The crafted object : Isabelle Abramson – ceramics

Delicately lacy and tactile, Isabelle Abramson’s porcelain is serenely elegant, and manages somehow to be simultaneously traditional and modern.


isabelle abramson – small carved lace bowl – porcelain


The basic bowl forms are simple, with texture and space being the key elements of their design. As well as form, serenity comes with the absence of colour. “I can’t even imagine using color, my studio is 200 square feet. I’d be overwhelmed if I were working with color. By keeping the color part simple, I can focus on design, texture, and form.”

Her decorative motifs are often adapted from things she’s found on antique furniture and textiles. William Morris is a big inspiration, for his sense of integrity as a craftsperson and the extreme importance he put on having beauty in simple, everyday life. She loves the idea of ‘home’ too – knowing that her work will end up in someone’s home directs much of her design process.


isabelle abramson – Carved Porcelain Woven Rope Bowl


isabelle abramson – carved porcelain vase


Isabelle is self-taught. Although she had a very brief stint at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts (in Boston), it didn’t work for her, and she transferred to Boston College and got a Bachelor’s degree in nursing. “When I graduated and passed my nursing exam I found a really good part-time job as a school-nurse and had plenty of time of time left over to work on my art. I’d done some pottery in high school and a little in college and there was a great little ceramics co-op down the street from the school where I worked. I kept a very regimented schedule of working at the co-op as if it was a full-time job. Within a year I was able to start selling my things and set up a small studio of my own.

“I taught myself everything I use and I think that’s why my artwork still feels personal and interesting to me. Nothing was handed to me in a book or a class, and I’m always learning. I think that self-teaching is the best way to learn how to create art. You miss so much information about the material if you just let someone else tell you how it works and what you can do with it. When you experiment a bunch of stuff wont work out, but then something will and you move forward in that direction.”

Being self-taught is a hard road, but Isabelle believes it is ultimately the most rewarding. “I had a lot of pieces fail (probably hundreds) while I was learning how to make the pieces that I sell now. I don’t think that there was ever a fail that I didn’t learn from even though it was always devastating when I couldn’t see how I would eventually solve whatever issue I was dealing with. Now I think of all those failures as paying my dues, and remind myself that if this had been easy everyone would be an artist.”


isabelle abramson – small porcelain carved bowl with platinum border


“It is extraordinarily hard to make a living selling art that you really love and believe in. Sometimes you have to keep working when it’s just hard and you feel sick of it. Going through those times and coming out stronger is what builds a really solid practice for creating art. It’s like endurance training. If you can go through all that and still fundamentally love what you’re doing, and make some money, you get to be an artist.

“I love the lifestyle. I probably work a lot more hours than the average 9-5’er but I usually get to choose what I’m doing with my time. I also get to have this crazy schedule where I go back between my studios in Boston and Vermont every two or three weeks. My artwork has gotten so much better since I’ve started spending time in Vermont. It was like adding a pressure release valve into my life.”

It’s not all about the making. “My business started when I could sell the things I made. I was surprised at how much of doing well has to do with being a smart businessperson and that it all doesn’t just magically fall into place when you work hard and make good art.”

isabelle abramson – carved fruit bowl, porcelain


By her own admission, Isabelle Abramson is an introvert. Her short time at art school was hard for her. “I had trouble focusing and was terrified of not being able to make a living as an artist after I graduated. Years later I learned that I really needed to be alone in a room to do any good work so art school was probably never quite the right place for me.”

Perhaps it has been the influence of her childhood that has led her to this solitary existence. “When I was a little kid I had an extraordinary amount of unsupervised time. I don’t think that I would be an artist or be good at figuring all of this out for myself if I didn’t have years of learning how to sew by myself in the basement or learning how to cook alone in a kitchen. I grew up with a feeling that if something can be made surely I can make it, and it would be much easier if I just went ahead and figured it out myself than wait for someone to show me.”


Isabelle Abramson – Boston studio, set up for the monthly Open Studio


Isabelle works out of two studios, one in Boston, and one in Vermont. “My studio in Vermont is very organized and utilitarian. I think that it looks a little more like a science lab than an art studio. My studio in Boston looks a little more like an antique store or gift shop that I happen to work in. I think that when I’m in Vermont I’m more focused on the rest of the house being beautiful and don’t necessarily expect that people will come into the studio part of the house. In Boston customers are there all the time so a lot more of my energy goes into making my workspace reflect my work.”

