All posts by KaratsuPots

Firing Prep

Well, spent the last week glazing and finally loaded the kiln yesterday. I’d bisqued two pretty full loads, so I now have enough for about 3 glaze firings. I glazed it all hoping to do 2 or 3 firings back to back. Now that I spent 4 full days doing nothing but glazing, I’m not sure if it was a wise thing or not to try this…

Anyway, since Karatsu ware is as a rule one quarter to one third naked, and since I fire in a gas kiln for the time being, I try to think of ways to make the naked clay feet and bottoms more interesting.

One way is to fire on shells, that way you get the flashing from the salt in the shells. There is also the added benefit of keeping the pot elevated so that if the glaze runs too much, you don’t end up with footrings cemented to the senbei (the flat fireclay pads) that need to be ground off. With the shells, often just a little grinding gets everything clean. One caveat: Get the remains of the shells off of the feet before they (the shells) absorb too much moisture because they will swell, and for some reason will often remove chunks of the clay body when they do this. When you take them from the kiln the shells are still hard, but if you wait a day or so in a humid climate, you can take the stuff stuck to the pot off with a pointy steel object (pry away from your fingers and palm). Don’t forget to pack the shells with fireclay so that they don’t collapse in firing, sending your pot tumbling into the 3 others next to it, making them best friends forever. This method also has the added benefit of allowing you to level the pot easily.

The other way to get nice bottoms is rice straw. I like this one more, but if you have runny glaze you run the risk of grinding hell. Sometimes its worth risk, the random red flashed stripes on the bottom of the pots are gorgeous.

One less interesting but much easier and quicker way to set pots and prevent plucking is to put them on a little bed of rice husks, but then you get just the inside of the foot with red flashing which looks a bit unnatural. To just prevent plucking, the quick way is to keep some liquid clothing starch on hand. Quick dip the foot in the starch then quick dip in a bed of husks. Just the wet part will pick up the husks (and hang on to them), and you can set the pot right on the shelf or senbei. You can do the same thing with just water, but by the time you get the pot to the shelf most of the husks have fallen off into your other pots and have to picked out, or you end up with little razor sharp spikes in your pot. I once tried to blow them lightly out, forgetting that breath is not all that focused and all those random air currents pick up every other husk within a 30 foot radius and makes them fly into all your already set pots regardless of whether or not they are already covered by shelves or not. Only did that once…

Here I’ve done it with some small flat footless dishes. For small slabs, the husks allow the slab to expand and contract without cracking. For heavy slabs, sand works better. I put shells under each corner just in case they want to lay down.

Kiln’s firing now, hopefully I’ll have some good pictures to post day after tomorrow…


On the way toa and from my classes on Friday mornings, I always drive by the same place, a hill cut away into terraces for houses that appear to have never been built, I suppose just another project put on ice until the economy recovers. I never actually got out and close to the place, because from the road it looks like orange sandstone and decomposed granite.

Finally out of curiosity yesterday I drove up the access got out and checked it out. Wow! It’s pure clay, in bands from white to red, and lots of it. And you don’t even have to dig, because huge chunks are eroding and falling out. Just pick up the chunks and put them in the bag. I always keep some bags and a shovel in my van for such occasions, so I brought home 2 bags of white, and one each of brown and red for testing.

Sorry for the bad quality of the pictures, they’re from my digital camera. Close up pics coming soon…

Another nice morning

Had a nice walk with the dog this morning. The last few days it’s been foggy in the mornings. When I got up in the middle of the cedar grove, the sun came beaming through the fog, really nice. You’ll have to imagine the cool air, the birds singing, and the smell of the mist.


Yesterday was the Hagakure Kenkyukai tea gathering conducted by my Ocha (tea ceremony) teacher’s mother (Ogura Sensei), who is also a tea teacher. My teacher, Kawakami Sensei, is shown at left in the picture (pink kimono), sitting on the stool waiting for the tea to be prepared. She’ll then pick up the bowl and take it to a guest, and receive the bowl after the guest is finished drinking. Ogura sensei is shown on the right, in the rear, wearing a light green kimono.

This form of the tea ceremony is called ‘ryurei’, and is conducted at a table, sitting on a stool or in a chair. Much easier on the knees…

Here is my Ocha sempai, Kuroiwa san, preparing tea for guests. Here, he’s finished putting in the tea and is adding water. He will then whisk it into a froth. The tea bowl was interesting, a pink Hagi bowl incised with many designs on the outside surface, and slightly oval. I was very surprised at the mizusashi. Just looking at it, is seems to be lacquerware, but when you pick up the lid you realize it is porcelain. It had this huge flaring rim, and the lid was actually only about 4 inches across, sitting down in the center. Not my taste as far as ceramics go, but quite impressive in itself. I didn’t inquire what it was worth…

I was only able to stay for the first hour or so of the event. I had to get back home because we had a local festival happening and all the grade school kids (including mine) were participating. After that was finished we had a big yakiniku (barbeque) party for the Shorinji Kenpo group (my boys and I are members) and for the Shishimai (Chinese Lion Dance) group, which my next door neighbor runs.

And here’s where the post finally has to do with pottery: One of the guys (Izumi san) who is a musician for the lion dance group turned out to be and old friend and drinking buddy of Okamoto Sakurei, the Karatsu potter who I’ve had a chance to visit a few times recently.The funny thing is, he had no idea how famous Okamota san is as a potter. He’s one of the top Karatsu artists currently, and his ware sells for big bucks. When I told Izumi san that Okamoto san was one of my pottery ‘heroes’, he just gave me a funny ‘what the hell for?’ sort of look. I’m not surprised he didn’t know of his fame, as Okamoto san seems to be quite down to earth and doesn’t toot his own horn all that much. If time allows, I’d like to take a group of interested folks up the mountain to visit Okamoto san during our kiln building workshop next fall.
Anyway, the long and short of it is that Isumi san and I will be going out next Saturday to dig Jinenjo, which are these long thin tubers that grow up in the mountains. They are a big pain in the butt to dig up, but are really yummy. Some people are really good at finding and digging them up, and sell them. A good Jinenjo can go for $60 or $70 bucks.

Here’s a page with some pictures of Okamoto san’s work:!E4FF9DB1C9056748!924.entry


Mini Workshop by Tsuruta Yoshihisa

Great news! Tsuruta San has agreed to give a one day demo and lecture during the kiln building workshop in fall 2010. See here:

For anyone not familiar with his work, Tsuruta San is a 3rd generation potter, and a veteran of over 30 years making Karatsu ware, and currently specializes in making implements for tea ceremony. He is also my mentor. I’m so pleased he’s agreed to do this demo, his knowledge is considerable and he’s always happy to share it. For anyone interested in Karatsu ware, tea ceremony ware, clay and glazes, or just making good pots in general, this is a great chance to see a master at work. Some of his work can be seen at the links below:

Above are just the links to pictures of ware. Browse the site for other interesting things, even if you don’t read Japanese. Some preview pics below.