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. 



Wednesday, 16 February 2022


I am just a potter. I know that there are many other labels which could be used to make it sound more romantic, more exotic, more valuable, but those lines we draw in the air to define our separateness don’t matter to the air. It enters us when we breath, becomes part of us for a brief time, then leaves us again in the constant ebb and flow of life.

There are no lines between art and science, mathematics and language, work and leisure, for they are all overlapping ways in which we strive to understand our lives and our place in the world. I chose to become a potter because, of all the careers on the list, it was the only one which I could find which could twine all the scattered fibres of my fraying life into a single thread. It is, literally, the most down to earth way of embracing the sublime, to become part of the forces of nature, to take earth and water, air and fire, and give new expression to the beauty of the world. To share that passion with others through the touch of hand on clay, through the flavour and fragrance of sharing sustenance, through the art of just living.

And I am just a potter, making pots to serve food to my loved ones. But each pot embodies that love, nourishes and enriches their lives, and the making of the vessels nourishes and enriches mine. Just as every day is new and unique, so too are the pots that I make, and there is no end to the wonder and joy of that discovery. The pots go out into the world and become part of other peoples lives, serving nourishment to their loved ones, telling their stories.

Yes, I am just a potter. But it is the pots that have made me so, and there are no lines to separate the making and the becoming, and that is enough.

Tuesday, 18 January 2022

Milk & Honey

Each morning is made fresh, clean and beautiful with a new coating of snow. It is a subtle softening of the edges of the world, without guile or intent. That gentle accumulation of delicate white crystals on every leaf and frond, branch and stone, machine, mansion or tumble down shed, that blankets them and makes them all equal within its tender embrace. It reminds me that beauty is the natural state of the world, of nature, of this universe in which we are privileged to live and breath and sense the infinite wonder of being.  

I open the shutters in the predawn glow, then light the wood stove to warm our home. Grinding coffee and setting it to brew on the stove, I give a call out to those who need to leave the dreaming world and get off to school or work. Back in the kitchen I start to prepare Obento and breakfast, and the family start to emerge one by one and begin their own preparations for the day ahead. I break an egg into a bowl, add a hundred milliliters of milk, two spoons of sugar and a dash of vanilla, then whisk it with a fork till it is nice and smooth. Into this I soak two slices of bread, drizzle a little olive oil into a frypan on the stove, and lay the bread gently in the pan to sizzle. As the fragrance of coffee, vanilla and toasting bread fill the room I lay out plates and cutlery on the kitchen table. Each slice of french toast is flipped once so that each side is the golden brown of fox fur, and when they are done I place them on the black surface of the plate, dust them with cinnamon and top them with a spoonful of homemade yoghurt. After trickling lines of honey backwards and forwards across the yoghurt I drag the tip of a knife through the lines to feather the pattern. I pour the coffee, and breakfast is served! 

The modern world, human society, can be a complex and difficult place. I don’t think that it needs to be, it’s just that we tend to outsmart ourselves, mistaking luxury and extravagance for happiness, and forget to care and be kind sometimes…so I strive for a simple life, rich in all the unassuming beauty that nature provides, and hope that my work is an expression of that. And every day is a chance to start afresh. 

Saturday, 3 July 2021

When is a Chawan not a Chawan?

When is a teabowl not a teabowl? 

When it is a rice bowl! Or a soup bowl, or any of a wide variety of vessels in Japanese cuisine with the appellation “Chawan".

"Cha" means tea, and "Wan" means bowl, and any of these bowls could be comfortably held in the hand and used to drink tea. In the case of a rice bowl, it is called a "Gohan Chawan", or more informally "Meshijawan", and in days past tea would often have been poured into the bowl after the rice was eaten to finish the meal and wash down the last skerrick of goodness! "Go" is an honorific prefix, which is dropped in informal situations or when referring humbly to one's self, and both "Han" and "Meshi" are different readings of the same kanji character which means simply "cooked rice”.

But this is where it gets interesting...there are four different kanji characters which all say "Wan" and all mean bowl, but with subtle differences in meaning! 

