Thursday 21 January 2010


I had never seen snow until the morning I arrived in Japan. Narita was freezing as I walked out of the terminal, all my worldly possessions in two carrier bags. I stood on the curb waiting for the bus, hoping I was in the right place. Conversations hummed around me, but I didn't know what they said. Signs and timetables, posters and advertising, all in words I could not read. I was alone, thousands of miles from the home I had left behind, unable to speak, unable to understand, illiterate. The Japanese gentleman beside me looked at me askance as I began to laugh. The adventure had begun.

Today I sat in my studio trimming dinner plates. Mika sat beside the wheel bench, in the warmth of the wood stove. We were talking about the four children, about ideas for a new studio, making puns, just talking about a myriad of things while I worked. We were talking in Japanese. Just as I began chattering the foot of the plate Sean came bouncing into the studio saying something of world shattering importance, as all things uttered by four year olds invariably are. Unfortunately we could not hear a word he said because of the chattering tool, but as I lifted the tool and quite descended, he rushed off to save the world, and we will never know what he said. I started to laugh, and Mika laughed with me.

The young man who stood laughing in the snow on January 21st, 1990 is still here inside me, somewhere, 20 years later. He is, however, no longer alone. The adventure continues.......

Tuesday 19 January 2010


I walked through the woods, the shafts of morning light piercing the crisp cold air. The boys, Canaan and Rohan, followed behind me, chattering excitedly as if some great adventure was afoot, their breath bursting out in billows of white vapour. In my hand I had my trusty double edged hand saw; the traditional Japanese style, with coarse rip saw on one edge and fine cross cut on the other. We had a mission, and now was the time, after the winter solstice and before the vernal equinox, when nature was dormant and saving its power deep inside. We were hunting wild bamboo!

As we crossed the no mans land between the ash grove and the bamboo, a brace of pheasants broke from the undergrowth, their thudding wing beats compressing the air, their raucous screeches shattering it. The boys laughed in surprise, and we cracked and crunched our way down into the shadows of the bamboo. We selected out several good, thick stalks, ones with a bit of dust encrusted above the segment rings and a satin sheen, not the shiny green ones. Bamboo is best when it is about three seasons old and the walls have become thick and hard. The young ones, still thin and glossy, are too weak for the task I have in mind.

Down low, close to the ground, I use the cross cut saw to sever the stalk, then thrust my shoulder against it and march forward in a powerful tackle that brings the fifteen metre giant crashing down behind me. We drag him through the brush, then cut him into 3.6 metre lengths, finally throwing his bushy head onto the ever growing pile we have started on the edge of the woods. This pile will rot down and compost over the next few years, deepening and enriching the soil, a home for stag beetles and lizards. When we have gathered a stack of poles enough to sate our needs, we tuck a pole under each arm and drag them back down through the woods, and display our booty on the lawn in front of the house and studio.

We now cut them to exact length and fit them into the empty shelf frames in the studio. The old ones have been removed after serving their time on the rack, some of them nearly ten years, supporting my pottery from it's birth on the wheel till it's trial in the kiln. The years of wood smoke from the stove in the corner have cured them so that they can now be cut down into bamboo dragon flies and other traditional tools. What is left over will be burnt in the stove to keep my family warm this winter. Nothing is wasted.

The sweet fragrance of the freshly cut bamboo fills the studio as I look at the clean empty space from the bedroom doorway. It beckons me, it dares me, like the clean fresh pages of new diary.

Wednesday 13 January 2010

The Golden Drop

It is the food that makes the vessel, and the vessel that makes or breaks the meal. I am happiest when I am enjoying a meal with my family, made with vegetables and herbs that we have grown ourselves, served on my own vessels. This is the essence, the seminal point from which the desire and need to create pottery begins. That is not, however, where it ends. Were pottery my hobby then that would be enough, but as pottery is and always has been my profession, my vessels must prove their validity in the professional arena.

Imagine walking into a fine restaurant packed with diners enjoying their cuisine on your own hand crafted vessels. From entree to dessert, each vessel designed for each separate course. As you walk from the entrance through the crowded tables to your reserved seat, the laughter and conversations of the others guests surrounds you. Each table you pass is at a different stage in their meal, the soup, the meat course, the fish. Accompanying each, excellent wines from around the globe. You have just walked into G'Drop, in Nihombashi, Tokyo.

