Posted December 17th, 2011 by Nancy and filed in Living Grid Project

The Living Grid Team Luncheon

I couldn't have made Living Grid by myself.  My sister, Rondi Vasquez, began working with me in December of 2008.  Lisa Ellena joined us in early 2009 and the three of us worked until August 2009 to finish the triptych.  During that time, Rondi became increasingly engaged in the project.  In corporate life we would say she took strong ownership.  The picture of her examining the balance of the unfired elements is just right.  She was there fully, heart and mind.  One of the great gifts of my life is to have sisters who care deeply about each other.  I have five of them.  A feast.  A banquet.  And Rondi was in alignment with me on Living Grid.  She knew how important the overall composition was, the color balance, the proportion of dark to light and vivid to pale, occupied to empty.  How important matte glazes were, the degree of stain needed on the windowpanes. When Lisa joined us she brought great strengths, as well as fitting beautifully into a team, even bringing a love of thin porcelain with her.  Her training and nature ensured that her work was skillful and thorough.  She helped to make sense out of the dozens and dozens of test glazes and stains, and the tiles.  She built frames for us to use in assembling the elements, and worked so patiently with slip and clay, the jeweler's beads and wire.  And wax!  So much wax!  I'm sure there were a number of assignments that seemed nutty to her, things I had to try.  She was always so patient and cooperative. At the end of Living Grid, Rondi and I wanted to see how the elements could be placed in a smaller frame, and how we could play with the relationship of the windowpanes to the view, both inward and outward.  Yes, the concept, elements and assembly were what I created for Living Grid, and I was the producer.  But Rondi and I worked so closely on the Windowpane Series  that it felt much more like a creative collaboration.  The pieces were much smaller, and Rondi made many of the elements.  She did the photography for Out West, Eucalyptus, Sky Wire and Gingko, really excellent compositions.  (Out West is pictured on this site and Eucalyptus will be soon.) Rondi and Lisa, thank you both for giving so generously of your talents.  I could not have had a better team. Also instrumental in the project were Christopher Gay (metal frames), Tony Rotter (wood frames) and Karyn Rovner (frame design).  Those who opened their homes to me for photography were: Kris Rowlen, Andrea Richards, Rondi Vasquez, Helen Simmons, Michelle Symeonides, Edward Polk and Karyn Rovner.      

Living Grid Triptych

Posted December 9th, 2011 by Nancy and filed in Living Grid Project

Living Grid Triptych

Living Grid Triptych

39.5"H x 88"W x 4"D

Porcelain, Silk Images on Poster Board Under Encaustic; Glaze, Mason Stains in a Patinated Aluminum Frame

Living Grid, Left Section

Living Grid, Center Section

Living Grid, Right Section

There is inevitably a voyeuristic aspect to this piece.  The images are intentionally in shadow, details not always distinct.  People peer inside, never quite satisfied at what they see.

Living Grid, Close-Up

Living Grid, Side View

I love this view.  The piece is quite disciplined, and the windowpanes express that best.  The stain on these elements across the full width of the piece is its own composition.

Windowpane Series – Quiet House

Posted November 22nd, 2011 by Nancy and filed in Windowpane Series

Quiet House

The photos have a stillness within a quiet palette.  The curtains have a motionless vitality as well.

Windowpane Series - Quiet House

31"W x 8 1/4"H x 2 1/4"D

Baltic birch frame, custom laminated

This piece is best left free-standing, but can also be wall-hung.  Two keyholes are drilled into the back of the piece so that it hangs flush to the wall.  The frame has removable plates from which the porcelain elements are suspended.

Quiet Home, right side

Quiet Home, Close-Up

Windowpane Series – Out West

Posted November 22nd, 2011 by Nancy and filed in Windowpane Series

OUT WEST  (Photography by Rondi Vasquez)

Windowpane Series - Out West

31"W x 15 1/2"H x 2 1/4"D

This piece captures Southern California on a sunny day.  The photo is altered to give it the feel of a set with an almost unreal blue sky.  The windowpanes have a sun-bleached quality, and the curtains have a patina of age as well.

Porcelain elements with mason stains and encaustic medium surface decoration on curtains.  Edited photo on silk attached to translucent porcelain with encaustic medium.  Baltic birch frame, custom laminated.

Out West, curtains

Out West, angle

Out West, close-up

Living Grid

Posted May 4th, 2011 by Nancy and filed in Living Grid Project
The Living Grid is a ceramic and encaustic collage of high density life.  It is a torso of a building.  It is a series of quiet, unsentimental vignettes capturing a moment in time.  It is a commentary on our relationships to one another, and on what is revealed.  It is a beautiful mosaic, and an opportunity for voyeurism (with modest reward). The windowpanes are stained porcelain.  The curtains are glazed porcelain.  The third, rear element is photographs on silk, placed on poster board with encaustic.  The frame is patinated aluminum made by Christopher Gay in consultation with Karyn Rovner. Living Grid was a labor-intensive project.  I was fortunate to have a powerful inspiration that was so specific.  I had the means to do what it took to make the piece, and I had the time.  Undertaking and completing this project was an exercise in drinking thirstily.  Making and finishing Living Grid was an imperative.