“I really love my customers. My studio in Boston is open the first Friday of every month. {Details below.} No matter how hard of a month I’ve had I feel reinvigorated when I open the studio. It reminds me why I make art, and it’s so good to have that mirror every once in a while to see people’s reaction to the work.”

And her best piece of advice? “Keep working hard and it will all be okay. Also, don’t expect someone to lift you up (like a gallery owner, or a wealthy benefactor), you have to do that for yourself, and you will have more control over your life in the end if you do.”


Isabelle’s work has been featured in numerous high profile places, including the Boston Globe, Yankee Magazine, InStyle Magazine and Apartment Therapy. You can find her work on her website,

You can catch her at her studio on the first Friday of every month, between 6pm-9pm. The address is –

450 Harrison Ave
Suite 411A
Boston, Ma 02118.

Design How-to : Dominance


Welcome to the next in my series on Design How-to – this one’s on the Principle of Dominance.

Dominance in Design is pretty much what you would expect – it is where one aspect of the work is emphasised. This can be achieved through considered use of any of the Design Elements  – size, tone, texture, colour, shape, line or direction.

Dominance can also be achieved through the placement of an individual element, which can create a ‘focal point’ – that is, a particular point of interest. A focal point can be an area that first attracts your attention in a composition, or it can be the last to hold it – kind of like a full stop or exclamation mark at the end of a sentence.


Maria Goti Joyas – coral & reticulated sterling silver

{all images are linked to their source}


These very handsome earrings use contrast of shape, colour, and texture to create a strong focal point. The red ball is definitely it! There’s a nice balance here of geometric and organic – as well as the ball there is the gentle geometric of the earwires themselves – and I love how the blackened silver of the discs is cleaned back to show silver edges.


Sherry Buckner – Gold Fish – silk screen print


Again, there is a very strong focal point in this print, which is created mostly through colour. It is further emphasised through direction – the koi is swimming in the opposite direction to the lines of the waves. Placing the fish near the lower edge of the work where there is more space gives it more emphasis too.


Romy and Clare – Red Poppy salt & pepper – ceramic


Putting the centre of the flower in the fattest part of the belly creates a definite focal point, which in turn emphasises the shape of these very cute salt and pepper shakers. They make me think about how nice that shape would feel in my hand. Aren’t they fun and lovely?


Jane Kriss – Wild Field – surface design


In surface design, the purpose of a dominating element is to draw your eye through the pattern. This could be a single line that runs the length of the repeat, or it can be several points.

This sweet floral design would become pleasant, subdued background without its bright red flowers. High colour contrast is used to create a vibrant surface. I love how these flowers are scattered about, and the repeat is not obvious. It makes my eyes dance around! But the flowers are small and delicate, and the background is soft in colour with flowing vertical lines, so it becomes a gentle and pretty dance.


carolina bernal – embroidery


What a cute doggie! This gorgeous creature is the creation of Carolina Bernal, who is an illustrator, and I gather embroidery is something she does in her spare time (not entirely sure on all this though, as her site is all in Spanish!).

Well of course, as with most images of animals and people, we tend to start our viewing at the head and work our way along/down to the tail and feet. Our eyes are drawn back to the middle because of the strip of distinct circular motifs, embroidered in high contrast colours. This is what I mean about the last thing we linger on – I tend to linger on the red circle with yellow in the middle. It wasn’t the first thing I saw, but it’s at the very centre, and it’s a pleasing finish to a joyous piece.


And a last word of caution! Of course, dominance is easy to do. The REAL trick is knowing how to not overdo it – there’s often a delicate point in between not enough (where everything looks a bit boring) and too much (OK, let’s call it garish). It’s like so many things in life though, the more you experiment and practice, the better you get at it. Good luck!


How are you liking this journey through the Elements & Principles of Design? It’s been heaps of fun choosing examples to show you, thank you for sharing it with me! (If you’re a latecomer, and/or you just want to find out more about this Design How-To series and its starting points, you can find the rest of the posts here.) I really appreciate all the feedback you given me too, thank you so very much for your kind words.