Four Kanji that all say "Wan" and mean bowl, from left: Wooden, Metal, Pottery,  Bowl for Tea Ceremony

Three of them differ only by a change in one part of the character which indicates whether the bowl is made of wood (kihen), metal (kanehen) or ceramic (ishihen)! All of these kanji also include a portion which is called an "ukanmuri" which in this case symbolises a lid. 

From left: Ki (wood), Kane (metal), Ishi (stone), Ukanmuri

 Traditionally, these bowls would have been accompanied by a lid, though that is not very common these days except at restaurants. I always make a series of small plates which can be used separately for soy sauce, pickles, condiments or any variety of dishes, but also as lids. Which is why the underside is just as important as the upper surface! 

Incidentally, if you add the kanji for powder in front of these "Chawan", they become "Machawan" meaning tea bowls for the tea ceremony. The fourth kanji for "Wan", however, has neither a symbol indicating what it is made from, nor that it has a lid, does not require the inclusion of the "Cha" or "Macha" characters, but always and only means a teabowl for the tea ceremony. But that is another story... 

I was asked about the traditional size of "Gohan Chawan" (rice bowls) in Japan and the short answer; there is no hard and fast size, but there are a set of principles. They are based on the size of the human hand and the way that the bowl is used. 

The rim diameter of the bowl is based on the circumference which your hands can encompass when you make a circle with your thumbs and middle fingers. The average, in traditional measurements, for the large diameter is usually "4sun" (about 121mm) and the smaller is usually 10% smaller at "3sun 6bu" (about 109mm). Having said that, large bowls would range from 110~135, and small bowls between 92~115. These days people generally tend to be larger than they were during the Edo period, so I make mine in the upper range. (Anything larger than 140mm would probably be considered a Domburi, but that is also another story!)

The internal proportions are usually Depth 1: Diameter 2, but not a hemisphere, rather a parabolic curve which makes it easy to use with chopsticks. 

The foot of the bowl rests in the crook of the fingers, on top of the second and third phalanges, not in the palm of the hand, and the first phalanges extend beyond the foot. This makes the grip on the foot very stable, and also allows the middle finger free movement to assist in changing the dominant hand's grip on the chopsticks. This usually gives a diameter range of 55mm for large to 45mm for small. 

A high foot is important so that the hand doesn't come in direct contact with the hip of the bowl, which can become quite hot to the touch when rice is freshly served! 

A vessel is not complete until it is in use. Every part of the process of making a pot is a step toward this objective. Even though each of those steps requires my full presence at the time and each task gives a unique sense of fulfillment, they are all part of a journey that culminates in a culinary event. 

Just as the food that comes to the table is the culmination of a process which begins with tilling the earth, and planting and nurturing the crop till it comes to harvest. Taking that harvest, planning and preparing each individual dish, balancing and combining flavours, colours and textures, then serving them into the perfect vessels. 

A meal isn't just about filling your stomach, it is about nourishing body and spirit. It is about experiencing the sensory pleasure and the beauty of that moment. It is about sharing and being shared with.

This is always in my mind when I am making pots, whatever stage in the process that may be. It may seem to take an hour to prepare a meal, but it only seems that way. For every meal there are days, and weeks, and months, of often unseen preparation. And every vessel which I make and every meal I share with my loved ones has taken me a lifetime.

My son reminded me yesterday of something which I told him many years ago; that a potter is to the vessels they make as a tree is to it's leaves. We must make them in order to grow, they are expressions of our essential selves, but we give them up gratefully that they may become nourishment for others.

As a maker, I feel very grateful when others use my vessels with as much love and care as I did in making them. 

We need beauty in our lives every day, to nourish our spirit as well as our body. In a world which is inundated with the artificial, isn't it nice to share something real?

If you would like to own some of these works, I invite you to the opening of the New Euan Craig Online Gallery!
We open Today, Sunday the 4th till Sunday the 18th of July, 2021, with our First Exhibition of New Wood Fired Bowls, fresh from the Kiln! 

