That thing about making lemonade from lemons... or how I design

A customer (and friend) hinted to me last week that she would really love if my mugs came with a lemon motif. I love lemons and can’t believe I had not thought of this before. Often my first response to this sort of request is a rather bizarre rigidity; A sort of brain cramp while I consider whether or not what the customer is requesting actually fits with what I do. This time was different and I was immediately inspired and thought it might be a good vehicle to explain how I design.

So my sweet customer had already bought a sweet mug with a cheery cherry design covering the body. She said it made her feel happy so that is a mood I want to keep with the lemon design. Her idea is to gradually collect enough of my mugs to fill a spot in her cabinet and have enough mismatched but related pieces to share with company. The fact that she chose the cherry design first gives me an idea about her tastes. It is an all over design with a retro fabric inspiration. Her idea of lemons really complements my happy style and while quite seasonable in California right now is really seasonless in its uses.

Any design begins with a fair amount of procrastination and rumination on my part. I used to berate myself for this but with age comes occasional wisdom and I now accept this as part of my process. So I go outside with the purpose of heading to the lemon tree but get sidetracked on this sunny morning and pull some weeds to give the chickens (makes nice bright yolks!), collect the eggs, and finally pull a few lemons from the tree. (This may or may not be the tree that hangs over into my yard from the neighbor…. I’m definitely not complaining, I hope they never trim that branch!)

For those of you that haven’t had the pleasure of picking citrus from the tree you are treated to a delicious sensory overload. They are bright to the eye, their sheen catching the sunlight seeming almost ridiculous in their riot of color. They are impossibly heavy as they have gained weight so rapidly with the deluge we have had this Winter. I know they will taste as bright as they look as the rain really gives us our best citrus years. The smell is so striking, like when you zest or peel one in your kitchen, only somehow more lively, more alive. It makes you appreciate the idea of aroma therapy because you can't help but feel a surge of happy energy when you smell this.

My procrastination continues when I bring the lemons in. I dawdle about finding a pretty cutting board and a place with the right light for photographing. Slicing into the lemons I decide to make a glass of lemon water and imagine making fresh lemonade later. Meyer lemons are amazing for this. Here is how I do it:

Meyer Lemon Lemonade

6 Meyer lemons (regular is just fine if you can't get Meyer, any fresh lemonade is great, right?)

1 cup sugar

1 cup water

more water


Squeeze the juice from 6 lemons and set aside. In a small sauce pan bring 1 cup water and 1 cup sugar to a boil and turn off heat. Stir until sugar melts. This is simple syrup.

I make the lemonade with a 1:1:1 ratio. How much lemon juice did you get? If I get 1 cup of juice I will combine it with 1 cup of simple syrup and 1 cup of cold water to make my perfect lemonade. Adjust to your taste preferences and pour over ice in a pretty glass. Sip with a slim straw because this is special stuff.

I take lots of photos of the lemons and my lemon water. Now it’s time to draw.

My Copic markers are my best friend when I am drawing pottery designs. They come in so many colors that I can really get close to what my available glaze and underglaze colors are. The idea when I make a design for on pottery is that I need to make something that translates well to my process. I am looking for the essence of the object rather than an accurate representation. I try to convey mood and approachability. The lemons, as it turns out, are perfect for this. A cartoon approach complete with the bursts of juice that invariably get in your eye feels energetic and lively. I decide to work with 3 shades of yellow layering the colors on each other. Even the white pithy part of the lemon is really a very pale shade of yellow. This will help lift the design off of my very white clay.

I add a few leaves, and dots to the design. I draw my lemon water and my customer’s cherry mug for good measure. I want to get the feel of the lemon design as it sits among my other things. Playing with the dots I wonder about color. Green seems to be a good fit as it is in a happy analogous color group but I am leaning toward greater vibrancy with a bright sky blue. I’ll need to sample it on the clay to decide.

My design ideas can come from anywhere. Sometimes they come effortlessly but more often it is a struggle. When an idea that really excites me comes from a customer it feels easiest of all and I am reminded how fun this part of the process can be. So please never hesitate to ask me if I make that one thing that makes your heart sing!

Now I have to go make some lemonade.

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