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




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!