Inside the Artist’s Studio with Renee LoPresti

Renee’s cups are on view in our juried exhibition “The Cup, The Mug: A National Juried Exhibition of Drinking Vessels”. Her cups are available for purchase in our Online Gallery Shop: store.mainstreetartsgallery.com


“I was born and raised in rural Northwestern New Jersey and graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the New York State School of Ceramics at Alfred University. Currently, I live in San Marcos, Texas as a resident artist at Eye of the Dog Art Center. My focus is making functional ceramics consisting of simple forms and graphic surfaces with underlying narratives.”

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All pieces are thrown using a locally mixed, mid-range stoneware clay with a high-iron content (Armadillo’s Cinco Rojo from Austin, TX). The claybody becomes a rich, rusty color when fired and provides a dark base layer for the brightly colored underglazes, which are layered upon it. I prefer to create relatively simple forms designed for comfort and functionality. The smooth thrown surface and simplicity in shape  creates the perfect  ‘blank canvas’ for the graphic surfaces.

thrown mug prepared for surface decoration

thrown mug prepared for surface decoration

Overlapping blocks of punchy colors and repetitious dots patterns are layered beneath images of paper airplanes, crashing into one another and sometimes ascending into the clouds. The paper airplane has become my most commonly used image lately, and I have come to fall in love with the range of scenarios and interpretations it offers. To me, the paper plane is delicate, fleeting, and hopeful, with the ability to be easily picked up by a gust of wind and soar freely. Of course, the planes can eventually fall and are often crashed into a large pile. I love to play with notions of hope and cheerfulness, backed by underlying tones of loss or despair.

finished mugs with crashing and ascending paper airplanes

finished mugs with crashing and ascending paper airplanes

First, I begin by throwing multiples of the same form in small batches that can be finished in approximately one week. Each piece is trimmed, each handle is pulled and shaped before attaching. After the ends are cut to fit, both sides of the handle are slipped, scored and firmly pressed to the cup. Coils are added near each connection for strength, but mostly for visual continuity and ergonomics. All mugs are stored in a damp box (an air-tight plastic box with a 2” plaster sub-floor to regulate and maintain moisture) until they are decorated.

damp box storage

damp box storage

thrown and trimmed cups awaiting handles to be attached

thrown and trimmed cups awaiting handles to be attached

slipping and scoring for handle attachment

slipping and scoring for handle attachment

The layering begins by incising equally spaced vertical lines using a blade and a circle divider, thereby creating a general framework for each subsequent layer.

using a circle divider and xacto to incise vertical lines

using a circle divider and xacto to incise vertical lines

Next, the imagery with highest contrast and focus are affixed to the leatherhard clay using thin gauge die-cut vinyl. The paper airplanes are cut using a Silhouette Cameo, which can cut many identical images with intricate lines. The vinyl is the perfect material because it sticks well to the bare clay and when removed from under many layers it will create crisp lines without tearing (and its reusable).

applying die-cut vinyl paper airplane cutouts

applying die-cut vinyl paper airplane cutouts

After all the vinyl images are in place, the first color of underglaze is applied to the entire piece.

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Once dry to the touch, I will begin blocking out sections using the blade to incise defined areas. These areas are then filled with the second color of underglaze.

grey underglaze applied to blocked areas with 1" hake brush

grey underglaze applied to blocked areas with 1″ hake brush

Often, I will use the rule of thirds when deciding where to place the horizontal lines for each layer of color blocking. It is important that the blocks continue to become smaller in size, as to not cover too much of the preceding layers.

mint underglaze being applied to smaller blocked areas

mint underglaze being applied to smaller blocked areas

Now, I begin to apply glaze to certain areas, particularly to the areas where one’s mouth will come in contact with the rim.  I use Mayco’s Stroke and Coat glaze because it is formulated to be applied to greenware. The clouds are also cut using the die-cutting machine, but are cut from construction paper. Paper is preferred for this stage because it can quickly be soaked in water and gently applied to previous layers without marring the surface.

paper cloud cutouts ready for use after being cut from silhouette cameo die-cutting machine

paper cloud cutouts ready for use after being cut from silhouette cameo die-cutting machine

After three coats, the paper clouds and vinyl airplanes are quickly removed  (this helps to keep the edges clean and crisp).

removing paper cutouts while glaze is still wet

removing paper clouds

removing vinyl paper airplanes from cloud section while glaze is still wet

removing vinyl paper airplanes from cloud section

An applicator squeeze bulb is used to apply glaze dots of a complementary color. The dots are applied to all open areas that were painted with the first base color. This allows the dot pattern to move all around the piece, even inside and outside of the handle.

using squeeze bulb to apply  dots inside the handle

using squeeze bulb to apply dots inside the handle

The final touch is to use a tracing wheel to create the dashed lines trailing behind each airplane. These lines create an additional line quality, one that is organic and momentous and helps to carry one’s eye around the piece.

the tracing wheel being used to create trails behind each paper plane

the tracing wheel being used to create trails behind each paper plane

finished and ready to dry before being bisque to cone 06

finished and ready to dry before being bisque fired

The mugs are then bisque to cone 06, each piece is gently sanded using fine grit sandpaper. An opaque, cream colored liner glaze is poured into the interiors, and they fired in an electric kiln to cone 5. All the feet are then sanded again to ensure a smooth bottom surface.

bisqued mugs sanded and ready for liner glaze

bisqued mugs sanded and ready for liner glaze

finished mugs after being gaze fired to cone 5

finished mugs after being gaze fired to cone 5

finished mug in demonstrated color palette

finished mug in demonstrated color palette

In the upcoming  year I plan to continue to explore new color palettes and narrative-based imagery. I have a few workshops I will be teaching in 2017 on surface techniques. For the most up-to-date information on my studio practice you can find me on Instagram @renee_lopresti. You can also find me on the web at  http://www.reneelopresti.com


Stop by Main Street Arts to see two cups by Renee LoPresti in our current exhibition “The Cup, The Mug: A National Juried Exhibition of Drinking Vessels” (juried by ceramic artist Peter Pincus, exhibition runs through January 6th). Renee’s work is available in our Online Gallery Shop (available cup pictured below): store.mainstreetartsgallery.com

ONLINE EXCLUSIVE: Renee LoPresti, "Pink, Blue and Green Planes Crashing Teabowl", stoneware, 3.25" x 3.5", 2016.

ONLINE EXCLUSIVE: Renee LoPresti, “Pink, Blue and Green Planes Crashing Teabowl”, stoneware, 3.25″ x 3.5″, 2016.

Take a look at our previous Inside the Artist’s Studio blog post by sculptor Muhammad Aslam.

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