Since January last year, G'Drop has been using my vessels for the winter season. You may remember the Ceramics Monthly article about it. They have about 500 pieces which I made after discussions with the chef, designed for the menu. This year (yesterday in fact!) they have asked me to make some additional pieces, which I will begin making tomorrow.

What is important about this for me is that these vessels are not just being used for a one off meal, but are being used for every meal in a sixty setting restaurant, for lunch and dinner, six days a week for three months every year. They are warmed in ovens or chilled in refrigerators, served with cuisine, eaten from with a variety of cutlery, washed in the dishwasher and stacked ready for the next order.

It is hard to imagine a harsher proving ground. The four "T's"; Functionality, Durability, Stability and Beauty, are all put to the test. Not only in the hands of the professional staff, but by the most unforgiving judges of all; the dining public. The other important issue that this is not a Japanese restaurant! Oh yes, it is in japan, but it is not serving Japanese cuisine where hand crafted pottery is the rule: this is a Continental style restaurant, where handcrafted ceramics are very much an unprecedented exception.

The winter menu on my vessels is only available until the end of march, and I have promised to have the new pots to add to it by the end of January so the race is on again!

Thursday 7 January 2010

The Dancing Frost

The winter holidays are over today and Jack Frost painted patterns across the windows of the engawa for the pleasure of the children. The engawa forms an air lock between the inner house and the elements, and though we are warm in our little cocoon, the frost still descends and the pipes still freeze.

Each pane of glass has a different design, no two are the same. This is the beauty and wonder of pattern in nature. The elements of the material world find form through aligning themselves with the interacting forces of nature. These infinitely variable combinations give rise to a never ending parade of unrepeatable beauty. A beauty that we humans can appreciate.

We too are the product of those forces, our physical beings built of elemental building blocks, constructed by universal forces, driven by life in its desire to become. We are the stuff of the universe, self conscious, aware of our being. We experience the world around us and find the things within it, the things which are born of this natural process, beautiful and good.

Beauty and good, however, are abstract and immeasurable ideas that only we, thus far, have found reason and means to communicate. The rest of the universe simply is. It's elements rearrange themselves endlessly in an ever changing dance. This mornings frost will evaporate into the water vapour that it was, and perhaps tomorrow it will be mist, and the next day it may be snow, only to melt in the spring to be a river, a lake, a glass of water, me.

Our spirit, our consciousness, is as real as any other thing in this sea of stars. Even though we cannot measure it, it exists as surely as the frost on the window pane. It has it's time in this form, and looks at the world in wonder. We are the universe, looking at itself, giving itself abstract meaning, the universe made self conscious. We have this time to live and love, and through our art and literature pass that on to those who follow in this ever lasting dance.

Monday 4 January 2010

A Piece of Cake

One of the pleasures of winter is the wood fired slow combustion stove. The Traditional Japanese architecture of our home wasn't really designed to keep the cold out, but we have insulated the ceiling and closed off most of the drafts, and the wood stoves keep us nice and warm.

My first experience of a wood stove was on my Aunty and Uncles farm in Redesdale, Victoria in the early '70's. Whenever we would visit during winter, Mum would say, "You can't waste a hot oven!", and baking would summarily ensue. Scones, of course, was first on the agenda, but there was this one nifty cake recipe that was as simple as could be and came out perfect every time.

"Wonder Cake" she called it, and I make it now for my children. (Visitors too, if their timing is right!) It makes a great emergency birthday cake, and with the addition of nutmeg, or cocoa, or banana, or dried can transform into a myriad of different cakes.

I have altered the original recipe slightly to make it easier to make with the ingredients available here and to use olive oil instead of melted butter. So, if it happens to be your birthday, and your a bit short on preparation time, here's the recipe. It's a piece of cake. Happy Birthday!


1 Cup (250ml) Plain Flour

1 Cup of Sugar

1 Rounded Teaspoon (5ml) Baking Powder

1 Cup of; 60ml Olive Oil, 2 Eggs and fill it up with milk.

Mix it all together, pour it into a greased and floured cake tin and bake for 45 minutes at 180 degrees Celsius.