More on branches



Walking the dog in the rain this morning I enjoyed seeing the water droplets on the tree branches.

I thought about how many things rest or hang from branches:












water drops


and how great they all look.

I was thinking about how I would represent water droplets on branches on my pots. What about just a little ball of glass? Melt on a clear glass bead perhaps?  It might work or it might look tacky as hell.

Let’s pause a moment and define tacky    

tacky  [tak-ee]

1. Lacking style or good taste; tawdry

2. Distasteful or offensive; tasteless

3.  Crass; cheaply vulgar; crude; gaudy; flashy; showy.


I guess it is “tasteless” that I am most worried about.

So how to represent those things without looking tacky? And what is it that indefinable thing that makes something art and not tacky? 

Why is it that makes those practically 3-D paintings with the paint slathered on until the buildings represented stand out from the canvas a good half inch  kitsch?  and Van Gogh sublime?

Or, for example, pottery with gold on it — paint it on and it looks cheap, but take, for example, Spanish lusterware (or artists inspired by those traditions such as Liz Quackenbush or Julia Galloway)  and their work is amazing.

I believe it has something to do with being true to materials; being authentic. But that’s not the only criteria. There is some history involved- how many other people have done it? Has it been mass produced?  Is the representation cliched or fresh and original?  Just how many ways can you represent a cardinal on a pine branch? or ducks? Context and intent play a part as well. I believe defining them and those boundaries comes from a certain sensibility as well as education and cultural context. It’s such a fine line and sometimes those things cross that line over time as the context changes.

Take cave paintings for example, we think they are amazing now. We believe we see them for what they are- expressions from people who lived 30,000 years ago. But in the 1800’s when they were first discovered people thought they were crude and primitive with almost no artistic merit whatsoever.  And how will they be viewed in the future? Will we ever know why they were made and how they were regarded? We can only see them for what they are to us now and part of that perception includes the mystery and the shared experience of simply being sentient humans.

There is always the fear in a craft such as pottery- a craft that struggles so hard to be counted among the arts- the fear that what we’ve made is not sublime but merely mundane or worse, trite and tacky.

new work out of the kiln

It’s always exciting and really  kind of miraculous when work comes out of the kiln. It goes in, utterly fragile

unfired greenware plate

and emerges stone-like, ready to serve for the next few thousand years.

I’m quite happy with this new group of bowls (note- it seems my photo is distorted- I’m working on fixing that)


9-new-bowlsI’m using a slightly different technique for these “production” pieces in that I am roughly painting the branch  and then just refining it with sgraffito.

What I’ve done in the past- and actually  it gives me more freedom- is to cover the entire surface with black slip and then draw the branch out free hand. Then I carve away anything that isn’t the image.

 This is somewhat quicker and also gives  a more painterly quality to the black. You can see the brush stroke and direction.

I’m also including color for the first time! This truly echoes what I see in the winter. A bare black branch with a few bright red berries made all the more vivid by being set against the white backdrop of snow. It is the same for cardinals- in the wintry absence of color, red  catches the eye.

I also got some vases out- these are a good size. About 8-9″ tall.

A note on where inspiration comes from. I was riding a school bus full of noisy children- a field trip chaperone – and we were going down Lake Shore Drive when I thought, for the briefest moment, that I saw a rabbit on the very lowest  branch of a tree silhouetted against the lake. Of course there was no tree-climbing rabbit, but it was such a lovely image in my mind that I decided to put in on a pot.3-vasesIt is the left -most pot.