As a ceramic artist, I have always felt this back-and-forth between making sculpture and making functional work. I think sculpture is my heart’s calling, but I can never quite shake the need to make functional stuff every once in awhile. There’s something really satisfying about spending your day-to-day mealtimes and rituals with your artwork (and the work of others, too). I also love functional work because it’s easier to give as a gift, and fundamentally, I believe that art is the artist’s gift to the world.

As I mentioned last post, I’ve been in a bind with sculpting lately because the raku kiln I’m working on is not yet ready. But, I still wanted to get some sculpture through to completion. So, I decided to sgraffito on my sculpture. Here is the result:

To Know Darkness

“To Know Darkness”

In fables and stories, the dark forest is often a place where characters must face some sort of trial or threat, go through a transformation, or have their fate redirected in unpredictable ways. It is a mysterious and not altogether pleasant place that ultimately shapes the character’s personality and destiny. In my adult life, I liken the dark forest to the struggle of the mind: with issues like depression, anxiety, addiction, and inner conflict. I wanted to make a piece expressing how each of us has our own dark forest that we must pass through. I chose a deer for the subject because deer are prey animals, and represent the feeling of vulnerability we have when dealing with heavy issues of mental stress.

This image of the dark forest resonated deeply with me as I was making the work. I remembered the apprehension of childhood tales, wondering if the characters in the story would make it out okay. I also thought of people I know, currently struggling with their own weighty issues, and it just seemed to make a lot of sense as a metaphor. I have a feeling this forest will persist in my personal imagery for awhile.

As I was carving the trees and deer’s fur, I began to wonder what the design would look like on other surfaces. It suddenly struck me that the design might translate well to cups and other functional work. I was seized by the desire to test it out. After completing the sculpture, I took to my sketchbook and drew several pages of cup shapes with the dark forest design on them. I wanted something organic and comfortable to use that also wouldn’t minimize the impact of the design. Ultimately, the form I chose was this:


“Dark Forest Mug”

I think it works well!

The whole cup was covered in black underglaze while leather hard, then I decorated the outside with the dark forest sgraffito carving. I also carried the design a tiny bit over to the inside of the rim. That’s a design trick I picked up from one of my favorite potters, Lorna Meaden. (Which, by the way, her work is seriously delicious, check it out here.) I used a matte clear glaze on the outside to keep a subtle look, while lining the inside with a shiny clear for durability. I wanted to make sure the form, function, and design were all working together, which balancing act, in my opinion, is the toughest and also most intriguing challenge of making functional pottery.

I can’t wait to get back in to the studio to make more of these cups, and quite possibly some other functional forms to sgraffito on! It’s always exciting to be at the beginning of a new style of work!