From my very first plate design of white oak leaves etched into red clay, to the rose plates, the sunflower plates, the dogwood plates, the cotton plates, and the pokeberry plates, it’s all been inspired by direct contact with nature. I’ve always drawn from life all the botanical southern beauties that fascinate me. For some reason, I like to draw them on plates so much better than on paper! In each season I collect specimens and have vases of them in front of me, to draw from life.
For years, I’ve returned to our native pokeberry again and again as a source of inspiration. This time of year, In August and September, it really stands out. Fat magenta and rose-colored stalks and branches arch up and out, loaded down with racemes of shiny purple berries with hot pink stems. It only gets better as fall approaches, with chartreuse and fuchsia colors coming on the leaves as the temperatures drop. In every stage, the form and colors are beautiful, but in the fall they are regal and ebullient and so full of life. They have lovely lines and symmetries that make them so much fun to draw, so I have always enjoyed drawing them on my pottery.
I’ve been through many modes and style and colors of representing pokeberry beauty over the years, but this year I think I’ve really hit on the best one! A few months ago I started experimenting with underglazes. What that means is, instead of painting on 8 coats of white glaze onto already-fired pottery to make our ‘cotton’ color, and then etching the drawing-in and then applying even more glaze, now I get a piece of unfired pottery, or greenware, and use a big brush to paint 2-3 coats of a cream colored slip onto the surface. Slip is just watered down clay mixed to the consistency of thick cream. That way, I get a white background with only 2-3 coats, instead of 8. Once the slip dries, I etch the drawing onto the surface with a needle tool. Then I paint all the little stems and berries and leaves with underglaze, which is just clay mixed with pigment. I only put a couple of coats of underglaze, then I clean up the edges and scratch in the final details, like the veins of the leaves.
After all that, it goes into a kiln for the first time! When it comes out, I brush 2 coats of clear on the front and the back and fire it again. Only when it comes out of the glaze firing can you see whether the slip you put on at first was thick enough to cover the red clay completely. On the first batch of plates, I discovered I had applied it too thinly. The terra cotta color was showing through in places and it looked like an old wall, but I soon fell in love with the texture and aged quality it added to the design. Plus, the colors went perfectly with the colors of the pokeberry. It looked better than I could have ever planned it, so, low and behold, a new pokeberry plate was born!!
It’s fitting that I should come up with the best pokeberry design in our 30th anniversary year. Thirty years of studying, creating, and sharing southern beauty.