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 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.
The unloaded pots have now been hammered, moved inside the studio, or are getting refired. The ones that have been moved inside the studio are starting to get cleaned up and polished, in preparation for next spring’s shows.
All in all, there were some 750+- pots in this load. I’m not sure of an exact number because I started smashing before I had a count.
Here are some of the pots that I started cleaning up today. Most of them are small dishes, ranging from 10 – 17cm across. All sizes listed are width, and are approximate measurements.
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: