From stones and water

Generally I prefer to stay in the present when I'm making new works. I have several sketchbooks filled with drawings of places I've visited over the years, but I rarely consult them when I'm working on finished projects. It's too easy to live in the past in my opinion, so I always make a point of working with my current surroundings when embarking on new projects.

Lately though, I've started to change that opinion, at least in relation to one motif: Iberville shale. When I used to visit Shelburne Farms, one of my favorite things to do was to go down to the beach and rifle through the beach stones on the shore. These weren't ordinary beach stones, but dark gray stones covered with white striated patterns. I was always struck by the beauty and diversity of the patterns on these stones, and wanted to create some sort of artwork incorporating those delicate white lines.

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Image courtesy of

During the time I actually lived in Vermont though, I never figured out a satisfactory way to do this. I did feature the stones in a series of prints I did called Shelburne Farms, but it wasn't quite what I was striving to achieve. I wanted the stripes, but not necessarily the rocks; the patterns, but not the actual object. I then considered making an etching or aquatint with an all-over design of white stripes, but shortly after I started working with acid etching, I moved to New Mexico, and I put my Vermont sketchbooks in storage. Even as I started sketching red rocks and desert flowers instead of apple trees and sheep, however, those beach stones never quite left my mind. Somehow I would make them work.
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Flash forward to 2015, when I'm throwing cups and bowls with white clay. One afternoon as I was trimming, I suddenly wondered, "hey, why not recreate your shale on these pieces?" Why not, indeed?

I tried it initially on a few pieces that weren't especially well thrown, so I wouldn't care if the process worked. Essentially I just painted a few lines of wax resist across the surface, and dipped the pieces in a black glaze. 

When I found that the wax resist was able to hold up during firing, I decided to try some more ambitious designs. Straight white lines are fine, but what made the shale stand out to me was the complexity and variety of the patterns I found.

First, I took several recently-thrown pieces and trimmed them. Most of my works feature larger feet because my cat Gustave has a penchant for knocking wobbly things over.

I then attached handles to several of the pieces, turning them into mugs.

After I attached the handles, the pieces were fired for the first time, turning them all bright white.

Next, I took my bottle of green wax resist, and painted designs on each of the pieces using a small brush. I had no specific pattern in my for any of these, I simply started making lines and let the pattern grow organically from there. I also didn't make my lines perfectly clean or straight, because I wanted to mimic the natural patterns of the stones as much as possible. Compared to much of my work, it was a very spontaneous process.

Once the wax was dry, it was time to dip the pieces in glaze. Initially I was just going to use black, but then I got an idea and dipped them in blue as well. Aside from the fact that I like multi-colored pieces, I wanted to evoke the littoral setting where I found these rocks in the first place. When the dipping process was finished, the cups reminded me of mint chocolate chip ice cream.

Finally, the pieces were fired a second time, and I was finally able to see how they turned out. Here are the results:

Overall I'm very pleased with how they turned out. What I like is that these works express the qualities of the stones I like, the striations, the matte surface, and so forth, without actually representing them, so these pieces could suggest something different for each viewer. I might think of shale, but someone else might imagine trees, lightning, who knows. I admittedly could have done the glazing a bit better, it was a bit thick in places and needed to be ground down a little afterwards, but my teacher showed me a few ways to prevent that from happening in the future. More importantly, I've found the medium that will let me articulate the abstract beauty of Iberville shale, and will definitely be making more of these.