Wednesday 17 January 2024

The New Dragon


The Dragon slid quietly over the misty horizon as the Hare fled into the west, and a cold grey dawn marked the turning of the year...

A dragon saw our first new year in this house twelve years ago, and on new year's day I made the new stamp for this year's vessels. It is a smaller dragon than the last, and faces left instead of right, and so an imprint in the clay becomes a footstep in the sands of time. The dark cherry wood gleamed as I rubbed olive oil into its grain, beautiful in and of itself, as each step of any creative process should be...

It was a good day, a day of sharing with my family, a day to celebrate thirty years of marriage with my wife, and all the joy and sorrow on our journey together. But as the evening drew near, and I prepared to light the wood to heat the bath, the house began to shake...

The earthquake was long, and we waited outside till the house stopped swaying and the ground beneath our feet stopped moving. It was not so strong here, only a four perhaps, enough to knock a few things over, shake open the doors and open a few new cracks in the plaster walls, but it brought back memories of the destruction of 3/11 for us all. But we learned that others were not so fortunate, and, in the days since, the devastation in Ishikawa has become apparent. One friend in Wajima, a lacquerware artist, has lost everything, home and studio, and only has the clothes she stands up in, but gratefully neither she nor her husband were injured. I don't know how we can help her yet...

Our experiences of each day are unique to each of us, joy for some, tragedy for others, and it is hard to celebrate our personal triumphs in the face of other's suffering...yet it is these simple things which are important, even in difficult times, perhaps most of all then. In everything we make, in everything we do, we leave a little of ourselves. And our experiences, our moments of joy and beauty, become moments of joy and beauty for others. It is a journey that we take together.

Thursday 28 December 2023

Preparations for Christmas dinner begin weeks before the day. Cutting up dried fruit, grating carrots and apples and lemon rind, steeping them in brandy for the pudding...

...mixing the eggs and butter, brown sugar and flour, spices and bread crumbs, and the well matured fruit. Giving everyone in the house a stir to make a wish...

...steaming the pudding for hours on the wood stove, then letting it rest and mature...

...stuffing the poultry, trussing the roasts, making the sauces. Hours of baking and roasting and steaming and simmering...

...making the Christmas Crackers, finding the treats and thinking of the riddles to go inside...

...and then we all gather for the feast! With toasts in Brandy Alexanders, Champagne in pottery chalices, and the courses all served on plates and bowls which I have made throughout the year. Everyone and everything comes together for this wonderful festive fare!
We take a break after our main course to exchange the presents from beneath the tree, then return for the final course; The Pudding!

It has steamed again for hours. I turn it out, piping hot, from the pudding basin out onto a platter, then pour a little warm brandy over it and turn off the lights. I strike a match to it, and we watch as the blue flames dance and vanish into the darkness. 

Served with antique silver coins hidden inside, and a sweet béchamel brandy sauce, the Pudding brings Christmas Dinner to a delicious close...

...and the house is quiet now. Christmas; Eve and Day, and Boxing Day are done. The family has dispersed. The flames have danced and disappeared into the dark, and the cold days and nights of winter lay ahead. Time, now, for me to cut some fire wood. New year and Hogmanay will soon be upon us! 



Sunday 27 August 2023


There is a golden lustrous surface quality to much of my work which is almost impossible to capture properly in photographs. It is not an applied glaze or metallic lustre, it is a natural effect of the 1320c reduction wood firing process on my porcelaneous stoneware blend. 

"Reduction" gets it's name from the chemical change that occurs when a reactive element like Carbon (C) steals Oxygen (O) atoms from metallic oxides, like Red Iron Oxide (Fe2O3), to make CO2 molecules, thus "Reducing" the amount of Oxygen in proportion to Iron and forming molecules of Black Iron Oxide (Fe3O4) or even further to (FeO), and eventually to the pure metal (Fe). 

This is the same process by which metals are smelted. 

For the purpose of pottery, this chemical change results in colour reactions like those of Tenmoku and Celadon Iron glazes and Copper Red glazes in reduction firings. But it also causes the golden lustrous surfaces on some Shino glazes, where Iron which is present below the glaze migrates to the surface under heavy reduction. I suspect that this is similar to what is happening in my firing, though there has been no surface treatment, no glazes, no slips, just the Tatami rushes and the wood ash and gaseous fluxes coming into the kiln with the flame from the fire boxes...

Wood firing is capricious and serendipitous, and therein lies its unique and unassuming beauty, variety and charm.

Saturday 19 August 2023



There are many reasons why potters fire with wood, but it is as much an ethical decision as an aesthetic one for me. I committed myself to a lifelong career as a potter from age 14, working part time in potteries while pursuing a full time education in ceramics, learning to fire in a variety of electric, gas, oil and wood kilns. In my final year of university the issue of climate change first arose at the Australian National Potters Conference in Melbourne in 1985. I was shocked to discover that human activity was affecting the global climate, and that the effects could become catastrophic within just one or two generations! As a potter making vessels which potentially last for hundreds if not thousands of years, what unforgivable irony would it be if the pollution from my making process meant that those vessels would outlast humanity? I have since striven to eliminate fossil fuels from my life, which meant that firstly that I needed to find a way of firing pots with renewable energy.

Fossil fuels add carbon to the atmosphere which hasn’t been there since before our species evolved. Carbon from wood, however, is sequestered from the air by trees during this era. As long as the amount of trees growing equals or exceeds the amount being burnt there should be no carbon footprint from the firing process!

