Reflections from Ali Saunders


Artist Ali Saunders spent seven months at Watershed creating plates for 2023 Salad Days. Here she shares the inspirations for her designs and reflects on the making process.

I grew up in a home filled with textiles and handmade quilts sewn by my mother and grandmother. As two extremely active makers, their practices influenced my work ethic, aesthetics, and interests. The designs for my Salad Days plates are inspired by their love of pattern and color.

During the process of making 475 plates at Watershed, I tried to simplify the project by breaking it into manageable stages. At first I felt daunted by the sheer quantity of plates I needed to make but once I focused on taking it day by day, my worries calmed. 

The residency really provided an opportunity to experiment and respond to ‘what if’ questions that arose over the course of seven months. This experimentation affected how I approached my work and influenced how I will go forward with new projects. While the plate making process is accompanied by considerable solitude, collaborations with Watershed’s Studio Manager Reeder Fahnestock and Studio Coordinator August Lantz broke up the monotony as we worked together to develop manageable systems. Early on we struggled with the glaze formulation and it took many tests and trials to find a recipe that worked. Once the glazing finally came together, my work moved exponentially faster. 

The project became an opportunity to create new systems and designs as my ideas evolved. I’ve always been drawn to bright color in ceramic work and admire artists like Adero Willard (former Salad Days Artist) and Holly Walker (former Watershed Executive Director). While the saturated colors you see in the finished plates have been central to my work for some time, the way I worked with form, color, and pattern really shifted over the course of the residency. Salad Days guests will notice that plates made in the early months of my time here look quite different from ones made toward the end! 

Spending mid-September through mid-April at Watershed really created an opportunity for me to slow down. Maine’s winter brings a level of peace that I truly enjoyed. We made jokes about The Shining and there were a few snow storms that knocked out power, but I found overwintering on campus to be a positive experience overall. The quiet truly enabled me to focus without any distractions. 

Once I completed the plates in early April, seeing them all stacked up was very powerful. On some level, I found it hard to believe that I made all that work! I hope the plates – with their lively colors and patterns – draw people in and invite them to pause in the midst of their busy lives to enjoy a moment with their handmade piece.


During many hours of experimentation and tinkering, Ali perfected her plate designs and surface treatments. Using a mix of analog and digital technology, she designed organic shapes and patterns via a digital illustration program and created thousands of laser cut templates in newsprint. She layered these delicate stencils and brushed colorful slips over them to create complex tessellations combined in myriad ways on the plates’ surfaces.

Purchase your plate ticket today and choose your favorite Ali Saunders plate on July 8th at Salad Days!