Tag Archives: noborigama

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.

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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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
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Fired piece, Chosen Karatsu style glaze. Matchbook for scale.
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Underside detail. Fired on shells, feet not touching the shelf.
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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.

Fall Open Studio

Just a short post of some pictures from the studio sale this weekend.

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.