Signature Style

 

There are a handful of questions that I am asked at every workshop: “How do you know when to dart?”, “How do you make your feet?”, and “How do you get the stamping to line up?!”, for example. The answers to those are fairly straightforward: practice, carving, and practice.

I’m teasing with the one-word answers, but alongside those simpler, technical how-to questions are toughies like, “How did you find/get/develop your style?” I love deep questions in workshops, the ones that are about being an artist. Those conversations are a big part of why I enjoy teaching. Workshops are a great forum for learning techniques and discussing quandaries like personal style, not for picking up “style tricks.” There is no sincere short answer to the style question during a workshop or in this blog (though “practice” is part of the answer).

 

A few years ago, while attending NCECA, I attended a lecture* that essentially encouraged the current generation of makers to look not to the former generations’ work for ideas, but rather to their influences. He stated that the prior generation, the WWII-era makers, looked at things (nature, gesture, history, architecture) not other people’s pots.  He expressed wonderment at a potential future in ceramics with artists referencing only the preceding generation.  This observation was profound to me.

To oversimplify with an example, if I like Linda Sikora’s work, rather than imitating her forms and surfaces, I could begin to develop my own voice by researching what has influenced her work. By delving into the handfuls of objects, cultures, and periods that have defined her style, my own work could become unique rather than simply referential. Who I am as a person and maker will affect how I respond to the exact same historic European porcelain pitcher that inspired her. That’s not to say I can’t appreciate, admire, and buy her work, but I am more likely to find my own voice by looking at what is behind her pots rather than just looking at her pots.

 

So that is one of the anecdotes I tell in a workshop to begin to explain how one might develop a style. I honestly think if an artist sets out with style as the goal rather than as a byproduct of making what he enjoys based on what inspires him, he will fail. (Though I’m sure there are artists who receive recognition this way, I don’t think they are happy, respected artists.)

Style is the amazing culmination of everything an artist has experienced, loves and is, manifested in an object. I touch on the wide range of things that have shaped my own work (and style) throughout this blog, and also discuss them in my Bio and Statement.

 

The images in this post represent some of the details—based directly on my influences and interests—I feel make my work unique, my style signatures: slip-trailed shapes that look like rolled fondant; ornate stamping; two-part cup handles;  and Kanthal wire as form. Vessels like my Corset series, surfaces like my satin color palette, and even an actual signature, like my name stamp (below) are also part of that design “signature”.  The best compliment I receive about my work is, “I’ve never seen anything like this before.”  What I bring to the pots is something no one else has: my touch, my eye, my mish-mash of interests and my passion. That’s style.

* I’m sorry to say I don’t remember the speaker for that 1998 Dallas/Ft. Worth NCECA slide lecture.  If someone knows, please drop me a note.

In Progress—Stamped cups

Just thrown cups Kieffer just stamped cups Kieffer pulled handles Kieffer
finished cups Kieffer Greenware bunny cup Kieffer

I have two more making days before I begin glazing for my Studio Sale the weekend of May 17 & 18th. Today I finished a bunch of stamped cups, the form I make the most. I have made over 80 in the last six months, and only have two in my studio, both of which will actually be shipped out next week. That doesn’t mean I have sold them all, but does mean many have and the rest are in galleries waiting to be.

These images (which I have posted on another blog before, but thought I’d do so again in this new space) illustrate some of the progression and stages of my cup making process: (1) twenty just thrown, (2) the same cups after stamping waiting to be trimmed, (3) the handle parts just pulled waiting to be applied, and (4 & 5) some finished cups prior to firing.

Making. It looks like more of a production process than it really is. It takes me a solid three days (often four) to throw, stamp, alter, trim, place handles and slip-trail twenty cups. I believe this is a little slower than some. It only takes a few minutes to throw a cup or pull a handle, but I spend quite a bit of time when all is said and done (including glazing) on each cup. Part of the reason is that my handles have two parts, thus some extra work. The rest of the additional time is in the detail…like slip-trailing the bunny tails on the cup above. Though they are stamped, there is still refining of the image at various stages to be done. I fell asleep one night figuring that I touch a single cup over forty times during all the processes of making and glazing. That doesn’t include the post-steps of wrapping to ship out or take to a show.

Stamping. I have over twenty different stamps at any given time. (I try to make new ones when I get a chance, and subtract others over time.) So when I have twenty cups to decorate, I may only use the same stamp once. On the twenty I will finish tomorrow, half will be stamped with a pattern and the other half will be stamped with an animal (bunny, bird, etc.). And since I use nine different glazes, each one will be unique between the color and decoration. I’m not claiming that over the course of a year or so, there aren’t repeats of a stamp and color combo, but I do want to emphasize the one-of-a-kind nature of my work, even within a series. Everything is always changing, so it keeps things interesting for me (and you).

Outside of my “spec” work for shows, I do take commissions for more specific combinations. Last year I had one client desire four cups with four different stamps in the same color. And another want four different colored bunny cups.

Handles. I began making them in two parts during graduate school (at Ohio University) because I thought my work needed an aesthetically different kind of handle, and I was —and continue to be— influenced by metal-working. Early this last summer, I lopped off the curlicue that had long been at the end of the smaller handle section. I needed a change. And that is how things change in my work…a little at a time.

Kieffer signature

All of my work is signed, “Kieffer”. The cups have an additional chop (signature stamp) at the bottom of the handle of a mirrored “K” for my initials. I have signed all my work since I began with either or both of these.