‘Valenspringtine’ In Progress

Kristen Kieffer yunomi (in progress) w. flowers, Colorized series  Kristen Kieffer Deluxe clover cup (in progress), Arabesque modern seriesKristen Kieffer Deluxe clover cup (in progress) w. stripes and polka dots  Kristen Kieffer yunomi (in progress) w. Honey bees, Pollinator series

Pictured are my in-progress, Deluxe clover cups and Yunomi
at the leatherhard stage with completed decoration.

December tends to be a quieter time in my studio, a month I try to use for play and development in the midst of ongoing deadlines. For the last six weeks, I’ve focused on color, specifically more.

Around 2012, I began to add hand-brushed color in my stamp patterns, from bits to a bit more. Since this past spring, I’ve been hand-brushing several colors into one or two whole stamps (an image stamp vs. an abstract pattern) creating what I refer to as my Colorized Series. For me, the dazzling color from one completely colored image creates a focal point. The surrounding, uncolored stamps feel wistful and softer, like memories. Hand-coloring every stamp would be prohibitively time-consuming, but more importantly, full color on every image would feel commercial. I want to entice the cup’s owner to turn it ’round in the hand to find, appreciate, and ponder each honey bee (above), for example, colored and uncolored.

The delightful reception to my new Colorized cups encouraged me to delve deeper into cherry reds and cupcake pinks during my December play month. I’m a huge lover of color, but the technical logistics of color in ceramics, in addition to my general glacial aesthetic growth (in no small part because I allow myself to be a precise maker) slowed my figuring of how exactly to bring color to my pots. Suffice it to say, color is happening!

This particular color palette and my ongoing desire for it to be spring year-round (which does not happen here in Massachusetts) lead me to spend my six weeks of play on Valentine-inspired cups, a new series with colorful shapes I’m calling Arabesque Mod (a nod to my love of Islamic art, juiced with contemporary color and mod flair), new flower stamps, and as many polka dots and stripes as I could fit on a cup (above).

The ‘Valentine/Spring in Feb’ or ‘Valenspringtine’ cups, tumblers, and few tableware pieces will be listed in my online shop on Friday, January 30th at noon EST.

Breakfast Special

Kristen Kieffer Breakfast settings for two and serving

My toast rack, egg cups & caddy, butter dish, and place settings for two
for
Breakfast styled by me at our dining room table.

I received the invitation to participate in a show titled Breakfast (online and in Philly at The Clay Studio 11/7 – 1/4) in April from fellow potter Bryan Hopkins. Each potter was to make their interpretation of a toast rack, egg cups, butter dish or jam jar, plus two plates and cups. I immediately set to work on drawings, particularly of toast racks, knowing I wanted to use wire instead of clay for the dividers. (Indeed, I spent a three-hour flight to a workshop drawing toast racks!)

Kristen Kieffer sketchbook, toast rack drawings

My sketchbook drawings of toast rack ideas.

Kristen Kieffer Toast Rack II

Toast rack in Aqua, Drape-molded (from my design) and altered porcelain with carved,
slip-sponge, underglaze, slip-trail, and Mishima deco, cone 7 oxidation
with multiple glazes, and steel wire.

For the month of May, I was a Visiting Artist at the Archie Bray Foundation in Helena, MT, and spent a chunk of my studio time developing the serving prototypes for this show, as well as making my egg cups and caddies, which I glaze-fired and completed at my home studio.

Kristen Kieffer Egg cups and Caddy

Egg cups & Caddy in Frost, Wheel-thrown, altered and built porcelain with carved, slip-sponge, underglaze, and slip-trail deco, cone 7 oxidation with multiple glazes, and steel wire.

Kristen Kieffer Butter Dish, Periwinkle

Butter dish in Periwinkle, Hand-built porcelain with slip-sponge, underglaze, slip-trail,
and Mishima deco, cone 7 oxidation with multiple glazes.

I don’t often make sets, but do enjoy playing with what defines one. With the pieces for this show, I didn’t want all one glaze color (I used a color family of five), nor identical elements that “match.” Every piece has sky blue underglaze (the stripes and dots of ceramic color I brush on before the first firing because I want it to be layered under my slip-trailing); my swirled slip-sponge pattern (the subtle background texture); and my slip-trail dots and ‘leaf swirl’ pattern. While I played with variations of stripes and polka dots on each piece, as well as how I laid out my leaf swirl, they all share the same style and attention to detail that makes them feel related as a whole, yet able to be mixed and matched or stand strongly alone. (The Yellow Pear cup would just as easily pair with the Spring green plate, for example.)

Kristen Kieffer Breakfast setting yellow pear

Deluxe clover cup & Plate (medium) in Yellow Pear, Wheel-thrown and altered porcelain
with slip-sponge, underglaze, and slip-trail deco, cone 7 oxidation.

Kristen Kieffer Breakfast setting green

Deluxe clover cup & Plate (medium) in Spring Green, Wheel-thrown and altered porcelain
with slip-sponge, underglaze, and slip-trail deco, cone 7 oxidation.

Breakfast opens online and in Philly at The Clay Studio on Friday, November 7 and continues through January 4, 2015, and includes sets by Blair Clemo, Lindsay Oesteritter, Lisa Orr, Meredith Host, Roberto Lugo, Emily Schroeder Willis, and Bryan Hopkins as well as myself.

This was a quite a challenge for me with months of planning and testing yielding one-of-a-kind results. I’m delighted with the final pieces and hope you’ll check the show, in-person if you can, and online for all. Thank you for ‘egging’ me on, Bryan!

Kristen Kieffer Breakfast set (above)

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!

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!

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.

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.

Candy, Striped & Quilted

A pictorial montage of some current influences…

  
    
   

…fondant deco, quilted materials (leather, glass and couches), Japanese prints, stripes, candy colors, couture details, tatted shapes, plastic sandwich container form, climbing roses and arched fencing, dots… and stripes.

  
    

Hope to be posting images of some new work that relate to these images (if only in my mind) soon!