Cupcakes; architecture as cake; and Julia Jacquette’s painting White on White (Thirty-six sections of wedding cake, swans).

I started looking at wedding cakes eight years ago for decoration ideas. It seemed an obvious reference for me as slip-trailing (squeezing liquid clay through a bulb syringe) is the clay equivalent to cake-decorating.

I’m not sure when I first came across Wayne Thiebaud’s pastry paintings from the ’60s, but I love them. If I could paint, that is the style and possibly content I would choose. I enjoy his fantastical and exaggerated use of color (hard shadows of electric pink) and style that reminds me of the vintage ads I like. The paint is thick, and somehow simultaneously gestural and precise. Some of my influences are abstract ideas, and that last sentence would be a good example of something I see [in a Thiebaud painting, for example] that I would like to emulate in my work —a feeling, a presence.

Kieffer tile trioI also just like the word, cake (the title of and text on the left tile, actually). I am drawn to the sound of certain words (Who doesn’t like to say rutabaga?), especially if they can have different meanings and contexts. I don’t know where I picked this up, but I sometimes use it as an expression to mean, “exceedingly lucky”. As in, “He is in a pretty cake situation since he married a millionaire,” for example.

I chose Claus Oldenburg’s Floor Cake to show because it fits today’s theme, and because I am drawn to his sculpture and drawing for making real, hard forms soft and humorous. Both elements I look to capture in my own work. Kieffer Soft Treasure box

It may or may not be obvious from the images I chose above (and from my last post below): many of my influences overlap. In these things, I see hard and soft lines, humor, form, context and content. A couture dress looks like a tiered cake which looks like a Victorian home, which could be a covered jar—or maybe that’s just me. As I’ve said before, we artists are the blenders of the disparate creating the unified.