Wednesday 31 October 2007

A successful workshop

It has been full on this last week. Apart from delaying Walis firing till Sunday morning because of a Typhoon on saturday night, everything went according to plan. Even with torrential rain all weekend!

The sasukenei kiln was packed on thursday night, with all hands on deck. We managed to sart the kiln by 9:00pm and then we started the shifts of four people for four hours. After a nabe supper the rest of us crashed till friday morning.

Friday, bright and early we started packing my kiln with bisque ware. Lo and behold we ran out, and I had to go home and get more of my own pots to fill the front. That meant it was a Raw firing, so it was going to be a long day. We got it started by 1:30pm and finished at 1:30am, exactly 12 hours. I didn't seal the door this time with slip and paper, and flattened the seger cone 10, 1299c by the pyrometer.

While this was happening kusakabes firing continued, and Steve Mills built his kiln.

Wali gave instruction on Terra sigilata and Raku, and constructed his kiln.

On Saturday Kusakabe finished his firing, a total of 36 hours. Steve and wali packed their kilns and Steve fired his in 6 hours!

George Guine brought in meals on wheels for a culinary extravaganza on Saturday night and a great time was had by all!

Come Sunday, the weather was miraculously fine and clear, and as wali set the flying kiln into orbit we unpacked the other three kilns. The results were fantastic, with close to zero losses. As we pulled the raku pots hot from Walis kiln it was exciting to see the variety of colours and surfaces that can be achieved with different clays in the same kiln and the same clay in different kilns. It was a rich and fulfilling workshop, and everyone went away with a wealth of new experience.

Wednesday 24 October 2007

A Busy Month

This last week I travelled north to Murata town in Miyagi prefecture for their annual Pottery Festival.
I have been doing it for the last six years, and there are nearly seventy potters from all over Japan and this year Taiwan who display their works there.

It also saw the start of three group exhibitions. The first "ALL FIRED UP", opened on the 15th at the Mashiko Tougei Club gallery. Apart from my own work there is also the work of Masakazu Kusakabe (Japan), Wali Hawes (India), Steve Mills (England) and Steve Tootell (Wales). It goes until the 5th of November.
It is an exhibition of the work of the five presenters of the "FANTASTIC FIRE" woodfiring workshop which starts tomorrow in Mashiko.

At Gallery St Ives in Tokyo an exhibition of teabowls by (mainly) british potters started on the 19th and will continue until November 5th. The opening was a fantastic event, but unfortunately I was in Murata!

The 20th saw the start of "TOTALLY TEABOWLS" at Oakwood gallery in the UK as well, and that will be going until the 4th of November.

If you have time, and happen to be in the right country, please visit.

Thursday 11 October 2007


We have fired the new kilns. We stacked on the fourth, and Kusakabe san started firing that night at about 10:00pm. When I arrived and started firing my kiln at 7:00am on the 5th he was at 380c. Because there were lots of raw pots in the kiln I aimed at a fourteen hour firing. The first 600 degrees are the most dangerous for raw pots, with the crucial temperatures being 350c, when the chemical water is burned off, and 573c when the silica expands.

Kusakabe san sealed the kiln door with refractory mortar slurry on newspaper, like wallpapering, and it seemed like a good idea so we did it to my kiln too. As a result the kiln was sealed much better than my normal firing and so it was much more heavily reduced. We reached temperature, put in 2kg of soda ash and finished firing in 13 hours. Unfortunately I forgot to take my camera so there are no photos of the firing! We fire again for "Fantastic Fire" on the 26th, so I will do a more detailed record then. Kusakabe sans firing continued until 3:00pm on saturday the 6th, and reached the horrifying temperature of 1375c, and we had to desperately drag it back down to 1320 under a heavy reduction before we finished!

We unpacked both kilns on the 9th, mine had much more carbon trapping than I expected, but there were 0 losses!

Kusakabe sans kiln had excellent ash glazing, and though many peices were lost the results of the suviving work was very rewarding. Next time will be better! 

Thursday 4 October 2007

Tea bowls in context

Like any other funtional vessel, a tea bowl is not complete until it is in use. It is part of a greater art work, art in process, and it is part of the beauty that affects all five senses. Yes, most certainly, a tea bowl is a beautiful object in and of itself, but it is more than that.

If you have read the essay mentioned in my last blog you will understand that it is the interaction between all of the elements of the tea ceremony that complete the bowl. Be it the fragrance of the tatami mats or the sweetness of the Mama Daifuku.

Nor is it just the moment when the bowl is full of fresh tea, but it is also the making process, the drinking and finishing process.

And when you have finished, the way the last skerrick of tea runs back into the "Chadamari" and hangs on the shoulder is just as important an expression of the beauty of process as the whisking of the tea.

Monday 1 October 2007

Fresh from the kiln

Just unpacked the firing and the results were very pleasing! Some excellent new tea bowls for example. This Chawan was at the fire face so the ash has built up on the front of the bowl and formed runnels down the vertical surface. The black glaze inside is mirror like and will look majestic when it contains green tea!

Towards the middle of the kiln this Tea bowl shows stronger reds and oranges. I have used a clay with slightly more iron, and there is a lustrous patina on the inside where the igusa straw has marked the bowl.

A smaller tea bowl for the outdoor tea ceremony was near the bottom of the kiln and has developed an almost pearlescent surface over the soft orange flashing.

The Tea bowls will be included in the Tea bowl Exhibition at Gallery St Ives in Tokyo which starts later this month.
It coincides with the "Totally Teabowls" exhibition at Oakwood Ceramics in the UK, for which they have published my essay "Just My Cup of Tea" in their magazine section.

Other tea ware also came out of the kiln, like this "Kensui", a bowl for discarding the hot water used to wash the tea bowl in the tea ceremony. It is taller than a tea bowl, with a wider, more stable foot and a flared rim avoid spillage.

Apart from tea ware the wine goblets came out with excellent carbon trapping and transluscency.

There were also two varieties of "Kumidashi" tea cups, which are used for serving tea to guests in a more informal situation. Tea would be poured into them from a "Kyusu" tea pot. This design is like a small version of a "Gohan Chawan" or rice tea bowl.

These kumidashi are collared slightly at the lip to make them more comfortable to hold and drink from. Usually sets are of five pieces, as six is too many and four is unlucky. The word for four, "Shi", is pronounced the same as the word for death, so five it is!