How Landscape Influences Art

Late last winter I went to hear potter Tom Coleman speak about his work. He talked about how the landscape he lives in affects the artwork he makes. His ideas really struck a chord with me. He spoke about his move from the coast of Oregon to Las Vegas, and how when he arrived in Vegas the work he created was still very much influenced by the landscape of Oregon.  His new work did not resonate with the people of the desert, who were now his audience. However, eventually his style evolved as he became more influenced by his new surroundings.

Thinking about this I realized how most of the work I do is still heavily influenced by the years I spent in upstate New York, in the rolling hills of the Hudson Valley. The vibrant Spring is when the whole world seems to be in bloom.  Conversely, the cold harsh winter seemed to be when everything was quiet and sleeping. It was there in that landscape that I honed my craft. It makes sense that it would heavily influence my aesthetic. I think the best example of this is my “Tree of Life” dinnerware.

Tree of Life Dinner Set

I remember painting the first version of that tree on some trays.  It was a cool fall day, sitting on the bank of the Hudson as leaves fell from the trees all around me. In retrospect, I can see how landscape has unconsciously influenced my work and the subject matters that I choose.

Recalling my move from Troy, NY to NW Florida in the Fall of 2008, I remember many people suggesting I should make work with fish, sea turtles or other marine life. I remember thinking, “Why would I do that? It’s not what I do.” But, it’s hard to ignore those voices sometimes. So, I attempted a few pieces influenced by the sea and, needles to say, they were not a great success. I just was not there yet. My heart was still in New York and the salt of the sea had not yet permeated my soul.

Last winter two things happened that brought me to this new subject matter. I heard Tom Coleman’s lecture and I was challenged by Sol Davis to make jellyfish sculptures for a show we were working on together.  That show became “Me & My Jellyfish.”  At first I was very unsure about making jellyfish. I did not really know where to start. Jellyfish are so malleable, fluid, and full of motion. Clay on the other hand is rigid. Creating these jellyfish sculptures with movement and flow was a great challenge.  The first few were just awful, but I kept at it anyways. Then I got into the swing of it and really started enjoying it. As the collection grew I started creating jellyfish-ladies that were something out of a fairy tale. This resonated with me, this was my voice coming through  new subject matter.

From the jellyfish-ladies to the mermaids was a natural progression. I was captivated by the mystical, make-believe creatures of the sea. The more I worked with the forms the more I started seeing my work in the world around me. Days spent at the beach became quiet meditations on the collection. The more I played with the ideas the more they resonated with where I am in my life both mentally and physically. So often I feel lost at sea, disconnected from “reality”.  With a subject like mermaids and sea creatures I can connect to a playful make believe world in my mind. Mermaids symbolize many things.  They are free spirits and tricksters, they will play with your heart and maybe even steal it. This is why I have fallen in love with these ideas.

Stay tuned for more mermaid inspiration and  a tutorial on how I make the Mermaid Sculptures!





Tree of Life Dinner Set: How a Seed of Inspiration Grew To Something More

Tree of Life Dinner Set

The original “Tree of Life” dinner set was inspired by my love of nature and my good friend, Jennifer. This set has not only been very fun to make, but also quite popular. With this set I had only been using black slip, which creates an image that is blackish-blue and white. A few weeks ago I was asked by a customer, through my Etsy Shop, if I could make a set in spring green.  I liked the idea so much I immediately mixed up a few new shades of green. I love this kind of inspirational collaboration with our customers, and the creations that come from it!  So, from that seed of inspiration grew the “Tree of Life” in spring green.  Now I’ll give you an insider’s look into how these pieces are created.

For each plate I start with a 3lb ball of clay. For pieces that I’m going to carve I like “Love Stone” mixed by Alligator Clay, in Louisianian. It has almost no grog, so it’s smooth to throw and very easy to carve.

Centering clay on the potters wheel.

First, I must get the clay centered on the wheel. This is the most important part and I equate it to tuning an instrument.  Just like if your instrument is not tuned properly you cannot play beautiful music, if your clay is not centered you cannot make beautiful pots.

Centered low and starting to open down.

I center the clay low and then begin to open down.  Once it is open and beginning to look like a plate, I use a flat rib to compress the bottom. This technique insures that the eating surface is nice and flat. It also compresses the clay and helps to ensure that the bottom does not crack while drying.


Next, I pull up the wall.  This will eventually become the edge of the plate.


