Category Archives: Ceramics

Designing a Fireplace

During the last year, I had the opportunity to create a unique fireplace surround for a family in Lincoln, Massachusetts. The home owner was planning to hang a tapestry of her own design above the fireplace, so we worked together to compose a harmonious space.


My studio assistant Jill Strait and I made dozens of ceramic leaves and custom gray tiles for the background.


With the help of a grinder the tiles were sized, and we laid out the leaves to put together a pleasing composition.


Regina Gaudette and Rika Smith McNally helped me with the installation.


We used thin-set mortar that was dyed with green powdered pigments to attach the leaves to the gray tiles.


After a long day of work, we had a fireplace!




The Five Stages of Unloading a Kiln


Lo these many years that I have been working with clay, teaching it, learning about it, making all kinds of stuff, I still can’t get over how many emotions come up when I am firing a kiln.  It’s not unlike the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

First I imagine that this kiln load will be different from every other one: nothing will crack or craze, all the glaze will be smooth, colors will be harmonious.  Then I crack the lid and try to peek in when it’s really too hot to open which singes my eyebrows and makes me kind of irritated.  I should know better but it’s so hard to wait to open the kiln.  Then I start thinking about the commissioned platter on the second shelf.  Is it good to imagine it broken and already have accepted that disappointment before I lift off the top shelf?  Or is it bad karma to imagine it perfect and gorgeous before I get a chance to check it out?  In each firing there are several disappointments, often involving the one piece in the kiln which I do not want to re-do.

This leads to questioning as to why I continue to endlessly fool around with this medium that drives me nuts.  It’s unpredictable and labor-intensive and involves a lot of heavy lifting and ceramic pieces don’t command the respect they deserve in the art world.  Yet I still love the look and feel of colorful ceramic pieces.  Over the years I have rolled out slabs to make big tile murals, I have created large-scale platters with a terrific teacher Jeanee Redmond and I have worked with coils, pinch pots, and raku firing.  It is one medium I keep coming back to because it is so versatile and fascinating.

So I face the pile of the stuff from this firing that has small flaws and I’m doing triage: which ones can be repaired and re-fired? Maybe I can add a little underglaze to the spot where it came out a little thin if I can just remember which of the fourteen blue shades I am currently using will match this piece.  Of course the colors and textures will change in the kiln, and sometimes the accidents will be happy ones. Then I start loading the kiln again while the shelves are still a bit too hot to handle.  It’s like gambling-I can’t help it, I keep thinking there is such a thing as a perfect firing.  So I set the timer and try not to feel like a complete idiot as my hopes return again.

36" X 36" ceramic tile mural
Mountainous Acre, 36″ X 36″ ceramic tile mural commission in Boston, MA

California Backsplash

A visit with architects Susan Ubbelohde and George Loisos in Oakland, CA last summer led to a conversation about me making a backsplash for the 14″ X 38″ space behind the sink in their loft apartment.  My friends have a collection of fiesta ware and I used these colorful dishes as the inspiration for my abstract design.  I also included a sailboat image because Susan and George  are renovating a wooden boat.

Colored pencil drawing in place in Oakland kitchen.
Colored pencil drawing in place in Oakland kitchen.

Once the design was approved, I used underglazes to paint the imagery on 4 X 4 bisque tiles, and then glazed them with a shiny clear glaze.  After the first firing there were a few areas that I wanted to re-work because I didn’t like the look of the brushstrokes.  So I carefully painted those areas with an opaque colored gloss glaze.  Everything looked great after the second firing EXCEPT for one tile that had a little piece of the kiln brick stuck to it.


I spent about ten minutes sanding the area with a rough sandpaper.


Then I sanded for a few more minutes until the offending piece of brick was removed.


Now I will re-fire this one tile and I hope that will be it!

The backsplash minus one tile that is being repaired.
The backsplash minus one tile that is being repaired.

Here are a couple of details that show the dots and dashes that I love because they make everything vibrate.


Thank you to Jill Curtis for her assistance with this project.



Kids Need Art Too

My friend Chad asked me to make a gift for his godson who just turned one.  He said it should be a plate with an edge so “his peas won’t fall off” and he wanted a Scottish theme for a Scottish boy.  This is the plate still warm in the kiln.  The boy’s initials are on the back.  If his parents keep this on a high shelf for the next fifteen years he will have it as a memento of his first birthday for a long time.