A lot has happened over the last month since the Karatsu pottery festival, mostly cleaning, shelf building, and shifting things around in the studio in preparation for the open studio event which happened this last weekend from June 19th to June 21st.
In rough chronological order, here is what has happened in May:
Plates formed over wood slabs of various sizes
We got our garden planted and our first Jalapenos soon followed!
Another type of crop: Good batch of Madara Karatsu guinomi from late April firing. Body is mostly crushed sandstone with a bit of native low iron clay to help keep things together.
In prep for the open studio event, I cleaned the deck and brickwork of the backyard. I did not realize just how overgrown with algae and moss it had become until it was clean again.
One of the worst sections, but it felt really cathartic blasting all of that green away, leaving nice clean trails of clear, brown wood.
Entrance to the yard event space, tents and blue tarps up to keep out the rain. Luckily, although it threatened a few times, it never really rained, and the last day was actually sunny and hot. This is the middle of monsoon season folks, we totally lucked out.
The spot for gamblers. 500 yen per turn, no losers. One grand prize, 15 second place prizes, 25 3rd place prizes, and 100 4th place prizes. One grand prize went out every single day of the 3 day event. Happy customers!
This discount table was a new strategy for me. Turned out to be great for turning older pots into cash and additional storage space in my studio showroom.
Knife and tool maker, really nice stuff for reasonable prices
I am making the distinction, because this last trip to Korea and the tea bowl festival really accented the differences between the preferred shape of a tea bowl between cultures.
The one type of bowl here that probably illustrates the point best, but of which I don’t have a good example, are the Ido chawan. We make these forms in Karatsu, but don’t refer to them as Ido Chawan. Rather, we call them Karatsu Ido, or Ido Gata Chawan. The original Ido Chawan are from Korea, and contrary to the idea that the ideal shape is like Kizaemon (below), Ido come in many shapes and sizes. I’ve even seen on Ido bowl with a warikodai (foot carved into sections).
Anyway, if you look carefully at Ido forms, two things are often noticed: One, the lip is quite sharp on the inside edge, even though the outside of the edge is rounded, and two, the interior of the bowl is not rounded but rather pointed. These characteristics seem unrelated or even impractical for tea, after all, who wants a lip that is less durable, wouldn’t a round lip be more practical? Also, a cone shaped pointed interior is not suitable for whisking tea, is it? There is no room for the whisk to move, after all.
So why did tea masters choose these bowls as paragons of ‘teabowlness’? The answer is simple. They weren’t used for whisked tea. Most tea practice revolves around usucha, or whisked thin tea, but the tea that holds the highest position in tea ceremony as an indispensible part of Chaji, the full tea ceremony, is koicha, or thick tea. Thick tea is not whisked, it is kneaded and folded slowly into a thick paste with the whisk, and the coned interior of the bowl allows for this to happen much better than a flat or rounded interior. Then when drinking this thick paste, it is much better to have a sharp interior lip in order have a clean separation from the bowl when drinking. Koicha is usually a shared bowl, and will be shared by two or more people. After drinking, you must wipe the lip and pass it along to the next person. The sharper interior lip makes both drinking and wiping an easier less messy experience. So, these two characteristics end up being optimal for tea, in the proper context of Japanese koicha.
Even more interestingly, these two characteristics were not intentionally designed by the makers with koicha in mind. They are the direct result of the clay, process, and tools used to make the bowls, which were likely made quickly in large numbers.
In Karatsu, we use cows tongue ribs to shape the clay, because it is large particle material and not very plastic. In some cases, such as porcelain stone and sandstone, it is not even clay at all. The cows tongue allows shaping by compressing the clay body, rather than stretching, like a standard rib would do. I always thought that cows tongue ribs came from Korea, but I have never seen one there during my visits. There is, however, a tool that looks a little like a mini tugboat that functions much the same way as a cows tongue. When making bowls quickly with as little wasted movement as possible, the interior of the bowl naturally becomes conical rather than rounded, and pressing the lip between finger and cows tongue naturally produces the characteristic Ido lip shape, while preventing splitting of the lip by compressing the un-plastic clay body, and also eliminates the need to use a chamois on the lip to compress or clean up.