The final step in the throwing process is to create the rim of the plate. I pull the wall out and then down to get my final plate shape and voila!


Before I remove the plate from the wheel I apply the first coat of colored slip. I like to do this while the piece is still on the wheel so I can spin it while applying the slip.  I find that this method gives me a nice and even coat.


Now that all four plates are made I need to let them dry slowly until they become leather hard.


Once they have dried  to a leather hard I can begin to design them. I create the tree image on the surface of each piece using a carving process called Sgraffito. I like to sketch my design on the piece with pencil first, though.  The pencil is great to figure out where I want to place the image. Then, I can easily remove any marks I don’t want with a damp sponge.  Also, any excess graphite will burn out in the kiln when the piece is bisque fired.


Now that I have sketched my design I can finally start carving, my favorite part!


Once the carving is finished I load the piece in the bisque kiln to ^06 for the first firing . For the final step, I apply a clear coat of glaze and glaze fire the piece to ^6. After the final firing, this is our finished product:


Now this plate is done and ready for meals with friends, family and more!

You can find these plates and more of Mercedes’ creations on her Etsy shop




Making the pieces for “A Slow Journey Home”

FULLCIRCLE_098Working on this collection of paintings and sculptures was like living in a dream world. It allowed me to visit a wonderland when ever I wanted to. This collection is a pilgrimage of the soul. I choose to  transform each snail’s shell into a house,
IMG_0700each slightly different than the other. Expressing the individuality of all beings. The houses are a metaphor for the facade people choose to show the outside world. While inside each there is a soft vulnerable being, moving ever so slowly with their ego in tow. The snail represents the slow steady progress of a soul as it travels through life. I was thinking about the ego and the ego’s baggage, what we choose to carry from place to place and what we choose to leave behind in our constant search for a peaceful place to call home.

photo 4As this work unfolded in my mind the snails began to take on characters of there own. I sketched and painted, then sculpted and photographed the sculptures. Working back and forth between mediums. Taking the pictures of the sculptures and creating new sketches from them allowed me to see the lines and shapes of the sculptures more clearly in the flattened two-dimensional form. In the process I was constantly going back and forth from the two-dimensional work to three-dimensional work. It was enlightening. As the snails migrated through my mind and on to the paper I found myself making my own slow journey home.

FULLCIRCLE_110The first sculptural I made in this collection is  Penelope. She was a hand-built version of the snail I had been sketching in my journal. As I turned the idea around in my head I realized there were many ways to construct these sculptural forms. The next few snails I choose to throw the components of the house on the wheel. I created cylinders that would be transformed into the houses and closed forms for the roofs. Throwing and altering these forms, I was able to get a different shape that I could not get hand-building. Once each snail was constructed I went back and added all kinds of little details, doors and window and small window gardens. This is when each of the sculptural snails really got their own personality.

Mercedes Rodgers On the EdgeThe paintings started with “On the Edge”, which is really a continuation of the previous series I was working on. I painted this piece because that is where I was at the time, standing on the edge looking into the abyss wondering how I was every going to cross it. In the top of that painting above the abyss is the sun shining and bringing hope. That is what the rest of these piece did they brought me hope. I worked in watercolor sketching in the characters then painting them with masking fluid. Once the masking fluid was dry I flat washed colorful backgrounds on to the paper. When all of that was dry I went back in with watercolor pencils and paint, to add each snails personal details.

To to purchase or see more of the pieces from this series please visit the Full Circle Gallery Etsy site. Or contact the gallery at (850)6362-8041. I hope you enjoy them as much as I enjoyed making them!

A encaustic session with artist Denielle Harmon

Transcending Decay, encaustic paintings by Denielle Harmon, will be on exhibit at Full Circle Gallery March 30 – May 13, 2012. The opening reception is Friday, March 30, from 6:00-9:00PM.

In early February, artist Denielle Harmon invited me to her studio for an introduction to her newest series of encaustic paintings titled “Transcending Decay.” Denielle best summed up her own collection by saying, “Everything changes, everything becomes decayed. As an artist I want to elevate what others see as decay and use it as a metaphor to show there is a choice in the way we evaluate an experience and choose to fall apart or move past the pain to transcend and turn ourselves into something more amazing .”

