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. 

Tuesday, 25 July 2023



You are invited to join me at @yamatoya.takasaki for my solo exhibition from Friday, August 4th till Tuesday, August 15th! 

I hope that the pots I make all speak for themselves, and that they will become part of a conversation, in your home, on your dining table and in your daily life. A conversation about the beauty of nature and about human beings as part of the natural world. And I will be in the gallery every day to explain the details of the process and philosophy of their creation. 

I look forward to seeing you in the real world!

#gunma #woodfiredceramics #handcraftedpottery #japaneseceramics #高崎 #群馬 #陶芸 #作品展 #薪窯

Wednesday, 13 July 2022

The Analog Man

My Dear Friend,

The undulating ceiling of clouds catches on the peaks of the mountains, their ragged edges swirling into the valleys and tangling in the trees. And as those fragments disperse into the air, I can feel the misty droplets kissing my face as my feet carry me up the valley on the homeward leg of my morning walk. I muse that I am like a fish looking up through murky waters at shipwrecked sails being torn upon a reef. 

Strange how often we use analogy to try to explain the world. Of course, any description of our experience of the world will be less than the experience itself, but we try to evoke images in the minds of others with analogies which only take them one step further away from the truth. I have often heard people describe a sunset as “looking like a painting”. But I think it should the other way around. That there are paintings which look like sunsets. I have seen paintings of sunsets, some of which are incredibly beautiful, and though those art works may say something else, about the feelings of the artist, or the nature of the medium, I also know that there is no painting, nor photo, nor cinematographic representation of a sunset which compares in breadth, depth or detail to the full sensory experience of an actual sunset. Or a flower. Or a coffee mug.


As I enter the back garden gate and bow to the Inari shrine as I pass, I take a mental note that the bamboo shoots are coming up, in and around the grove, and need to be harvested before they get too big. I come in quietly through the studio door, trying not to wake the family. The two cats sneak past me eagerly, looking first to me and then the kitchen door expectantly, urgently mewling breakfast requests. 

“Cornflakes?” I enquire to them. I interpret their answering “Meow” as an emphatic “Yes!”, and give them each a bowl of dry cat kibble. The analog clock on the wall insists that it is a quarter to six. 

Isn’t it interesting how language evolves? Somehow “Analog” has come to mean “As opposed to Digital”, and seems to equate to anything of a manual or physical nature. I have often been described in recent years as “analog”, along with my work process, lifestyle and general values. But I’m not sure that is the right word, and it somehow implies that I am some kind of anachronistic Luddite, out of step with the “Real” world. To the contrary, I have striven to pare off the artificial and the arbitrary in order to live a simpler, more practical and sustainable life, in line with the realities of our era. 

An “Analog Clock” is not named because of its mechanical, physical nature, but because the movements of it’s hands are “Analogous” to the movement of the sun’s shadow on a Sundial. Of course, the shadow only moves between dawn and dusk, and the ancients divided the movement of the shadow into twelve equal parts, an inheritance from the ancient Babylonian’s arbitrary predilection for base twelve. Which, incidentally, is the same reason that there are 360 degrees in a circle, and sixty minutes in an hour, and sixty seconds in a minute. Dividing the night time into twelve, and making all the twenty-four hours equal in duration came much later. It ignored the fact that periods of daylight vary in length depending on where the planet is on it’s endless journey, a little droplet teeming with life, rotating on it’s axis, wobbling it’s roughly elliptical orbit in the goldilocks zone around it’s local star, in this vast and barren galactic desert. It also ignored the fact that, like every other living thing that exists on earth, we evolved to dance in rhythm with this endless symphony of light and dark. Then they divided the world into twenty-four time zones, so that we could all ignore the actual movement of the sun together. And, just so that there is no misunderstanding, a second is now the base unit of time, and is defined thus:

“the unperturbed ground-state hyperfine transition frequency of the caesium 133 atom, to be 9192631770 when expressed in the unit Hz, which is equal to s−1.”


Don’t get me wrong, I understand the importance of accuracy, and science is another way of exploring and understanding the universe. I marvel at the wonders which science discloses of both the macro and microcosm, and the miracles performed for the benefit of humankind. But not all of those discoveries are beneficial, and the choice of how, when and whether to use them cannot be taken lightly, and they should never be swallowed whole without due consideration of their consequences. Just as tradition must be constantly questioned and reviewed, rejected or reinvented where necessary, as many evils have been perpetuated in traditions's name.

For my part, I haven’t used an alarm clock or a wrist watch, neither analog, digital nor atomic, for many, many years. The role of the clock on my wall is only to synchronise with the rest of society, as is the calendar. There is much of modern society which not only ignores but is detrimental to nature, both in the sense of our global environment and in terms of our own human nature, our physical and emotional health. And life is too short and too precious to waste on arbitrary nonsense. So please forgive me if I choose not to invest my life too deeply in popular trends and artifice, because it is a matter of life and death for me, and I am no crazier than the lonely lemming who questions common conventions and popular culture and, after due consideration, says, “No, thank you all the same, but I don’t want to go that way!”.

I awoke at dawn and went for a walk around the village, and arrived home in time to make Obento lunch boxes and breakfast for the family. And off they went, to work and to school. Now that I have cleaned the kitchen, put away the dishes, and the futons, and written this letter to you, I shall turn off the digital world, go out to the studio and make some actual pots. Not analogies. Pots that aren’t canvasses but are art works in and of themselves, explorations of the materials and their interaction with natural forces. Pots that tell a story of their making and my understanding of the beauty of nature. Pots that will become part of other peoples lives, a conversation about the beauty of living every day. Pots that will continue to speak their truth for generations after I am gone and forgotten, another unknown craftsman. Bowls, perhaps, or plates. Or coffee mugs. While I sit in the light from the window, kicking the wooden wheel, with my hands in the earth and the water, listening to the long whistling cry of hawks... the twitter of sparrows... the croaking of frogs in the rice paddies...and the buzz and ringing chimes of cicadas in the trees, I will ponder the difference between the actual and the arbitrary, and the folly of convincing oneself that the arbitrary is absolute.