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.

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