Watch a Ceramicist Create Intricate Stingray Patterns on Ceramics

Hadley Keller

From House Beautiful

Like many artists, Elena Boiardi finds endless inspiration in nature. Specifically, though, she is fascinated by one particular creature. "The stingray is interesting because you have this fluid creature that is covered essentially by armor," she explains. "Down the center of a stingray there's a very defined line of dots, and that's where the spine of the stingray is." This "armor" has been a subject of fascination in design and decor for some time—it's the material known as shagreen.

Though some shagreen comes from actual stingrays, more often than not (especially in new items), it's leather or vinyl printed to look like the species. Boiardi has taken this motif to a new medium: ceramics. At her studio in Wellesley, MA, the artist creates ceramic boxes and accessories, all of which incorporate a shagreen pattern that is painstakingly hand-drawn and electrified through a wide range of colors.

Photo credit: Elena Boiardi

"Color has always been the center of everything for me," says the artist, who mixes her own glazes in the studio.

Boiardi starts each piece with the clay background, which she paints and then lets dry for 24 hours. Next is the most intricate part of the process: the dots. "I always begin in the center," says the artist, who paints on a central line using a fine-pointed tube of glaze, then works outward to mimic the stingray's natural pattern. On round objects, she works slowly, letting sections dry before continuing around the entirety of an object. The dots dry for another 24 hours before Boiardi dips the piece into clear glaze. "The white clay body acts as a sponge," she explains.

Photo credit: Elena Boiardi

Finally, the pieces are fired in a kiln at 2,000 degrees and removed to reveal iridescent, colorful works of art.

It's a tedious process by any measure—Boiardi says she can't even estimate how long one piece takes—but one that is well worth it, both for the finished product and for what the process itself means to the artist. "By creating this repetitive motion, there became a sense of comfort," Boiardi says. "It has become a mantra in this chaotic world we are surrounded by. This work brings me back to my center."

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