Tag Archives: 唐津


Madara (mottled) Karatsu teabowl, late 1500’s.

When I decided to learn and make Karatsu ware, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I knew it was several hundred years old, and the first glazed ware in Japan, but I mostly just saw some beautiful pots and thought I could reproduce. Boy, was I wrong.

I’ve been working at it for more than 10 years now, and the clay, glazes, and firings are still mostly a mystery. Trying to capture the look of the traditional ware is a continual challenge, forcing me to forget or ignore modern technology in favor of archaic, and examine 400+ year old shards, searching for clues about what the old potters and craftsmen used, and how they approached their art, which they didn’t necessarily consider to be art.


The closest I’ve come yet to a surface like the pot at the beginning of this post.

One thing I’ve learned in this time making pots is that despite the primitive technology, ancient potters had knowledge about their materials and handling of those materials that far exceeds the knowledge of most modern potters. This is what makes tradition such an important repository for us. It is the best of what has come before, proven over time and distilled for us to use. We just need to pay attention.


Chosen Karatsu teabowl, late 1500’s


Chosen Karatsu guinomi by author

Cheers,

Karatsupots

Mike @ Karatsupots
Making attractive, cool, useful stuff out of dirt since 2006.

Processing Clay

I was lucky enough to find some easily accessible clay the other day on a morning bike ride. I’ve been spending some time processing it and thought I’d share. Here’s the hill and the pictures of the bagged clay:

 

After bringing it home, I transferred it to large jars and added water, then mixed violently with a drill mixer to break it all up.  After skimming off the junk that floats up, I mix it up a few times a day for about 3 days. Once it is mostly made into a slurry I start sieving it into another container. Whatever doesn’t pass the sieve goes back in the jar to get mixed again, and it eventually (mostly) all breaks down.

Since I have no space for a large clay drying platform, I’ve decided to try these pantlegs tied off, filled, and left to hang. Seems to be working so far, and I’m hoping to get a nice uniform sausage of clay with no dry edges. I tried a few methods to close the bottom. First, I tried sandwiching the pantleg between two pieces of wood and using screws to tighten them together. This worked, but left sharp screw ends, and when I dropped one full leg, the wood snapped and it opened up, spilling the clay.  Plywood might prevent this. Being too lazy to get out the saw and cut more wood, I decided to split what I had into thinner pieces and wire them together to bind the folded over leg end. I tied them with wire and it seems to be working just dandy. Later, when I have time, I’ll try  finding some sort of non rusting clamp device that can be applied and removed easily and quickly.

Once the legs were filled, tying them off was tricky because a leg full of clay slurry is FRICKIN HEAVY!!! First I tried rolling it down over the rope and tying, which works fine but is kind of tricky and if you don’t do it tightly, it unwinds and makes a mess. I found the best way was to twist the end and bend it over a stick, then bind it with rope. This way, you can use the stick as a handle to carry the leg which is very nice, and the stick can be used to hand the bag. The rope used to bind the end can also serve as a hanger. I hung up 12 of these yesterday, and am now waiting for them to firm up. I’m curious to see how long it will take.

Scoring Goodies

I made a trip out to the mountains in Minamihata yesterday with my mentor to collect materials for pots and glazes, and we stopped by an old kiln site as well.

We were able to collect a good amount of feldspathic sandstone, weathered feldspar, and the ever popular grey stuff (don’t know what its real name is).

First, here is what we collected that will become pots and glazes this year:

The lot of it
Grey stuff. This is softer than rock and can be stamp milled or pot milled easily into a fine slurry. It has a lot of iron, and I use it as a glaze ingredient, as a slip, or as a pigment for decoration.
Sandstone. This has more iron than I’d normally like, but beggars can’t be choosers. It takes the place of both feldspar additions to clay bodies as well as grog. I like it because it helps the body vitrify, but gives it texture as well.
More sandstone.
Glaze stone from near Okawachiyama. I’m not sure but I believe this is the glaze stone used in Nabeshima celadon. I look forward to testing this.
Closeup. You can see the feldspathic translucent pieces in the matrix, surrounded by the white powdery matrix. I think the white powdery part is high in silica, but again, need to test.
Found this in the same place as the Nabeshima glaze stone. This looks to be more pure feldspar. Very curious to see how it fires!

On the way to one of the collecting sites, we passed two old Karatsu kilns, Fujinokawachi and Kayanotani.  I was surprised because they are separated by no more than 70 meters or so. These were big kilns. Kayanotani was a 22 chamber climbing kiln 52 meters long! Between them, there were probably hundreds of potters working. We couldn’t really access Fujinokawachi, but we were able to walk around on the hill where Kayanotani once stood.

Access to Kayanotani. You can see the faint grassy steps up the hill, just to the left and down a bit from the tree.
Sign board standing at the entrance to the kiln site. The shard pile extends up and down the hill to the left of the sign.
The outside surfaces of some coil and paddle flasks. Fujinokawachi and Kayanotani are both known for their fine coil and paddle work.
Interiors of the same. Note the different clays used and the different patterns created from the paddling tools.
Hillside littered with shards and chunks of kiln wall and kiln furniture.
The feet of some ash glazed bowls. The clay is quite light in color, and really vitrified.
Detail of some flask lips. On the one, you can see some bubbling in the glaze because the clay body started to bloat. The coil and paddle clay bodies were quite varied, but much of it seemed to contain high amounts of organic matter
More bowls. One in a light clay body, the other much darker. Again, vitrified and hard. All of the trimmed pieces I found were trimmed with an economy of movement. There is no wasted time in the trimming here.
Detail of another foot. Gorgeous clay, and lively trimming.
Interior detail of bowl directly above. Note the beautifully folded over and compress lip of the piece stuck to the inside here, and the glaze window.
Paddled Chosen Karatsu flask. I wish I could get those blues!
Detail of flask neck.
Detail, lip.