Of course, traditional wood kilns are notoriously labour and resource intensive, and hardly a one man job! The five chamber Noborigama at Shimaoka Tatsuzo’s pottery, where I did my apprenticeship in Mashiko in 1991, took three days and ten tonnes of red pine to fire, and the labour of at least nine people. Other potters I know have Anagama kilns which fire for a week and require twenty-five tonnes of wood! There are effects which are achieved with these firings which justify the process, but sustainability is difficult, whether in terms of environmental factors, financial cost or man power.

So in 1994, when I finally had my own pottery in Mashiko, I spent a year developing a fast fire wood kiln which was big enough for a professional pottery studio practice, but practical for one person to fire in one day.

At one cubic meter stacking space it will hold about 400 Coffee Mugs or Yunomi sized pots, and uses 400kg of wood to fire from raw to cone 12 in 14 hours. This efficiency makes it practical for me to fire, economically and physically, but also reduces my carbon footprint. This does not equal sustainability, however, unless an equivalent amount of trees is being planted to offset the amount being burnt.

The town in which I now live, Minakami in Gunma Prefecture, Japan, is a Unesco Biosphere Reserve. We are striving to become a model for how human society can interact sustainably with the natural environment. The Akaya Project here is working to restore the natural forest habitat to encourage biodiversity. Its focus is the Inuwashi eagle, the largest eagle in Japan, which is an endangered species.

 To ensure the survival of the species, the natural habitat needs to be returned to its original state, which includes removing conifer plantations and replacing them with forests of the local native deciduous varieties. Deciduous trees provide acorns and nuts which feed the other species of wildlife which the eagles depend upon for prey.

The plantations are being harvested as part of the Japanese Environment Department's "Yama sato kawa umi" (Mountain Village River Sea) project, and the fire wood which I use in my kiln and home is provided by a local certified member of this project. It is also tested for radioactive materials from the fallout of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, so that theForestry Department can create a detailed map of contamination, and in my area there is no detectable pollution. This is not true for all parts of Japan, but that is another story...

Locally grown native seedlings are being planted to replace the harvested conifer plantations, with the support of the Nature Conservation Society of Japan. My family and I are volunteers assisting with the replanting.

People from around Japan can sponsor the project, allowing those from urban areas to be involved in supporting the natural environment.

This project gives me the opportunity to complete the cycle, replanting the forest which provides the fuel for my kiln and my home. As a potter, I feel the importance of taking responsibility for the consequences of my making process, and of encouraging others in my profession to adopt sustainable work practices. And though it may seem to be a small and insignificant action when viewed in isolation, it is another step towards a carbon neutral future, carbon drawdown and sustainability, and it is a road that we must all walk together.

Monday 14 August 2023

Mountain High, Water Deep

I cannot tell the story of other's lives, for I only know the outlines, the broad strokes, glimpses of details, a little light, a little shadow. If I told the story it would be coloured be my own experiences, embellished with my own imaginings, filtered through my eyes and without the resolution of their true highs and lows. The more words I pour in to try to fill the gap, the wider it becomes.  

But a deshi, a disciple, must be his masters hands, his strong back, and the bearer of his flame. Then he must be his own. 

There is only one story I truly know, and it is written in the clay, my book of pots. After all, the writing was on the wall, and the deeper the water, the higher the mountain...

Thursday 27 July 2023

Featured on the official media of the Government of Japan

 It is a rare honour to be featured on the official Facebook page and Twitter of the Government of Japan. My thanks to the Office of the Prime Minister for the kind invitation!

The legacy of Mashiko ware, Edo-era (1603 - 1867) pottery rooted in the clay-rich town of Mashiko, Tochigi, endures today in the work of Australian potter Euan Craig! His university study of Japanese ceramics and folk-art movements so deeply impressed Craig that, after running a pottery in Australia, he moved to Mashiko in 1990 and trained under a master; he started his own studio just 4 years later. Whether continuing his activities in Mashiko or working from his new studio in the town of Minakami, Gunma, Craig still creates simple and practical pottery embodying the concept of beauty in utility.



Wednesday 26 July 2023


The afternoon sunlight floods in through the studio windows as I finish the last of the handles. Spreading the wide end of a coned coil of clay with a few taps of my thumb, I moisten it with enough water to form a thin slurry then fold the wet surface over the rim of the mug and smear in the edges inside and out. I take extra care to confirm and compress the outer corners where it joins the rim, and with such a large surface area of contact, this join will become the strongest part of the pot. 

Wetting my hand in a pail of well water, I gently caress the surface of the clay within the circle of my thumb and index finger, smoothing out the surface as gravity pulls it down. When the coil of clay has tapered evenly from the thickness of the joint to the thin end, I alternate my grip from side to side as I slide it down the length if the clay. This helps to form an oval profile, thicker in the centre than on the edges, giving the handle a backbone and making it stronger. Each stroke of my hand sliding across the wet surface of the clay aligns the the particles in the direction which the clay will eventually bend, adding to its tensile strength. With the end of my thumb I fashion groves down the handle, slight changes of direction which help stabilize the structure of the handle.

I rotate the cup in the horizontal plane, never swinging the handle for that would cause stress fractures, and add grooves to the internal surface of the handle as well. And, when the handle is just the right length, I lift the cup upright, and allow gravity and the tensile strength of the clay to form a perfect curve, then press the handle into the side of the body to join it back into the cup. The remaining strap of clay I fold and wind into the curve at the hip of the pot, and the very last end slides into the line at the top of the foot. Thus, the handle flows in a natural curve, springing from the rim and returning to the body in smooth and harmonious movement. 

The trick is; not to interfere. The clay knows where it wants to go, gravity knows what it has to do, and once it is done, you must know when to let it be.

The art of the potter is not about controlling the clay and forcing your will upon it, but understanding the clay and helping it express its nature in harmony with universal forces.