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.

Asparagus Valley Pottery Trail Guest

Asparagus Valley Pottery Trail poster / flyer 2013

I will be a guest artist at this year’s Asparagus Valley Pottery Trail, a self-guided driving tour of clay studios in central-western Massachusetts (the northern I-91 corridor). This year there will be eight guests in addition to the nine potters who will welcome visitors to their studios. My pots and I will be guesting at Francine Ozereko’s studio in Pelham, MA.

9th Annual Asparagus Valley Pottery Trail
April 27 & 28, 2013
10 am – 5 pm

2013’s roster of potters includes: Hayne Bayless and Sam Taylor at Tom White’s studio; Lucy Fagella; Stephen Earp; Todd Wahlstrom at Mary Barringer’s studio; Dan Bellow at Molly Cantor’s studio; Mara Superior at Donna McGee’s studio; Kaleidoscope Pottery at James Guggina’s studio; Adero Willard at Tiffany Hilton’s studio; and me at Francine’s studio.

Visit the AVPT page on Facebook for great studio pix, and the AVPT website for studio maps and more details. Come on out, New Englanders!

PS: My springtime sale at my home studio in Baldwinville, MA
is the following weekend, May 4th & 5th.

2013 WCC Pottery Invitational

WCC Pottery Invitational 2013

The 2013 Pottery Invitational Show & Sale at the Worcester Center for Crafts (where I teach adult classes) is April 5th – 7th, 2013. I’m so pleased to be a part of this great two and a half day exhibition and sale that was curated by fellow potters Hayne Bayless and Hannah Niswonger. The show comprises a fantastic group of twenty-one studio potters from New England who will be standing side-by-side with their work as well as demonstrating for the weekend (including me), making this an exceptional event! Visit the link to read all about events within the event, details, and times here.

Artists include Hayne Bayless, Dan Bellow, Molly Cantor, Autumn Cipala, Arthur Halvorsen, Robbie Heidinger, Jody Johnstone, Martina Lantin, Michael McCarthy, Hiroshi Nakayama, Hannah Niswonger, Kiara Matos, Tom O’Malley, Francine Ozereko, Rob Sieminski, Brian Taylor, Sam Taylor, Holly Walker, Tom White, Adero Willard, and myself. It’s a must attend event for my fellow New Englanders!

Lovely Intangibles: A Statement

This is the article I wrote for the NCECA Journal, Volume 34 as one of the
demonstrating artists for the 2013 conference in Houston; my thoughts on
function and ornamentation:

Kristen Kieffer Cups 'Clover deluxe'

“Look Doris, someday you’re going to find that your way of facing this realistic world just doesn’t work. And when you do, don’t overlook those lovely intangibles. You’ll discover those are the only things that are worthwhile.” ~ John Payne as Fred Gailey in the 1947 film Miracle on 34th Street

I believe beauty is a worthwhile pursuit, and my pots are a celebration of that beauty. Stated simply, I make decorative pottery that is meant to be used. While working in my studio, I simultaneously consider the aspects of a well-functioning pot and the elegant decoration that enhances a strong form. These three components (function, ornamentation, and form) combined yield a beautifully designed object celebrating the beauty of everyday use. This “ornate utility” is probably an oxymoron to some, but it is my goal as a potter. I seek to make pots that balance good function with robust decoration, which is very different from making complex pieces for special occasions. The latter pursuit is more about elaboration than use. Making decorative pots for everyday requires equal consideration of function, form, and surface; an attention and tribute to what I call the “lovely intangibles.”

The lovely intangibles are what I think about when I’m working in my studio and reference when I teach; the elements that we can be more aware of when they are missing, ironically, than when they are included. They are the aesthetic and functional components that make up the whole of a considered pot, anything from the ribbed edge that delineates a curve to the shadowed reveal of a carved foot. They are the fine details necessary in creating an equally well-functioning yet elegant piece, but something that may not be definable (or even identifiable) to the user. These lovely imperceptible, elusive intangibles are crucial in the completion of a beautiful, useful object.

My active consideration of the details is required for the pots to be both appreciated and used when they leave my studio. The best compliment is when a customer is attracted to my work because of the form, picks up the piece because of the surface, and delights in the strength of the piece once it is in their hands; none of which may have been conscious thoughts. A customer’s split-second conclusion to like and/or buy a piece is in response to my attention to all the micro and macro intangibles, like purposefully making my pottery handles plump, walls strong, and lips full for comfort, for example. By altering and/or stamping the clay at an early stage I refer to as suede, the pots have a soft appearance which makes them more inviting. I use a variety of decoration techniques like slip-trailing and slip-sponging to provide tactility and visual depth. All of my work is glazed with mostly satin surfaces of rich colors adding to the user’s pleasure. The integration of tactile decoration with soft forms and solid components make the pieces touchable and inviting.

I refer to my work as ‘ornately, elegant for everyday’ and classify my pots as ‘Victorian modern.’ Both of these phrases fit my desire for cross-cultural influence, and an appreciation of an era when ornamental abundance was also useful. I want to offer my customers a bit of luxury for their home décor and daily life. My hope as a maker is to marry my diverse influences and the splendor of past eras with a modern desire for artistry and function. My influences range from 18th century, silver service pieces and Moroccan architecture to couture clothing and industrial design for form ideas, and from Art Nouveau illustrations and vintage embroidery to cake fondant and upholstery for pattern ideas. Such diversity combined with my own background and distinct studio processes culminate into a style that I hope is as unique as it is luxurious.

I enjoy my pursuit of beauty, making ornately functional pots for those who would like a little elegance in their everyday. Attention to those lovely intangibles so another can enjoy their morning coffee a little more is what makes being in my studio worthwhile.

Studio KotoKoto ‘Hearty Cuppa’

I’m delighted to have four yunomi in the online Hearty Cuppa show with Studio KotoKoto, as well as share my excitement for this new and beautifully-executed online retailer (est. fall of 2012).

Studio KotoKoto offers distinctive, handmade objects by artists from Japan, the U.S., and around the world. In selecting these thoughtfully designed items, we bring you the stories of the artists, their aesthetics, and the materials they use. We promote talented artists who carry on the tradition of individual craftsmanship. ~ Kathryn Manzella and
Ai Kanazawa

Check out their lovely blog post about the show, which includes cups by potter faves Diana Fayt, Ayumi Horie, Birdie BoonePeter Pincus, plus more cups from U.S. and Japanese makers. Make sure you “like” Studio KotoKoto on Facebook to stay tuned for details on this and future shows, and to see more romantic pix of handmade like the ones framing this post.

The cups I chose to send celebrate the coming of spring as well as Valentine’s Day. For me, spring is a signifier of growth, color, and budding romance, particularly for little animals like the pictured quail and bunnies frolicking in the flowers of my yunomi cups.

Hearty Cuppa celebrating Valentine’s Day with handmade.

  Diana Fayt at Studio KotoKoto Peter Pincus at Studio KotoKotoKieffer yunomi at Studio KotoKoto Kristen Kieffer at Studio KotoKoto

Pictured: cups by Birdie Boone, Ayumi Horie, Joseph Pintz, Sakai Mika, Diana Fayt, Peter Pincus, and myself. Photos courtesy of Ai Kanazawa at Studio KotoKoto.

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!