Living Grid, Side View 87.5"W x 39.6"H x 4.5"D

This project began in earnest in May of 2008 when I began the planning process.  By December 2008 I knew how the elements would relate to one another and how they would be installed.  My sister Rondi Vasquez joined me as studio assistant and we began fabrication and extensive testing of finishes.  In June of 2009, Lisa Ellena joined our team as studio helper.  Rondi and Lisa are both outstanding craftsmen, adding wonderful insights and useful suggestions that enhanced the piece.


Each curtain or set of porcelain curtains has its own character, defined by the clay used, the unique glaze and of course the technique for shaping the thin porcelain.  The clay is most beautiful when unspoiled by human handling.  It can be guided as it is being placed on a surface; the free form effect is from letting the clay do what it wants.  Of course, the pleated curtains had to submit to structured technique.  In the studio, the former became known as the coutourier curtains.  The latter were the JC Penney curtains.  As the installation progressed over the months, there were fewer and fewer curtains from JC Penney. Porcelain Curtain with Laundry The curtain glazes are from Laguna's Moroccan Sand whites, doctored with an EPK/dolomite mix and colored with oxides or mason stains.  Everything was fired to cone 5.


The first layer to balance was the curtain layer including elements of full, partial and paired curtains and blank, curtainless units.  I had percentages of each needed for each section and the total composition.  The same was true when curtain color was introduced.  The photographs have subtle variations in palette that had to be considered, too.

Rondi Studying the Layout of Unglazed Elements


Living Grid 2 Detail The original Living Grid series includes photos of domestic scenes printed onto silk and encased in wax.  The smaller Living Grid series (in the Baltic birch frames) plays with point of view:  Several of the pieces look out into the California landscapes and sky; some have no silk image, allowing the windowpanes in the piece to frame a real view. The most difficult part of attaching the image was the modest unevenness of the porcelain backs.  The original concept was to create a translucent work which would require all porcelain.  We realized that the triptych need not have porcelain backs because the frame would be wall-mounted.  While Living Grid 1 has porcelain backs (with a frame with a removable back), the triptych has heavy posterboard backing which made attaching the silk a dream.

Living Grid Close-Up

Balancing the palette was a major element in the project.  The colors needed to be predominantly neutral with just the right punctuation in brightness.  The patina had to be matte, or the curtains would look like shower curtains.  We added kiln wash to some of the recipes, but mostly relied on 15% EPK/Dolomite.  Thank you Richard Burkett!

Testing Blues

The porcelain windowpanes take 30 minutes to make, and an additional 10 minutes to stain after bisquing; another 10 minutes after firing is required to attach the wire-glue-silk for suspending.



Arne Aase's porcelain tiles suspended with PVC tubing and yarn [] was a source of inspiration for construction.  Living Grid had three layers of porcelain elements so it made sense to suspend the elements from an upper slat.  The windowpanes should be as close together as possible while choosing a slat that wouldn't bow under the weight of the porcelain elements, or under its own weight across the span. It was at about this time that my sister Rondi was becoming a part of the project.  The architect Karyn Rovner and metal artist Christopher Gay  consulted with us on frame construction and attachment.  On Karyn's advice, we used jeweler's wire and crimping beads, threading the wire through drilled holes in the slats and crimping them from above.  The frame Christopher made for us as the final mockup had 15 units and was made out of steel, with a span of about 30".   We created special cradles to hold the slats while we threaded the wire through.  Threading the elements into the slates is one of the more exacting tasks.IMG_2826 While the larger Living Grid pieces (1,2,3,4) are framed in steel and aluminum, wood was used for the smaller (5-10 unit) frames.  Tony Rotter is a wonderful woodworker who created custom plywood for us in Baltic birch.  The slats slip neatly into the back of the frame and the piece can be freestanding or wall-hung.  The smaller pieces are especially effective when backlit by daylight.
Gingko grid

Backlit porcelain



The Living Grid project began when I saw a compelling photograph by Yann Arthus-Bertrand.  It was featured in an exhibition of his photographs that was outdoors on the grounds of the British Museum.  Taken on a bright Sao Paulo day, the photograph is of a Cortiço, a tenement, in a favela, a slum.  The section of the facade forms grids within grids, apartments with windowpanes, many without glass.  The curtains added another layer of complexity to the facade, with shapes and colors as unique as fingerprints.  Laundry was strung across many of the windows.  Because of the brightness of the exterior, the interiors were practically black, revealing dim geometric forms and the occasional figure.  The photograph’s direct view into these units invites scrutiny but the darkness thwarts the voyeur.  I learned by chance that this shabby, recklessly constructed building is a knock-off of the rear facade of a building in Sao Paulo by the noted architect Oscar Niemeier (who designed the capitol buildings in Brasilia.)  The Niemeier building is one of the largest dwellings in the world, called the Copan building.  It is now run-down, but it is by far more middle class, and ultimately served as a valuable reference for The Living Grid. This is a photo of the photo, how it appeared to me.  The most faithful representation of the image can be seen at Yann Arthus-Bertrand’s website: While it would have been technically fun to try to achieve verisimilitude in recreating the favela of the above slum, I realized I could not defend that decision.  Loving the texture of the facade was not reason enough to depict the lives of people about whom I knew so little.  For the level of effort involved, I had to find my own truth, to depict things honestly, arising from my own life.  

Windowpane Series – Wide Open

Posted April 7th, 2011 by Nancy and filed in Windowpane Series

Wide Open


31"W x 15.5"H x 2.5"D

Wide Open close-up