I have missed being able to exhibit at real world events over the past year and a half, mostly I have missed the conversations with friends and patrons, but this is a way to share my new works with everyone wherever you may be!

Friday, 8 January 2021


 The powdery snow creaks and groans as I shovel a path from the house to the kiln shed in the pale predawn light. I take special care on the stone steps, making sure they are free of snow before I walk on them, as once the snow is compacted it becomes ice, slippery and dangerous, and I will be walking this path many times today. This is the day of my “Hatsugama”, my first firing for the year. 

Returning to the house, I get the tray which I have prepared and carry it carefully to the kiln shed. On it are two sake cups from my last firing, a rice bowl with a handful of uncooked rice grains mixed with salt, a bottle of Nihonshu and a box of matches. The sake is a gift from an old friend, his favourite, a “Daiginjo” from Utsunomiya in Tochigi Prefecture, my old stamping ground. I open the bottle and pour sake into one of the cups, a cylindrical guinomi with strong throwing rings, a form based loosely on the shape of bamboo, filling it to the brim. A little of it spills on my hand as I lift the cup and place it on the brick beside the arch at the top of the door and the sweet fragrance of sake fills the kiln shed. The second guinomi is rounder, like an inverted shiitake mushroom, and I take it outside and fill it with freshly fallen snow. I place it carefully beside the first guinomi. Above them, on the metal frame of the kiln, is the “Kagami mochi” new year’s rice cake. I carry the rice bowl outside and sprinkle the mixture of rice and salt to the four compass points for protection and purification, then come inside and do the same in the four corners of the shed.


I pray.

I pray for a safe firing and a safe year. 

I pray that the pots will be blessed with the beauty of the flame. 

I pray for health, happiness, and peace for all my loved ones and all those who will use the vessels from this firing. 

I pray for the wisdom to do what is right and good.

It is six degrees below zero outside, but the pyrometer reads minus one inside the kiln as I pick up the matches. I strike one and put it to the tinder which I set under the fire grate in the mouth of each fire box when I finished stacking the kiln. As the fire starts to pop and crackle, I go around to the back of the kiln and open the damper fully to allow draft to flow through the kiln. It is imperative that the kiln heat slowly and evenly, as the pots inside the kiln are all raw, and although they have been thoroughly air dried,  there will still be free water in the clay from humidity which must be driven from the clay without damaging the pots. Particularly in winter, when the kiln is below freezing, one must be careful not to crack kiln shelves as well by heating them too fast. Keeping the fire just inside the fire mouths means that the flame is at least a metre away from the pots inside, having to travel the length of the fire box before entering the ware chamber. Being on the floor of the ash pit, rather than on top of the fire grate, also prevents the fire from burning to ferociously as air is not able to be drawn from underneath. The bricks of the fire box and the floor of the ware chamber start to warm as the heated air and smoke is drawn through the stack of pots inside, circuiting down through the exit port in the floor of the chamber, between the twin fireboxes, and up through the chimney at the back. 

Once satisfied that the wood is burning properly, I go back to the studio to mix a batch of soft fire clay slurry to seal the gaps between the bricks of the door. In a bucket I mix warm water and dry powdered “Dosembo” fire clay in about a 1:4 ratio to make it a thick porridge-like consistency. I stir with my hand so that I can feel it’s texture and make sure it is smooth and free of lumps. Carrying it back to the kiln shed, I start to smear it over the bricks of the kiln door with my right hand but leaving my left hand clean, carefully forcing the clay into and over the gaps to prevent draft from seeping through them between the bricks and sealing the kiln door. Starting from the bottom, I gradually work my way up, systematically and painstakingly. Sealing the door properly means that the only source of oxygen into the kiln is the fire mouth, and the only exit for exhaust fumes is the chimney or the spy holes. It therefore allows a much better control of the draft and atmosphere inside the kiln, either by adjusting the damper or by the amount of fire wood per stoke, the size to which it is split and the timing of each stoke. 

