plates

My first bizen pottery

Four bizen vases

Over the Golden Week holiday (May 1 to May 5), I am going with the ceramics senseis and some students to a small town in Shizuoka to make bizen pottery in a wood-fired kiln that will be heated for five days. We will take turns staying up all night to keep the fire lit.

Bizen pottery is very special. It is the oldest form of Japanese pottery, and can only be done in special kilns. Bizen uses no glaze, but instead organic materials like rice straw and pine ash placed on the ceramics produce red and brown markings and spots. The effects are often unpredictable, and they are called “yohen” or kiln accidents.

Here’s two examples of fine bizen: Okayama website, the town that is its original home. And Sachiko Torok’s work, an artist in Bizen.

My first pieces include the four vases above, modeled on the one on the right. My line is still not very good, but I like the trick of turning a round shape into a twisted five-sided shape. I also made four rectangle plates, ten tiny bowls, and five vases that include ceramic lattices for arranging flowers. Two of the lattices are in the shape of steep inverted bowls that sit on top of shallow bowls; three are flat lattices that sit on cylinders and an octagon.

I am curious how they’ll turn out in the oven. We are leaving two weeks from today, and I may make a few more pieces before we go. I’ll post more pictures from the trip and the finished results.

Apparently the bizen town we are going to is super small, and I was warned that there would be no internet. Fortunately one of the students has a nation-wide mobile internet provider for his laptop. I also confirmed with the senseis that while the town is small, they are well stocked with conbinis (convenience stores).

New plates

New plates: reduction versus oxidation

Last week, the in-laws fired two more plates I designed. They asked if it was OK to use the reduction firing (versus the oxidation firing). Of course, I agreed. It’s interesting how the same clay and glaze turned out so differently.

The reducation firing, above, at first looked burnt or dirty to me. It was interesting that my in-law teachers and most of the students preferred that look, deeming it “antique” looking and better for serving food. The look is growing on me, too.

plate_rf_reduction

Now I am working on some mugs for coffee drinking at home.

Plates & Sake cups

Four plates

At the ceramics studio this winter, I have been focusing on a set of plates, commissioned by my Japanese aunt, and small sake cups (ぐい飲み). For the plates, I am experimenting with circular patterns and using a white glaze on black clay. It’s hard to make the plates, and several have cracked during the first firing.

The small sake cups I brought to San Francisco to give to friends. I tried various techniques for carving and pattern-making with something that looks like cheese cloth. The idea was to create texture to steady your hand as you drink. I also made some necklaces and brooches for my relatives in NYC using cookie cutters and stamps to create flower patterns.

Guinomi, or small sake cups

You can see I tried a few different color combinations.

Guinomi, or small sake cups

I like how the seam is visible.

Guinomi, or small sake cups