Tag Archives: clay


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.

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.

Hunting white clay (not elephants)

There is an old story around here about Nakazato Muan (12th Generation Nakazato Tarouemon, Living National Treasure) finding a really great white clay seam in the Azambaru area of Taku.  Here it is in Japanese for those of you who can read it:

中里窯は昭和二十一年に石炭使用の角窯を薪用に改造して二十五年まで焼いた。
土は主に多久高麗古窯址近くの多久市北多久の荕(あざん)原(ばる)白土を胎土とした。
この土を見つけた時のエピソードが残っている。
掘り出した土を叺(かます)に詰めて荷車で重利が梶をとり、多久駅まで運ぶ途中下り坂に差し掛かった。
後押ししていた無庵は、下り坂でも押しまくった。はずみのついた車に重利はあわてて梶棒から飛びのいた。
車はそのまま道脇の田圃に突っ込み、荷車は壊れてしまった。
重利が驚いて怒鳴ると無庵は,
「この土で何を作ろうかと考えていたので下り坂に気付かなかった」と重利に謝った。
「親父が俺に謝ったのはあの時がはじめてだった」と重利はいう。

For those of you whose Japanese is a bit rusty, it goes like this:

In the year Showa 21 (1946), the Nakazato kiln was converted from a coal burning kiln to a wood burning kiln, and it was fired until Showa 25 (1950). During this time, Muan mostly used a white clay from the Azanbaru area of Taku.  There is a story, told by his son Shigetoshi, from the day they discovered this clay seam (Nakazato Shigetoshi passed away in 2015, at the age of 85, so he was probably around 16 years old at the time of this story).
So they have all this clay loaded onto a cart, which Shigetoshi is pulling and his father Muan is pushing, to Taku train station.
On the way, they reach a downward slope, and without noticing, Muan keeps pushing  down the slope, and they almost run into a car speeding down the road. Shigetoshi ends up diving to avoid the car, the car ends up in a rice field, and their cart ends up broken.  When Shigetoshi gets angry and starts yelling, Muan says “I was so busy thinking about what I was going to make with this clay, I didn’t notice the slope.”,  apologizing to Shigetoshi.
“That was the first time my father ever apologized to me.”, Shigetoshi commented.

So why, you say, are you telling me all of this? Well, the fabled white clay seam has been looked for now by other potters for decades with no luck, but due to a fortuitous event a few months ago (and several years of looking), I believe I have found it again. Here are some pictures from our excursion out to dig some sample material for testing.

This looks promising, with the moss scraped away.
This looks promising, with the moss scraped away.

 

Making some progress, this small hole yielded over 100kg of clay.
Making some progress, this small hole yielded over 100kg of clay.

 

Two partners today, one is my mentor, in the foreground, the other a friend and fellow artist.
Two partners today, one is my mentor, in the foreground, the other a friend and fellow artist.

 

Under better lighting. Isn't it gorgeous?
Under better lighting. Isn’t it gorgeous?

 

Oh, and lastly, here’s a picture of one of Nakazato Muan’s coil and paddle built jars. This one is made from white clay from the clay seam pictured above. My firing tests have almost the same color as the unglazed bottom section of this jar (although it is hard to see from this dark picture).

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Gas Firing 2016.02.20 Comments and Notes

This firing of the kiln went too long, resulting in Orton cone 11 flat.  Ideally, it would be cone 11 touching, then sagging a bit.

Upon unloading the kiln this morning, one thing was immediately apparent: the right side was far more reduced than the left. Yellower glazes and more slumping. Even on the left side there was some slumping, because of the excessive temp., and because of the clay which contained some low temp high iron clay to help seal the ware against leakage.

Left side, sagging only slightly, white surface.
Left side, sagging only slightly, white surface.
Right side sagging badly, white glaze turned yellow.
Right side sagging badly, white glaze turned yellow.

Chosen Karatsu came out pretty good, but the white was on too heavy, running down the pots too much.  It still came out looking ok because of the clay.

Most of the teabowls warped or sagged, so I only get to keep 2 or 3 of the 15. This is why teabowls are expensive, kids…IMG_3399 IMG_3398

All in all, not a bad firing, but need to adjust clay bodies, and pay closer attention to cones. Also, figure out the over reduction on the right side. It might be that one burner that sounds a bit off.

Kakewake CG bowls
Kakewake CG bowls
guinomi, need more sand in the clay
guinomi, need more sand in the clay
crystals, only grew on the right side, where reduction was strongest.
crystals, only grew on the right side, where reduction was strongest.
cylindrical tea bowls
cylindrical tea bowls
yunomi
yunomi
shells on feet
shells on feet

IMG_3437

saggared and much improved.
saggared and much improved.
porcelain, saggared
porcelain, saggared

IMG_3464 IMG_3463 IMG_3462 IMG_3460 IMG_3459

 

Fall 2015

has been busy.

I’ve gotten pretty far behind keeping up with the blog, falling into the bad habit of making small posts to Facebook. One of my areas of increased effort over the next year will be to work more on maintaining the blog, and getting it more integrated with other forms of social media. Trying to keep track of them all is like trying to herd cats.
I had made one promise to show before/after pictures for a couple of pieces, the first of which is the slab/paddle built sake chiller w/ feet and lugs:

IMG_2176
raw unglazed
IMG_2513
Fired piece, Chosen Karatsu style glaze. Matchbook for scale.
IMG_2518
Underside detail. Fired on shells, feet not touching the shelf.
IMG_2516
Glaze detail

 

The other thing I’ve been working on since early this year is getting a usable kohiki/clear glaze combination, because for some reason a lot of customers have been requesting white work. They have also been requesting black, so I’ve been working on getting a reliable semi matte black glaze. Mission not quite accomplished, but I feel I’m most of the way there. Here is the kohiki I’ve come up with and I am happy with it:

Kohiki cups. Cup on the left is unused. Middle has been used a bit, and right has been used a lot. The patina is beautiful in my opinion, and the fineness of the crackle is something I’ve been wanting for a long time in my work.
Various guinomi from 2015, mostly from the fall firing. Guinomi make great gyokuro drinking cups.
Various guinomi from 2015, mostly from the fall firing. Guinomi make great gyokuro drinking cups.
Seabirds on white.
Seabirds on white.
The other thing I have started doing is Japanese kana inspired brushwork
The other thing I have started doing is Japanese kana inspired brushwork, except with English. This cup is decorated with vertical English writing, a Goethe quote I like: “Whatever you can do, or think you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.” One of the other said: “Don’t be a dick.” These were more popular than I had anticipated and are currently sold out. Definitely making more!

Here are some of the pieces with the new black glaze. It seems to look best thin, and as with most glazes looks nicer over interesting wild clays rather than processed clays.

Type 1 semi matte black Katakuchi with black lacquer repairs.
Type 1 semi matte black Katakuchi with black lacquer repairs.
Type 1 semi matte black dish.
Type 1 semi matte black dish.
Semi mmatte type 2: two black glazes layered
matte type 2: two black glazes layered, makes a fatter glaze surface.

Coil and paddle

I have been working on coil and paddle pots these last few days. This is a sequence of photos from a jar I made today. It’s not very big, probably about 36 cm across.