As I seal the door with my right hand, I keep a constant eye on the pyrometer to make sure the kiln doesn’t climb too quickly. This firing is starting from frozen, so I want it to climb at about seventy-five degrees celsius per hour, rather than the one hundred degrees an hour which I would fire to in summer. When the wood in the firebox has burned down to embers and the temperature starts to drop below the ideal gradient, I stoke five pieces of wood into each fire mouth with my clean left hand, then continue the sealing of the door with my right. At last the door is sealed, and I take the bucket with the remaining fireclay back the studio so that it doesn’t freeze solid, and wash my hands with soap and water before returning to the kiln. 

Venus, the morning star, shines brilliant in the ruby glow of false dawn above a jagged black horizon, and a shooting star streaks briefly through the fading indigo of night. The firing will continue through the day and into the night, gradually climbing in temperature until it passes thirteen hundred degrees. How I stoke and adjust the kiln will change during the day, and the pots within will undergo irreversible changes.  But for now, not quite an hour and a half since I lit the kiln, it registers one hundred degrees on the pyrometer, and the snow in the curved guinomi is starting to melt, becoming water. The free water in the clay of the pots has all turned to steam and fled up the chimney into the atmosphere, and water vapour rises from the drying fire clay on the kiln door. Perhaps it will return to earth as snow again, a new and unrepeatable crystallization of the essence of water.

I am reminded of another firing, ten years past, a day of fire and snow just before the earthquake, when I spoke with my daughter about life and death. About how I believe that a human soul is to the universal soul as a snow flake is to the life giving water which pervades our world. Ephemeral and precious, we are fragments of spirit in the world looking at itself and finding meaning. The libations that I make are symbols of that, acknowledging the “Genius Loci”, the spirit of this place and the generations who have come before us. They symbolise the changing nature of the universe and help me recognise and show gratitude to the greater forces which I borrow in order to practice my craft, to live and breathe, to be. And the understanding that I, too, will one day return to that from which I came, and that this firing, this day, this moment, is a blessing that should be cherished. 

And thus the year, the “Hatsugama”, the first firing, begins. Let’s pray that they turn out well, but let us also strive to make each moment, each action, the best that we can. For that is what defines us.

With these thoughts in my head, I stoke the kiln once more, and go back to the house for breakfast.

Friday, 1 January 2021


Dawn breaks in the south east, beams of light reaching out across the valley, tinting the world in shades of red and gold. Countless flakes of snow falling gently through the air catch the light and send it sparkling across the landscape, as I stand by the warmth of the wood stove, mug of cappuccino in hand, and watch this morning’s overture through our front windows. A deep blanket of snow covers the world, the houses, the trees, the mountains, blurring the edges and sharpening the shadows. The snow shines lustrously in shades of pink and orange, glinting off the facets of innumerable crystals strewn over the garden. There is a quiet stillness in the world, even though it is full of the motion of the falling snowflakes and ever changing radiance of the sun in its inexorable journey across the sky.

Perhaps it is just another sunrise in an endless string of sunrises stretching back to the beginning of the world. A thread that will continue forward until the world ends. But today, I am standing at the fulcrum between the past and the future, in the shelter of my pillar and post, wattle and daub cave, bearing witness to this unique iteration of the cosmic dance. As my portion of the earth’s ever rotating surface slides once again beneath the event horizon between night and day, out of shadow and into light, the bubble of swirling gasses that protects my home from the vacuum of space filters and refracts the sun’s radiance like a kaleidoscope of infinite variation. The whirling eddies of the flaming sea which covers the sun will never again glow exactly as it does right now, the earth will never spin through this self same spot, nor the clouds ever billow the same way. 

Maybe it’s simply another fall of featureless white, like any other day in any other winter. Yet the drifts of snow are carved by the capricious wind, an ever changing accumulation of snow flakes beyond number. Flakes which have materialized from thin air up in the clouds, water condensing on motes of dust and freezing into hexagonal crystalline structures, no two the same. Floating on the breeze or driven by the gale, the earth pulls them gradually down where they gently settle upon her face. They gather into thick, deep layers, like precious gems, each one an unrepeatable experiment in possibilities. As I drink my coffee I marvel at the limitless variety of nature’s perfection.

