Tag Archives: clay

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

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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:

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raw unglazed
IMG_2513
Fired piece, Chosen Karatsu style glaze. Matchbook for scale.
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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.


  
  
  
  
  

My favorite studio tool…

….is without a doubt the Peter Pugger de-airing pugger/mixer. Until two years ago I did all of my clay and stone mixing in a large deep platter by hand, and it was killing my wrists.  Hearing all the wonderful things Peter Pugger had to say on their website, I took the plunge and decided to spend the money and save my hands. I figured if the thing worked half as well as it was supposed to, I would be ok.

Well, it is now about 2 years since I got it and it does everything it is reputed to do, and does it very well. My wrists are now pain free, and I have saved hundreds of hours of time processing and blending clay bodies.

Blending wet clay bodies usually takes about 15 minutes of mixing, but mostly I mix dry materials with water (sometimes blending into wet bodies), and this takes a while longer, usually around 30 minutes.

In my work, keeping the character of the wild clay is of utmost importance, and I’ve found that de-airing generally kills that character dead. However, the de-airing is necessary in getting the water to penetrate the dry materials more quickly, so that I don’t have to let the pugged clay sit for a month before using.

My solution to this is to let the clay mix, then I de-air it once completely, followed by re-mixing the batch for 5 – 10 minutes after reintroducing air. This gives me clay that is not as easy to throw, but which gives very nice trimmed texture.

Here are some pictures of some clay from the other day which I collected from the mountain behind my home. I added the dry/damp clumps of clay to the hopper (removing as many large rocks as I could find), then water, then mixed. I repeated these three steps until the hopper was full, then mixed for about 20 minutes, turned on the vacuum pump, and de-aired completely.

Next I went to lunch.  It was yummy. It was sunny on the deck and there was a cool breeze. The neighbors have a  great cherry tree in full bloom and the wind was blowing the petals off, and they were fluttering across the yard like giant pink snowflakes. I noticed as I saw some of them fall across the deck that the wisteria was budding out and even starting to show some purple. Nice. I imagine the wisteria will be in full bloom a few weeks early this year.

After coming back to the studio, I re-introduced air to the mixing chamber and mixed some more, then pugged it all out and made some pots. The whole process took about 2 hours. It takes even less time if you decide not to include lunch, but I recommend including it.

What I’ve been up to…

I had a gas firing a couple of weeks back which was mostly line blends and other glaze combination tests.  More than half of the ware in the kiln was glaze tests. Finally trying to get to the bottom of my Chosen Karatsu glaze woes, which started after my ash source changed. Both of my bread and butter glazes stopped working, and it now seems that I just made a spectacularly bad choice for my replacement ash. I tested 3 different ash types in the load and came up with two types that seem to work pretty well. I will mix up small amounts of both glazes with this new ash and  see how they work. If things look good, I can then go ahead and mix up a larger batch.

I made a batch of soba choko as well, to take with me to Tokyo toward the end of this month. I’ll be participating in a small event and needed some small things to  take and show.

In prep for the spring firing of the wood kiln, I’ve started making work a little different that  I have done before, more playing with rim shapes and putting feet on things. The larger platters  are actually inspired by some old Shino and Karatsu pieces of similar shape. Almost everything pictured in this post is porcelain, either pretty white stuff, or ‘dirty’ having been run through my pugmill which contained red stoneware previously. I always hear how porcelain is so difficult to work with, but my experience is the opposite. It seems very forgiving compared to my usual short, large particle clay bodies.