Thursday 21 June 2007

A Spot of Gardening

We have been working in the garden when time allows, and this year we're looking forward to a healthy harvest. It has taken us years to fight back the veritable jungle that was the garden when we moved here. Years of neglect had let the bamboo and weeds run rampant. The road is still long, but there is light enough at the end of the tunnel to grow a kitchen garden plot. There is a mixture of herbs and vegetables, mainly things which I like to use often. Herbs particularly are hard to get fresh here, so growing them yourself is the best option. The basil which I got as a seedling is looking very lush.

I also planted a row of basil seeds for later in the summer. They are just showing their heads today, and there should be enough basil for lashings of pesto.

Of course no feast of pasta wood be complete without tomatoes. They are still green and getting bigger by the day. We will let them ripen on the vine, giving them time to develop the rich flavours that shop bought tomatoes just never seem to have.

The capsicums are coming along too, we've planted three varieties. Small green capsicums are cheap in the supermarket, but large red or yellow ones are a bit of a luxury.

Cucumbers are one of Mika's favourite summer vegetables, and even at this stage, with the flower still attached, they could be used as a garnish. I think we'll wait until they get a bit bigger though, and make a real meal of it!

Monday 18 June 2007

The Underside of Tea Bowls

The underside of a teabowl is as important as any other part of the pot. In the tea ceremony it begins with the feel of the hip of the bowl as you lift it from the tatami mat, the texture beneath your fingertips, the fit of the foot into the palm of your hand. The foot cannot be too wide or it will feel uncomfortable in your hand, nor too narrow or too high as it will be unstable when whisking the tea. Too shallow and your fingertips won't fit underneath to lift it. At the end of the ceremony one views the foot to see the nature of the clay from which the bowl is made and the skill of the maker. The bowls I trimmed today were chattered under the hip to give a texture under the bowl that would not be seen until after the tea is finished, but which is felt the moment the bowl is touched.

When the pot comes of the wheel after the initial throwing the bottom is thick and rough. It must be returned to the wheel when firm to be trimmed. Todays bowls will be used for open air tea ceremonies and therefore must fit inside a carry case. They need to be exact in height so I use a set pointer to mark the base to a precise measurement, making allowance for shrinkage.

Once the pot is centred upside down on the wheel the base is flattened with a flat metal trimming tool.

The diameter of the finished foot is measured by the size of the hoop trimming tool.

The outside of the foot and the hip are then trimmed from the bowl.

The inside of the foot is hollowed out. Care must be taken not to cut right through the base of the bowl!

A bead line is marked on the change of direction between the thrown wall and the trimmed base. This creates a zone in which to chatter the surface.

Chattering is a decoration which uses a peice of spring steel held endwise against the moving clay surface. As the clay moves beneath the tool at a regular speed the tool vibrates against the surface creating a regular pattern of marks. Moving this across the surface will create a texture. The hardness of the clay, the speed of the wheel, the angle of the tool...a miriad of variables all affect the finished pattern. As the pot is moving very fast it is impossible to see the pattern forming, but the sound will tell you if it working or not, and the more beautiful the rhythm of the vibration the more beautiful the pattern will be. You get one chance. Like any other natural phenomenon, no two patterns are identical.

To finish the piece I apply my makers mark. It is based on my initials. Beside it I impress a second mark to indicate the year it was made. I hand make the stamps from either cherry wood or aluminium

This year is the year of the boar, so each piece bears a wild boar mark. Last years work all carries the mark of the dog, and next year shall be a mouse. The pots can now dry until I am ready to glaze them. Just another step in the long process from earth to art.

Thursday 14 June 2007

Slip ware?

I have heard that Shoji Hamada "rediscovered" the secret of slipware while eating jam and cream.
In our house mayonaise and "otafuku" sauce work very nicely.

"Okonomiyaki", a sort of Japanese savoury pancake, is very popular with the children, but adults can eat it too! Of course ice cold beer helps!

Tuesday 12 June 2007


After a very hectic period, a great deal of which was far afield, I am at last where I should be. Home. The lawns that were neglected are little by little being brought under control. The ivy is spreading across the retaining wall and the sign board proclaims that this is "Euans Kiln".

From the front veranda I can see the wild pheasants scratching in the fresh cut grass in the garden just beyond the persimmon tree. If only I had a zoom lens!

In the shade of the persimmon the spearmint is thriving. Canaan, who is now seven, and I pick a bunch of the fresh young sprigs and we make mint sauce together.
Two spoons of chopped mint, three of sugar, four of vinegar. He mixes it for me, just as I used to for Mum when I was a lad.

The leg of lamb that I bought in Tokyo has been in the oven for three and a half hours, nice and slow at 160c. While it rests I add plain flour to the baking juices, mix it thoroughly then add the stock from cooking the pumpkin and some milk. Simmered over a low flame, stirring all the time, it makes the best gravy! The smell of lamb and mint permeate the house, mouths are watering. Served on the black glazed plates, meat and three vegies, my family surrounding the table.

This is where I should be, this is where I am. Home.

Wednesday 6 June 2007


Thanks to the efforts of Isaka san from Gallery St Ives and our display at the Tokyo Dome Tableware festival, my pots are now available all the year round at Takashimaya Department store in Shinjuku, Tokyo.
To coincide with their renewal opening they have put in a display of my work in the "New York Takashimaya Home" space on the 10th floor.
Tanaka san, the lovely lady in charge of the display, and the other staff have taken the time to really understand the work and its process. So if you missed the Ebiya show, take a trip down to Shinjuku and say "Hi" to Tanaka san.

Signature dinner

The food was delicious,
the company delightful,
the pots...
The chef, Touru Hashimoto, and I discussed the designs in February, coming up with an outline for the full course. It was then up to me to create a range of vessels developed from those designs. At the meal Touru then brought the pots to life with his culinary expertise.

Touru is the fifth generation chef at "Kappo Toyoda" restaurant in Nihombashi. He has been preparing the food for my opening party at Ebiya every year since 1993, when he returned from Germany where he had been head chef at the Japanese embassy.
This years signature dinner was our second, and we focussed on the potential of simple forms this time. Without adding anything to the thrown forms I altered their shapes by bending their rims or cutting them. Sometime pots were used "upside down". Touru also demonstrated the possiblities of the forms by using them in different ways each evening.
It was a culinary adventure!