As I looked around the studio, Denielle’s process began to emerge. On the porch was a container of rusty nails and bolts, two pieces of plywood, and a large roll of sheetrock tape. Harmon explained how she takes a strip of sheetrock tape, puts it on a piece of plywood then lays the rusty nails and bolts carefully onto the strips of tape, creating a “rust print.” Once all elements are where she wants them, Denielle sprays down the entire piece with a salt water mixture and covers it with the second piece of plywood. The creation is then left to cure for 24 hours.

Finished rust prints are incorporated into her encaustic composition. Some of Denielle’s pieces have components that are sewn together while others are rust prints with layers of wax and rusted objects embedded into them. I watched as she worked on the final stages of a piece, removing the unwanted wax with heat and scraping. It looked like great fun and I was excited to jump in and get creative. It only took a short time for me to realize scraping the wax required a lot of strength and patience. Denielle definitely made it look effortless, but as I always say art is work.

Here is more from my discussion with Denielle Harmon:

Why do you create?

Denielle: “Because I cannot not create. It allows me to process myself and the world around me in a non-verbal way”.

What is your new work about and how does it tie into your past work, which was more focused on realism and the figure?

Denielle: “My past work was about understanding the human experience, about our pleasure and pain. It examined the truth that the more you love the more it has the ability to hurt. This new work is about transcending the human experience. It is about the emotional process of growth and how it takes place in people and in the materials that surround us every day.”

What made you want to switch medium from acrylic to encaustic?

Denielle: “I have wanted to work in encaustic for a while. I got a chance to take a workshop at Studio B this year and that allowed me to grow into the new medium. For some time I wanted to find a way to create dimension and depth in a medium. Encaustic seems like that bridge between sculpture and painting. I am also really interested in using rust as a symbol of transition. The encaustic medium allows me to embed rust prints or actual pieces of rusted material into my paintings. I can build up and break down the surface of the painting like we build up an break down the lairs of ourselves.”

Where do you find inspiration for your work?

Denielle: “Being awake.” The answer made both of us laugh. She continued by saying, “My work is a constant exploration to understand the human condition, life cycles and the collective consciousness. In this new body of work rust has been very inspiring. For me rust has both a literal and figurative meaning. Every experience is a transcendental move. Something we may see as negative or painful may someday be the thing that transforms our thinking or self into something new and positive. When most people look at rust they see decay and breakdown, something undesirable, and through this body of work I am trying to help people see how decomposition is just a shift to a new part of the life cycle; a transformation into something that is possibly more beautiful.”

The Slowest Moving Things: Creatures of Habit

Before the opening reception of “The Slowest Moving Things: Creatures of Habit”,  I got a chance to chat with Kendall Marsh about her newest body of work.  When ask what inspired Creatures Kendall says, “The show is about progress and the monotony of routine.”  Although seemingly contradictory, Marsh’s unique framing of her subjects reveals how progress and routine can often feed off each other; one holding you in place the other pushing you forward.

The theme of Creatures is illustrated by symbols of time and motion contrasted with images of invertebrates.  In Kendall’s own words, “The hash marks symbolize time wasted, the compass is about finding direction, the arrow  represents forward progress and the insect is the thoughtless hive creature.” Marsh’s body of work examines the constant question of whether to move forward or remain in our own habitual cycle.

When asked about her creative process Kendall says, “I start with the background, even if I don’t have an idea yet.  Then I feel a vibe, create a super loose sketch of shapes and go from there. I like what I think about while I am painting.  Its a time to let go, free my mind and find my motion.”  Our conversation closed with Kendall reflecting on those around her by saying, “The idea of creating something others will enjoy is what motivates me to work.”

Kendall Marsh’s The Slowest Moving Things: Creatures of Habit is on display at Full Circle Gallery through March 4th, 2012.  Visit our facebook page to see photos from the opening reception.  Read more about artist Kendall Marsh at .

Thanks to everyone who helped out with the show and a special thank you to Melissa Salter from My Visual Creation and Larry Beat from Bad Habits Lounge Studio for the amazing pictures.

A Session in Painter Justin Lyons’ Studio

“Wake up, open your eyes and heart, throw away your manual and live your life”.

When artist Justin Lyons and I sat down for our painting session these are the words he said to me.  As I looked around his crazy colorful studio we chatted about his process and his inspiration.  I wanted to find out more about how he creates, take a peek at the pieces for his upcoming exhibit “OBJECT-ion” at the Full Circle Gallery, and I wanted to gain more insight about his approach to color. 

