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!

Making Some Bowls

I sat down at the wheel to throw some large bowl forms.  You can see the mound of clay waiting there to become a beautiful bowl.  I had not thrown bowls over 4lbs in about a year so I started small with 12lbs to find my rhythm.

The first two had a bit of a wobble to them.  As I got into my groove the clay moved more fluidly.  After finishing the fourth 12lb bowl I decided to try a 25lber.  I put the whole block of clay down, got it centered and pulled the bowl.  It was not quite twice as big as the other four bowls, but it is significantly larger. 

I altered the rim of two of the bowls to give them an organic, floral look.