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




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)

Sol Davis inspires me to taking a closer look at color….

Working with artist Sol Davis on the “Reikan” exhibit has really got me thinking about color.  The subject matter we chose to concentrate on is one that I am very close to.  I find it very visually integrating and full of wonder.  After looking at the work for an extended period of time installed in the Full Circle Gallery I realize it is Sol’s color that really keeps my attention.  His pieces are so bright and vibrate.  The color evokes a scene of awe and wonder.  This feeling I get when I look at these colors and his ability to manipulate a color palette really make my my visual mind start ticking.  How do I, as an artist, approach color?

On more than one occasion since I opened the Full Circle Gallery I have been faced with the challenge of creating a color  palette for something or another. In these situations I found myself saying “I am not a colorist”.  As a potter I have spent years developing my forms, though the color is important, for me form has always come first.  After putting the “Reikan” exhibit together with Sol Davis I have decides to take a deeper look at what color means to me as a potter and an artist.