The questions:

Why do you create? Justin: “To release stress, work through ideas, figure things out but mostly I use painting as my microphone.”

What is your work about?    

Justin: “I have always wondered why I think certain ways about profiles and stereotypes.  Where I got ideas about the good and bad; how I got programmed?  Where is the programming coming from?  That is what my work is about getting at the programming.  Throwing away the manual, getting people to open the doors in their minds and question the experience.”

What about the imagery and symbolism in your work?                                        Justin: “When you see something attractive you have that initial peripheral experience, and maybe if the object or person is very attractive a little endorphin rush.  The feeling of wanting something.  That is the vibe I try to evoke in people.  I like to draw the viewer in with a childish feel of wanting, with  a safe candy coated look to the work, and once they begin to bite, chew and digest it they see that maybe there’s some meat to it as well.”

Where do you find inspiration?                                                                            Justin: “I find a word or phrase or idea and I pick at it.”                                    As I watched his process this is exactly what he did.  He would draw little doodles and sketches, paint over them, paint around them, then write a phrase to the side.  He also did a lot of sitting, looking and wondering back and forth.  At one point I found him in the yard sanding a ding out of his surfboard.  “Multitasking” he says is his is inspiration and process.

I wanted to know more about his palette.  As you can see from his studio there is color everywhere.   Justin explained that his choice of color is intuitive.  He prefers to use shades and hues of colors over dominating his pieces with primary colors.
When he puts the paint on the canvas he uses colors he knows he is going to like and if he doesn’t like it he just paints over it.  That is what I really enjoyed about this experience and getting to paint with Justin.  His studio is truly a space with no in the lines, no boundaries, no rules and definitely no manual!

P.S Thanks Melissa Salter from My Visual Creation for the amazing pictures!

An Experiment Looking for Color

Since my last post I have been doing a lot of pondering about what color is exactly and about what it means to my artistic process.  I began looking through a lot of books on artists materials, on pigments and about mixing paints for some answers.  Books like Gottsegens, The Painters Handbook and Ralph Mayers,  The Artist’s Handbook of Materials and Techniques,  are full of pages of text with no pictures and a lot of information.  Exploring these sources I have come to realize that I know something about glaze mixing and a little about the theory of color and the visible spectrum but not too much about making paint or mixing pigments.  Honestly, this investigation had raised more questions than answers for me.

All of this new information was and still is a bit overwhelming.  I found myself frozen in a moment of possibility and complexity.  I felt greatly affected by all of this and was flooded with the feeling of where to begin. What binder to use, what pigments would be best, where am I going with this and why?  To move forward, I decided to start with materials that I already had and was somewhat familiar with.   Having some experience with the oxides, stains and ochers used in coloring glazes I took some of the pigments from my glaze studio to begin.  I fire ^6 oxidation (2232 degrees Fahrenheit); the glaze palette in my studio  consists of blues, greens, yellows and browns. All thought I am trying to get away from dark earth tones I decided to make my first painting pallet with the colors I already know.  For a binder I decided to start with wax.  The encaustic painting processes seemed somewhat similar to the glaze processes.  Like glaze, the wax binder and pigment melt together when heated and cooled to hold the pigment in place.

For the first experiment I wanted to see which binder I would prefer; synthetic paraffin wax or natural bee’s wax.  I took a muffin tray and filled one side with paraffin and the other with bee’s wax.  After melting the wax I added the pigment.  Because I had six pools of melted wax, I decided to choose three colorants:  (1)Turquoise Masson Stain 6364 (2) Red Art (3) Yellow Ocher.  This testing process is very similar to experimenting with glaze colors.  First the base recipe is developed then, one can play with getting the color right.

The information this experiment yielded was that  I prefer the bee’s wax to paraffin as a binder or base because of its texture, even thought it adds a bit of yellow to the color.  The pigments are more soluble in the bee’s wax and it smells better.  The pigment that seemed to be the most consistent was the Turquoise Masson Stain.  It was smooth and it mixed well with the bee’s wax, the color was warm and rich.  Because of the pigments I choose, I created a very dark earth tone pallet.

For the next experiment I will try working on a red and making the yellow and blue brighter.  I hope that my next test painting will be more vibrant with the goal of leading to richer red glazes.  After all, these experiments started because I wanted to bring brighter richer colors to my sculptures and understand color better.

Journey (test #1 with paraffin)

Planting the Seeds of Inspiration (test #1 with bee’s wax)