When you look at one of Mike Verhoeks' ceramic Salt River Stoneware pieces, he hopes you will think it looks almost natural, as if it's under water or part of a rock formation.
"I'm trying to create a surface that doesn't look contrived or man-made," said the Sun City West, AZ artist, who is a geologist by training.
Verhoeks uses a technique known as crystal glazes, which is when a normal glaze is "supersaturated" with a metallic oxide. Crystals "grow" in the glaze when the temperature is held a steady at a certain point in the firing cycle.
"It's a new technique that requires very precise glaze calculations and a precise firing schedule on a programmable electric kiln."
The size of the crystals depends on the amount of time the glaze is allowed to "soak" at the proper temperature. The process is similar to the way snowflakes form or rock candy is made.
"I grow crystals at 3 to 4 hours and get concentric growth rings," he said.
While decorative, his pieces are also high-fire stoneware and functional; they are dishwasher- and microwave-safe.
Verhoeks is a native of the Kankakee area of Illinois. After studying at Baylor University in Texas, he traveled the world as a geophysical consultant in the oil industry, living in places like Australia, Ethiopia, Syria, Turkey and Alaska.
From 1995 to 2010 he also operated a pottery gallery in Laconia, N.H. When he moved to Sun City West, he didn't take his wheels and kiln with him.
Instead, he started working out of a craft shop in Sun City West and became intrigued with the crystal-glaze process.
Because of the process, each piece is different. He sticks to organic elements to provide natural colors -- cobalt for blue, copper for green, manganese for pink, and iron oxide for brown.
Each piece is hand-thrown and signed.
He strives to reproduce the natural world.
"But I don't think any man can duplicate what God does," he said.