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.

Teaching Again!

wccclayclassI am very pleased to announce, share or repeat that the Worcester Center for Crafts is re-opening this January!  Some of you may know about its closure, but I am now delighted to report that Enameling, Glass, Metals, Photography and CERAMICS (both wheel-throwing and handbuilding) studios will all begin classes the week of January 18th.

And after a year “off” from where I taught for over seven years, I will be back teaching Wednesday mornings and evenings! This news is nothing short of miraculous.  Please show your support by joining WCC’s email list here, taking a one-day workshop, attending exhibitions in the gallery, buying handmade in the gift shop, volunteering for events, and of course, signing up for a class the week of Thanksgiving!  Our community has much to be thankful for!

“Surface” DVD Progress

Kristen_Kieffer_video_I

As some of you know, in May I spent about five days demonstrating in my studio for my first how-to dvd: Surface Decoration, Suede to Leatherhard.  I thought I’d let you know that I’ve seen the rough cut, and am pretty excited about it (especially after I got over the weirdness of watching myself).  Videos have as many steps as ceramics, so for this big first foray, it’s not surprising to report we are a bit off schedule.

Video_II
This dvd will include techniques I use and some I enjoy but don’t currently incorporate in my own work. All are “suede” to leatherhard decoration techniques mostly using slip, including stamp-making and stamping, slip-trailing, sponging, paper resist, water-etching, sgraffito, mishima, carving and sprigging. My goal is to show techniques with which you may not be familiar, offer a new take on the traditional and generally excite interest in the potential of the ceramic surface.

Kristen KiefferI strongly feel that in-person instruction is best, and a video by anyone is no substitution for classroom interaction, workshop question-and-answer or one-on-one discussion. I know not everyone is able to take a workshop or class, and I realize that many of those who are able to attend one of my workshops may like a video to review some learned techniques.

I will continue to keep you all posted!

Suede Soft

kk_dartsuede (swād) n. 1. Leather with a soft napped surface. 2. Fabric made to resemble suede. —adj. 1. The state of clay for a slab or thrown vessel just after “wet,” when the surface is no longer sticky, but still very flexible. 2. A stage of formed clay closer to wet than leather hard. 3. Earlier than “early leather”. 4. The only stage at which I stamp, alter, and dart. [Eng. Kieffer 2003]

Workshop Images

I’ve been traveling a bit for the last couple weeks teaching workshops and am off again next week to OH and then NH.  I thought I would post some images and a link to more (below).  The last two workshops (MI and PA) each had a participant in the audience who also happened to be a professional photographer.

kristen_kieffer kk_kkand_audience kk_pitcheri
kk_dart kk_cup_demo kk_corset_dart kk_covered_jar kk_cosetii

Thank you to Dave Thomas (visit link here to see more images from the MCCC workshop) and Mike Kuhn!

The Economy Hits Home

wccclayclassToday (1/6) I received a phone call that the Worcester Center for Crafts —which has been open for 152 years and where I have taught for almost 8— is closing for a “strategic pause”, and without a serious infusion of cash, will close permanently.  This is very sad news for the metro Worcester community, Massachusetts, New England and the craft world as a whole, and very hard news for those of us who depend on the income from teaching and working at the Center. I, my husband and our WCC friends and colleagues, as well as our students, will be deeply impacted by this.

wcc

Information from today’s (1/7) local online paper:  “Almost all the center’s staff of about 45 people, most of them part time [instructors like me], have been laid off… To reopen, the Center needs about $1.2 million, to retire debt and finance a restart, a steep challenge in the current economic climate.”

wcc_wheelstudio

There is more information about the Center at the WCC website where you can check for updates and make donations: http://www.worcestercraftcenter.org

“Sustaining craft as a vital part of our world.”