As always, if you’ve got a project that you’re proud of, that you can demonstrate any of these Elements and Principles with, I would LOVE to hear about it. If you’ve got a pic of it up online somewhere, please add a link in the comments below, so you can show it off!! :)

Cheers, Julie xx

Design How-to : Harmony


Welcome to the next in my series on Design How-to – this one’s on the Principle of Harmony. (And just in case you need a quick refresher, you can think of the Elements as a set of tools, and the Principles as various ways you can use them.)


Harmony  in music is a lot like harmony in design – it’s how the parts of an artwork look like they belong together in the same piece. They co-ordinate through their similarities (and sometimes contrasts), and this can be achieved through the use of similar shapes or colours, or any of the other Elements – tone, line, texture, and/or direction.


POAST – Cinque Terre neckpiece – ceramic


This sweet collection of little houses harmonise in pastel tones. A soft, smooth texture is created with the base material of clay. Their lines and overall shapes are simple, with size, shape and placement of the windows also similar in each – the windows are small and placed towards the edges of the house-forms. However, sameness and boredom is avoided, because interest is created through gentle variety of shape and colour, and a soft flow of size with the biggest house in the middle.


AFJewellery – silver & ceramic – necklace


Despite the varying shapes and sizes, the individual elements in this pendant harmonise for several reasons. The ceramics and silver exist within a very narrow colour range, which give unity through monochrome (i.e. when the hues are the same or very similar, and the tone varies). The pieces also work together because of their organic, uneven-ness of shape, and because of their soft textures. The simple claw setting and the raw clay edge sit nicely with the un-shiny, oxidised (blackened) silver leaf shape that pokes out the bottom. The simple claws also harmonise well with the open and spacious look of the handmade chain.

What I find intriguing about this piece is that lovely fragment of pattern between the two smaller and darker areas – what is its story and how did it arrive into this pendant? Definitely a piece for pondering.


SpottedDogAsheville – baby’s breath & hydrangea – resin bangle


Contrast of shapes and colours are a dominant factor in this wonderful bangle that uses real flowers, cast into resin. To tie the whole thing together, the artist uses the soft shapes and colours of the blues and greens for harmony throughout the bangle. The red flowers strike a chord with the blues and greens, much like in music when there are soft base notes, with a brighter melody on top. The overall shape of the bangle is kept simple so as not to distract from the flowers. Imagine wearing a little bit of garden on your wrist – endlessly beautiful.


SandyKreyer – 5″ bowl – porcelain

This fabulous bowl is full of pattern; it is profusion bordering on the edge of chaos. But it still works! Harmony comes through the use of lines (stripes / borders at the bottom and top of the bowl), which emphasise bowl shape and structure. Harmony is also created by the distribution of the larger red flowers evenly throughout the body of the bowl, and the regular placement of smaller crimson ones around the rim. I love this bowl, so full of rich and happy colour.


How are you liking this journey through the Elements & Principles of Design? It’s been heaps of fun choosing examples to show you, and I’m so glad you’ve stuck with me so far! (If you’re a latecomer, and/or you just want to find out more about this Design How-To series and its starting points, you can find the rest of the posts here.)

As always, if you’ve got a project that you’re proud of, that you can demonstrate any of these Elements and Principles with, I would LOVE to hear about it. If you’ve got a pic of it up online somewhere, please add a link in the comments below, so you can show it off!! :)

Cheers, Julie xx


The crafted object : Martha Cashman – ceramics


Martha Cashman is a ceramicist based in Cork, Ireland.

Utterly inspired by her country’s rich history, Martha makes works dedicated to the unsung peasants and farmers that bring forth produce from the soil. Childhood memories of these generous and knowledgeable people have made a long-lasting impression. She recalls “the farm helpers and local women who visited and helped my mother in the house. Their understanding of the daily running of a small farm holding impacted on me greatly and led me to appreciate and respect the land we took from daily.”


