This is an underglaze decorated madara glazed yunomi fired in the wood kiln in 2013. It was heavily reduced in the firing, resulting in the dark clay color and carbon trapping in the glaze.
It is a small yunomi, and could almost be called a large guinomi, and certainly has the character of a guinomi. People generally confuse guinomi with sakazuki (sake cups), but Guinomi are cups used for tea, sake, whiskey, etc…, that have a higher status among pots than yunomi, because they are usually one of a kind pieces, not made in large batches like yunomi usually are. Think of them as a sort of ‘mini chawan’.
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:
before every firing of the wood kiln. Actually it is four separate recurring nightmares. In the first, I am loading pots onto normal wood shelves in a fairly standard living room, for some reason not worrying that the lot of it will burn up with the entire house. BUT, for some reason, I always remove all of the lamps and light fixtures, because they and they alone can’t handle the high temps.
In the second, we are firing the kiln as usual, and we are into the third day, just hours before finishing and I realize that I FORGOT TO LOAD THE KILN… This one is by far the worst of the dreams. The feeling of sudden panic is positively sublime. Very happy to wake up (and realize it was just a dream) after this one…
The next is not quite as bad as the previous, but still pretty unsettling. It starts out well enough: I have just unloaded a very successful firing and am so happy with it that I decide to fire again. Because it is a dream, I miraculously have enough glazed ware to load the kiln up again in about 2 days (Normally takes me 10). I get everything loaded, and start the fire, but about a day into the firing I realize I ONLY HAVE ONE DAY WORTH OF FIREWOOD! This one also wakes me up with that icky panicky feeling.
The third is not a nightmare per se, but a recurring dream about a kiln that doesn’t exist. It is a large single chamber, with white interior, and there are shelves on the walls and in the center of the large chamber on a sort of island. The floor, walls, and island are all white and rough with kiln wash. There is no chimney, and the kiln is connected to the fire box via an elevated brick tunnel, which goes out the rear of the chamber about 2 meters, turns 90 degrees right, stretches about 8 meters, then takes another 90 degree right turn, where extends forward and turns into the firebox. From the firebox to the kiln forms a large U shape. Even more strange, the firebox is open to the sky and steps up to the flue channel, which somehow ‘sucks’ in the heat of the fire. The firebox is probably 4 meters long/deep, and the wood used is huge: entire tree trunks shoved in and stacked in a criss cross pattern, burning. Any one have a kiln that looks like this?
Coming up to this fall firing in Oct., I feel as though everything is under control, and no particularly strong feelings of anxiety, yet the dreams continue, including 2 nights in a row now, a dream of some of my teeth falling out. Seems quite normal in the dream at least…
I decided to try out a new form to put in the next firing. A clam shaped dish that is a sort of Karatsu standard. They are nothing special, and pretty much everyone makes them, so there seem to be MANY ways to get from point A to point B.
The first thing I always do when trying out something new, is look through my collection of old Karatsu ware pictures and books, to see if I can find an example, with measurements, of what I want to make. Well, this time around it seems that although everyone seems to be making them now, there are very few examples of this form recorded in Karatsu ware related books. Or at least the ones I have in my studio.
I managed to find the same 5 piece set of old Karatsu Hamaguri dishes (clam shaped dishes) in 3 different publications (above). And, none of them show the bottom of the dish, or a closeup of the folded lip that makes the clam shape. I made a few, tried cutting the lip and overlapping, pulling the lip up and folding over, and a few more things, but all I ended up with were forms that just didn’t click.
Whenever I get stumped, I give my mentor a call. He usually has some advice that gets me out of my hole and gets me back on track. In this case, I asked him if there was some sort of not so obvious ‘trick’ involved in getting the shape right for this particular form. As usual, Tsuruta sensei gave me some very good advice, and even sent me some close up photographs, which helped a lot. So, here’s what I came up with:
Now, I tried doing the bending and folding at various stages of drying and I’m here to tell you that it is best done when they are still sticky wet. I suppose it depends on your clay, but for the stuff we have around here, bending and folding is like asking for fate to show up in your studio with a big baseball bat.
That said, although it folded better when wet, it had a nasty habit of unzipping vertically down the pot 10 minutes later. That’s where the extra blob of clay came in handy. It seems that not only is it decorative, but it also keeps the pot together until it stiffens up a bit. Who knew?!
Honestly, these are my favorite discoveries: when I find a decorative element that is actually not a decorative element at all, but rather an important part of the process cleverly disguised as decoration.