Fall firing 2016

Open comments and notes

Front came out beautifully, mid stack as well, rear a little cool. Very top of front, mid, and rear were cold. Shelf config caused this, I think, because of the large shelves being close together, creating strata in the heat gradient. The very front shelf with guinomi and chawan was the main culprit, blocking the flame from rising, and directing it under the large shelves placed midway up the front stack. 

In the future I need to stagger the shelf levels during stacking, to allow the flame to travel upward.  Also, block some of the floor level flue channels at the rear of the chamber. Make sure upper flues are fully open. 

Front cones are 9, 10, 11, 12 Orton. 



Some brush deco for spring

These are some of the new patterns I’m playing with for the spring firing. There is much inspiration to be had from old Shino and Oribe work. 

  
Many people don’t realize there was a great deal of cross pollination between Karatsu and Oribe in particular. There is also evidence that Furuta Oribe came to Taku at one point: one historical document mentions his name, and there are shards from the ruins of Taku Koraidani kiln that show very ‘Oribe-ish’ decoration, as well as most of a kutsugata bowl which is quite obviously made for tea ceremony. 

  
Last year I bid on a small old Shino piece being auctioned (I bid about ¥12000, and didn’t win. The winning bid was ¥52000) the reason I wanted it was that it had a wisteria decoration on it that was virtually identical to some of the Taku Koraidani shards.   

Rice plants and horse tails are both representative of Karatsu brush deco.     
The birds separated by a line bisecting the dish is a typical motif in the Taku pot shards.  
  

Below is one of the pieces that I’ve started experimenting with this year. I really like Japanese brushwork but I don’t have the decades to study it for my pottery, and I’d feel bad doing a crappy job of it. I decided to try writing English with a brush, with little regard for the shape of the letters, rather letting the flow of the patterns emerge with soft, quick uninterrupted strokes. It’s intended to be gestural more than anything else, since it is quite difficult to read even if you know what it says. It has been a big hit with customers so far, and many people have thought it was Japanese script. 

This cup says: “Be happy for this moment. This moment is your life.” It’s a quote by 11th century mathematician and poet Omar Khayyam. This is actually more legible than some of the other pieces I’ve done. 

   
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2016-03-20 Glaze tests 釉薬の実験

Fired with cones 6,7,8 on top and bottom shelves. Pyrometer at middle shelf, didn’t display over 1215C.
Hotter on bottom than top. By cone, looks like cone 9+ on the bottom, cone 9 at the middle, and cone 8+ at the top.

Reduction strong at top shelf, weaker at middle and bottom.

棚三段、上、中、下。 オートンコーン6,7,8 使用、上:下置。温度計は中に。焼成中の温度計は1215Cを超えずが、上は8番コーンは曲がって、ヘタレ。下は8番フラット。 実際の温度は下:9+、ちゅう:9、上:8+ とみていいでしょう。
上は還元効いているようだが、中:下は中性気味。

Unloading:

Bottom shelf, front. Mid shelf, rear left. Top shelf, rear right.
Bottom shelf, front. Mid shelf, rear left. Top shelf, rear right.
Top shelf
Top shelf
Mid shelf
Mid shelf
Bottom shelf
Bottom shelf
Bottom cones
Bottom cones
Top cones
Top cones

 

Clay : Ash Blends  (Lft, to Rt.:  Bott.,Mid.,Top)

Taku shiro 90 : Dobai 10
Taku shiro 90 : Dobai 10
Taku shiro 80 : Dobai 20
Taku shiro 80 : Dobai 20
Taku shiro 70 : Dobai 30
Taku shiro 70 : Dobai 30
Taku shiro 60 : Dobai 40
Taku shiro 60 : Dobai 40

 

Stone : Ash Blends    (Lft, to Rt.:  Bott.,Mid.,Top)

Sandstone 90 : Dobai 10
Sandstone 90 : Dobai 10
Sandstone 80 : Dobai 20
Sandstone 80 : Dobai 20
Sandstone 70 : Dobai 30
Sandstone 70 : Dobai 30
Sandstone 60 : Dobai 40
Sandstone 60 : Dobai 40

 

Clay : Ash total, plus 280g Shirakawa

Clay:Ash total +280g toseki
Clay:Ash total +280g toseki

 

Stone : Ash total, plus 280g Shirakawa

Stone:Ash total + 280g toseki
Stone:Ash total + 280g toseki

 

Everything dumped together: Stone:Clay:Ash:Shirakawa

Clay:Stone:Ash:Toseki total
Clay:Stone:Ash:Toseki total

 

Stone:Ash 70:30 from top shelf (cone 8+) in the sunlight:

Stone:Ash 70:30 @ cone 8 1/2
Stone:Ash 70:30 @ cone 8 1/2

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