Marsha Cashman – porcelain, wood


Her most recent work is made from glazed paper porcelain. Some are fine kitchen utensils; some pieces are interspersed with woven wire, carved birch and ash wood to accentuate and enhance the delicate white porcelain.  The pieces are either box framed using limed ash or hung simply from rusted nails.


martha cashman – drills – porcelain and gold lustre


martha cashman – memories of rose cottage – porcelain spoons


What I love about Martha’s work is that ability to manipulate something so delicate as porcelain and present it with rustic naturalness, without losing its subtle elegance. There are ideas of beauty contained in the most commonplace of objects, in the most commonplace of places.


Martha Cashman – ‘Family Heirlooms’ – porcelain textured with vintage linens, painted & polished driftwood.


Martha Cashman – ‘Family Heirlooms’ – porcelain textured with vintage linens, painted & polished driftwood. (detail)


Martha has won several awards for her work and was selected last year for the 4th Biennale Linen Diaspora in  Portneuf in Quebec Canada. She is also currently the chair for the Society of Cork Potters. You can find more of her work on her website,


With thanks to Martha for sharing her ideas and images here.


Design how-to : Contrast


Welcome to the next instalment in my Design How-To series – this one’s on Contrast. Enjoy.


Contrast is a fabulous tool for adding interest. Us humans tend to expect regularity in the world around us, because that is how we can make sense of things so we can deal with  them. So when we come across something unexpected, that point of difference can be a surprise to our minds; we find it curious, and worthy of more attention.

Contrast can be subtle or bold, and can be applied to any of the Elements – Line, Size, Direction, Shape, Texture, Value, or Colour.

Please don’t think that whacking just ‘anything’ in there is sufficient to create Contrast – you must understand exactly what it is that you are contrasting.  Usually, some point of similarity is what makes the work look cohesive.


minterandrichterdes – ‘inspired by green’ – ring; titanium
{all images are linked to their respective sources}


In this sleek ring, contrast is used not only in the colour, but also in the form of the narrow raised ridge against the flat wide ring band. Still, they are both shiny and metallic.


strongfelt (lisa klakulak) – ‘stone walled 2’ – handbag; felted wool

Again, colour is the major form of contrast here, but note also that each of the ‘stones’ is raised from the surface of the bag, to provide extra interest. There are also subtle differences in the colours and textures of the rocks. The concept underpinning this bag adds interest too, because of its surprising reference to the surface of rock walls (she has others that make reference to brick walls in a similar way – you should check them out!). Cohesiveness is achieved through the use of the same material (wool) throughout, the  monochromatic colour scheme (same hue, varying tones), and the use of repetition – similar size and shape ‘rocks’.


adorn jewelry – ‘set in stone 3 (moss)’ – pendant; stone, artificial moss, silver


I so love this pendant! Its gorgeously tactile dot of artificial moss looks fabulous against the stone, in wonderful contrasts of texture and colour. Note also, these areas have been neatly contained with silver bezels, which adds a nice definition to the shapes.


magprint – ‘tiger sun’ – linocut


Contrast can be quite singular, as demonstrated in this print. There is only one element of contrast – the sun – and yet it provides the overriding identity of this piece.  I love how the sun looks like the boiling mass of flame that it is, with the wonderfully rough textures of red against orange. Great contrast of shapes, textures, and colour in this beautiful linocut.


caitlin keegan – nest pattern 1


It is the subtle use of contrasts that is so appealing in this surface design. Lots of large, pale, blowsy blooms are overlaid with delicate, fine sprays of dark red buds in a horizontal band. The softer coral colours in the berries throughout tie the design together.


katrin moye – ‘dandelion’ sugar bowls – ceramic


Contrast upon contrast – these totally gorgeous little bowls use a simple, small circle/dot pattern on the outside and contrast it with a larger, more dramatic circle/dot pattern on the inside. Oh yes, I’m a sucker for pattern on pattern! Plus more pattern. Bring it on. 😉


I hope you enjoyed this post on Contrast! You can find more about other Elements and Principles in the series of ‘Design How-To’ here.

AND if you’ve got a project that you’re proud of, that uses any of these Elements and Principles, I would LOVE to hear about it! If you’ve got a pic of it up online somewhere, please add a link in the comments below, so you can show it off!!

Julie x