So, I seem to have gotten off on a bit of a tangent here, but back to the main goal of simply leaving you with some images of tea bowls:
Today I had a very nice visit from a television station who did a very nice job of filming the studio, as well as conducting an interview with me for a show segment coming up in August. They filmed the studio and kiln, me making a coil and paddle jar, me glazing a bisqued piece of similar form, and also finished pieces which had the same glaze as the demo forms.
All in all, a very thorough job on their part, although I have no idea how they will edit everything down to fit in a 5 minute segment.
I had taken photos of the crew to put up on the blog, but apparently the station prefers not to have behind the scenes images of its projects made public, so I am leaving them out for now.
I will, however, include a few images similar to what may show up on the air in a few weeks. Also, once the show airs and the segment is viewable on the internet, I will post a link to it for all this blog’s viewers.
Today is the first load of bisque aimed at the fall firing of the wood kiln. About 28 ware boards worth of pots, I really tried to get as much packed in as possible, to maximize the gas used.
I don’t pack glaze firings very tight because I want the calories getting around to everything, but for bisque I’m not too picky.
700C – 750C is my usual peak temp, I like the ware to be very absorbent for glazing, however the resulting ware is quite fragile and needs careful handling.
This time around there are quite a few slab plates of various shapes and sizes, which I am a bit worried will crack. These are stacked on spacers, then more spacers between stacked plates, because I don’t want to take any chances with cracking. The rest of everything is pretty safe, so packed and stacked without too much thought other than to get as much in as possible.
I’ve just come off of a week of pot showing and selling, sharing space with some very fine young (and older) potters who are making crazy good work. This last week was Karatsu Yakimon Matsuri, which ran concurrently with Arita Touki-Ichi. This was the third year for the Karatsu event, and attendance jumped to 100,000, from 70,000 last year.
The theme was tableware, and there were many collaborative exhibits between potters and chefs. What a great time it was to see all of the wonderful work. Gave me a LOT of new ideas and inspiration, as well as some great feedback from customers and restaurant owners.
I had been scheduled to go to the Mungyeong Teabowl Festival, however the ferry accident resulted in most or all of the spring holiday’s festivals being cancelled or postponed.
This post is a photo record with comments, in order to organize and retain my thoughts and observations about the 8th firing of the wood kiln. I always think I’ll remember until the next firing, but never do. So, if you get into this, beware there are a LOT of pictures, some of which may seem redundant. There are examples of most of the pots from the firing, minus teabowls and some others which are not photographed yet.
The 8th firing was a charm overall, with many good pots, some bad, and some that will get refired. Kiln was fired in oxidation primarily. We stoked once every 30 minutes for 2 1/2 days, then once every 20 minutes the last half day.
– Front was nicely melted, nice even gradient to the rear of first chamber, E-Karatsu was about ideal. Cone 12 at hottest front down to cone 6 at coolest rear.
– Front chamber behaves like anagama. No significant temp gradient from front to back of each setting. Next firing, will pack kiln by eliminating the space between settings, leaving horizontal space for flame travel. One long setting from front to back of first chamber.
– Ame yu better at low temps. Load rear to mid chamber.
– Ao yu needs more heat, mid to front chamber.
– Large platters go midway to back of front chamber. Too much ash up front.
– Firebox wares are very nice in a three day firing. Great place for Shino, under cover to avoid ash in pots.
– Rear chamber fires fast when preheated for 3 days. Jumped from 1044C to 1344C in four stokes, a little over an hour. Care must be taken to spend more time soaking at high temp, because rear chamber high temp wares not quite mature (surface changes only), clay not melted well. Spend 3 or 4 hours firing off rear chamber, slowly, to get inside the pots.
– Rear chamber fires very evenly front to back, and top to bottom. Pick a temp to fire at and load accordingly. Don’t expect a significant gradient.