Tag Archives: Mike Martino

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.

Firing for anyone

In Japan, people often visit pottery studios for a short pottery experience, either painting something or making something small to be glazed and fired later by the studio owner or a craftsman. This has always seemed so limited to me, and the inevitable comment, “Oh, you are so lucky, I wish I could do this every day!” always prompts my response: “Yes, me too!”. Most people just don’t have any idea what goes into a finished pot. Turning it on the wheel is maybe 10% of the overall process, much less if you gather materials yourself and/or wood fire  your work. And customers rarely see the failures, or all the polishing that goes into a piece and assume the potter just opens  the kiln door to a batch of warm, super looking, ready to sell pots.

Finding a way for people to experience more of pottery making is a challenge, because of the time it takes drying, bisqueing, firing, and waiting to cool down. Raku firing abbreviates this a lot, but still requires a lot of specialized equipment in most cases. Shichirin fired pottery, for me, is a good way for anyone to have a firing experience, including the excitement of the fire, the engagement with the work, the post fire polishing and critiquing, and even the failures and serendipitous successes.

Lately I’ve been working on a firing method that is accessible to everyone, with items available at most home centers. I got this idea years ago when a Japanese potter named Yoshida (don’t remember his first name) made a splash by introducing “Shichirin Togei”, which used a  small Japanese BBQ, called a shichirin, to fire small objects. This developed into a book called Minigama, which I never read, but outlines the construction of small handbuilt kilns from fireclay and fired with wood, charcoal, and forced air. I think the book is out of print now.

I liked the idea of shichirin togei, but thought the open shichirin was maybe not so efficient at getting up to temp, so I added another one on top, like a clamshell, with both shichirin wadded together with a coil of clay. The bottom damper is the air port, and the top damper is the chimney opening and stoke hole.

You start by packing some charcoal into the bottom of the chamber, around a stilt on which the pot will sit. Then place the pot on the stilt and continue covering with charcoal. Then place a coil of soft clay around the mouth of the shichirin, and overturn the second shichirin over it.

Now that that is done, time for the fun to start! Use a hand torch to light charcoal, then use a hair dryer to get things burning hot.

Now just wait for things to heat up, it will take a few minutes, after which flames will start to emerge from the top damper hole.

This flame should continue to grow and get jumpy, making noise as unburnt gases from inside the chamber exit and combust when they meet more oxygen.  Keep slowly adding pieces of charcoal from the top stoke hole (damper), keep that flame extended. As it gets nice and hot, you’ll be able to tell how the kiln breathes every time you put in a piece of charcoal, and you’ll get a sense of when to stoke.

The first firing might take about 45 minutes, because of the time to heat everything up. From the second firing, 30 minutes seems to be enough to fire the clay. If you have time, you can go longer, and ash from the charcoal will leave more green ‘glaze’ on the surface of the pot.

Shinot Noir

Warning: some Shino enthusiasts may find content in this post offensive and/or snarky. 

When I was in Korea this last  October, the subject of Shino came up. Shino, like Raku, Chawan, and Geisha, tends to have a different set of meanings and expectations, depending on who you are talking to (usually Japanese vs non-Japanese).

Most Shino enthusiasts in Japan get their pantaloons in a twist when they see this smooth orange, white, or carbon trapping glaze that most Americans call Shino. “Sore wa Shino janai” is a  common thing to hear when showing off your American Shino to a Japanese Shino lover.

In Japan, Shino is a combination of clay, glaze, and firing method. The definition is somewhat cramped , and leaves little wiggle room. Same with Raku, Chawan, and Geisha. There is all this history and tradition hanging on at the end of the label, foiling our attempts to  add new dimensions to the term.

Here’s the problem: The Shino purists are vastly outnumbered. Actually, I’m one of them (to a degree) but acknowledge that on the worldwide level, Shino means more  to a whole lot of world potters and enthusiasts. I really wish the word had not been co-opted by English, but it has, so oh well…

Embracing this trend, I have decided to widen the definition of Shino even further. Here are some examples:

Satin black Shino
Flowing matte white Shino
Soft blue Shino
Clear Shino
Bizen Shino
High silica Shino

Unglazed low fire Shino
Petroleum Flex Shino

(I do make a ‘Shino’ glaze, but do not call it Shino for fear of reprisal.)

Slab plates

This is one way I make slab plates. I posted the pictures to FB but am reposting here with descriptions of each step. You can adjust the steps if your clay is more or less forgiving than mine. 

First cut slabs and let them rest overnight to stiffen up some. These slabs are 10mm thick. 

Trim the slab with an undercut bevel, and save the trimmed edges. 

Sprinkle something on your form to prevent the clay from sticking. I use corn starch. 

Place the trimmed slab bevel side down on your form and paddle it THOROUGHLY, from center to edge, then once more evenly all over.  You can use whatever you want as a paddle, here I used a sandbag, but I usually use a wooden paddle. 

Place the trimmed edges you saved back on the paddled slab, followed by a paper towel or other cloth, and your board. Turn over the form to release the slab onto the board. 

Press the center of the slab down gently and let the edge pieces support the edge of the plate. While supporting the edge with one hand, use the other to define a concavity in the bevel with a convex tool. Anything convex and with a curve you like will work. I used a little ball here. Sometimes I use a rib, sometimes a roller, sometimes a clamshell. I like rollers and balls because they compress the edge well. 

Finish and further compress the edge with a damp (not wet) chamois or sponge. Done!

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. 


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。


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