And to some, it’s just another mug, one of many hundreds that I have made over the years. But, if you pay attention, you will find that they are all unique. This mug is this mug. The handle is smooth within the grip of my fingers, rising from the rim and curving smoothly down to rejoin in a spiraling tendril at the base of the cup. Ash which has accumulated on the surface of the clay inside the wood kiln, much as the snow settles on the landscape outside, has melted into a rippling glass which coats the throwing rings and chattering, pooling in the hollows of the texture and running in a rivulet down the side of the mug to hang as a droplet just above the foot. Where the flow of the flame has left the surface untouched by ash, in the leeward side of the handle and the body, the clay has flashed orange and gold like the colours of the sunrise through the clouds. A few stalks of Igusa rush have left delicate strokes of dark ash where they were bound around the pot, like branches in the snow. Every touch of my fingers, every stroke of every tool, every lick of flame, is here in my hands as the coffee warms them through the walls of the mug, its fragrance filtering through the frothed milk and cinnamon sugar, its flavour thrilling my senses as it flows over my tongue.

Nature will always find a form which is in perfect harmony with the complex forces which are at work upon it. And that perfection has nothing to do with sameness or uniformity. There are no two snow flakes, no two leaves upon any tree, no two people throughout all of history, that have ever been the same. From the cosmic to the microcosmic, each and every one is a unique and unrepeatable moment in eternity, wondrous and precious. We humans, nature self aware, bear witness to that wonder, and can become part of the process which gives new form to that wonder. Even if it something as unassuming as a mug of cappuccino on a snowy morning.

Tuesday, 21 January 2020

30 Years

The hazy crescent moon sails across the night sky, like a pale ship on a misty sea with no star to follow. Flakes of snow fall like motes of dust, settling on my shoulders and chest as I walk down the silent lane. I can feel them flutter against my right cheek, tiny spots of cold that tell me the breeze is blowing from the north. There are no shadows, though the eastern sky behind me is a subtly paler shade of charcoal grey, heralding the slow coming of morning. The sound of my own feet thudding softly on the bitumen becomes quieter as the snow begins to settle, and dark footprints follow my progress, gradually fading as the snow gently erases them to the nothing from which they came. 

The snow is deeper as I walk down the west side of the valley, past the Taineiji Temple and beside "Byakkozawa" the White Fox Creek, and it complains squeakily beneath my feet, a rhythmic croak that echoes like some giant insect passing through the trees. Bamboo arches across the road above the village, the leafy heads of each stalk weighed down by the snow, making a dark tunnel through which I must pass. As I breach the bamboo a waft of breeze brings the fragrance of cows and straw and the consequences of such a confluence of forces. Ah! The joy of country life!

And now I come down the valley, the last stretch of road before home. The snow falls thicker now and, as I open my mouth to draw a sigh, a flake of snow lands sizzlingly cold on my tongue. I enter our driveway and carefully pick my way across the dark cobblestones, slippery with the snow melted by the warmth they had stored from yesterday's sun. I am home.

As I open the storm shutters the Town Public Address system chimes six o'clock and thirty years. For it was thirty years ago today, the 21st of January 1990, at 6:00 AM, that I first landed at Narita Airport and saw snow for the first time in my life. 

It has been a long journey since then. Learning a whole new language and culture, studying at Shimaoka's in the thatched roof studio on a wooden kick wheel. Marrying Mika and building the new wood kiln. The blessed births of our four beautiful children, watching them grow. The burning down of the studio when we moved to the house in Ichikai, fitting into a new community there. Building a life there, only to have it destroyed by the earthquake of 2011. Starting from nothing again in Minakami and the help and support we had from so many people. And our children growing into adulthood here, gradually leaving the nest, one by one. It has been thirty years full of love and hope, laughter and tears, triumph and disaster and unrelenting optimism. And above all, love. The richest years of my life. 

Now it is time to make breakfast and get the family moving, and my own wooden kick wheel is waiting in the studio for me.

I have come full circle, arriving in the snow at the break of dawn. But this time, I am home.