Monday, March 26, 2012

Mellow - Yellow

Late night post, and not many words to share. Spent a good amount of time today in the studio drying and wedging reclaimed clay from the recycle bucket. There's something incredibly familiar to the repetition of cleaning and studio chores, like wedging all day. I find I'm able to zone out and just get lost in the processing. Enjoy the yellows and your weeks. 

Thursday, March 22, 2012


Today it's raining cats and dogs, and I am helping Tabe Sensei clean out her office. In early April I'll know if she shall be returned to me or not. Keep them fingers crossed.

Being that most of this week was lost to a fantastic 3 day English camp, and I havn't gotten any studio time this week, I am unsure what to say of these forms. The green glaze can be spectacular, but also a bit frustraitingly inconsistant.  The first piece pictured came out exactly as I wanted it to, but on the others the green's vibrance faded to a slightly more olive green. It's still interesting and a nice color, but not what I really gunning for. The last form pictured is a large open toped flower vase.

May your weekends be wonderful and dry!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Dedicated to

The end of March has rolled around. The first traces of Spring's warmth  touch our days only to be blown out to sea by the chilled winds that come down the mountains to the coast. The weather isn't the only thing experiencing the winds of change. This time of year marks the end of the Japanese school year, and (to my mind) the strangest of Japan's different practices. If you are a teacher or administrator in the public school system there is a chance that you will receive a command from on high that you must change schools. Every year a certain percentage of teachers are shuffled. I asked around my office today and the general consensus seemed to be that no one (no matter age or ranking in the education system) stays at one school for more than 10 years. Five was the most frequently guessed number. The accepted reasons for this jumbling is that it keeps teachers from becoming too settled. By having to adjust to new environments and different coworkers everyone stays excited (hopefully) and avoids stagnation. 

For the younger teachers this systems seems to be an accepted frustration, but for me it means that my life at work could be changing in huge terrifying ways. There is a chance that my English department will change (I love my fellow English teachers, and, while I am sure others are nice, I don't care to exchange any of them for new faces), but even scarier - there is a chance that Tabe Sensei, the pottery and craft teacher, will be taken away from me. This leads me to (FINALLY) the point of today's post. 

It is my great pleasure to introduce Yuka Tabe. Mother of two, graduate of Kochi Gaidai, metal worker, ceramics enthusiast, Susaki high school teacher, and one of the BEST people I have had the pleasure of meeting. Tabe-sensei studies in college focused on education and craft. In college she loved working with metal, but has had to teach everything from painting to making glass beads. She conducts her classes in a way that allows the students to learn through doing and experimentation. The art classes are the most familiar feeling for these american eyes. The courses she runs seem much more like a dialog between students and teacher, instead of the teacher lecturing a class (which is how many of the other classes appear to go). I have had the pleasure of spending the past year and two thirds enjoying every day of work a little bit more because of the friendship she has given me.

We've shared many wonderful discussions on the different uses and forms that international clay artists have chosen to grow into. This dialog, often sparked by a shared gander at a fresh copy of Ceramics Monthly, frequently drifts toward the concept of function and tradition. Through gesture, dictionaries, and Japenglish I can gather that for some Japanese potters (or, dare I hazard to say artists in general) have the notion that there are forms and styles that are such a part of their history that there are methods that must be followed. That is not to say that Tabe-sensei says that there is no room for creativity in Japan, but that by following the more traditional shapes, glazes, and aesthetics the artist might become, in a way, more connected to their past. The designs and aesthetics she mentions manifest in our conversations, and in her pieces.

I could devote a whole new blog to writing out every kindness she has shown me over my time in Susaki. She's helped me meet local potters, spent days with me driving from gallery to gallery in the hopes of getting my work on display, and she's granted me access to the studio and tools that let me feed my ever growing pottery obsession. Without her kindness this blog simply wouldn't be possible, and I am so very thankful for her friendship. She is often so busy being a teacher, mother, and friend that I fear her creativity gets overshadowed. Like so many, she isn't creating works of art to seek money or recognition. She creates to teach others how to express themselves, and I find that very inspiring indeed.

Even if she has to change schools I know we'll stay in touch, but I figured it was important to share her huge contribution.

We'll see you on Thursday with some new work photos.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Copper and Iron

The kiln is open, and all but one piece survived. This firing included a lot of new glazes (the two pots above both feature my favorite new glaze, an iron red that has me just totally enchanted), but along with the new glazes, which I will continue to show piece by piece as time goes on, I also tried a new decorative technique. I wrapped some copper wire around two of the pieces, the bowl pictured above and a coffee mug. I tried this on some old test chunks and it produced a fantastic blackish silver that was incredible, however my tests were with a very small amount of wire. I opened the kiln this week to find that a single loop of copper wire is more than enough to not only create the desired dark mettalic flair, but to simultaneously fuse the pot to kiln shelves in a matrix of solidified metal bubbles. The coffee mug was lost in the process of chiseling away the binding copper, but the bowl and its fancy new copper skirt were dislodged with relative ease. I thought I would have to scrap the piece because of the sharp edges, but, low and behold, Tabe-sensei came to the rescue with her metal grinder, and after a quick safety lesson I was sanding away the metal into a truly unique foot for a bowl that might just be my favorite work to date (might even be going into my extremely tiny personal collection).

As I said I fully plan to continue posting more and more photos of the new work that came from this firing, but Monday will be a very special post. A tribute to one of the  best things to happen to my life in Japan and in the continuing quest to keep pottery on my brain and my hands dirty. What could it be?
Well, guess you'll have to tune in on Monday to find out.

Have a great weekend folks. See you Monday

Monday, March 12, 2012

Piece for piece

 This bowl is now in the, hopefully, happy hands of a fellow Kochi Prefecture artist. One day, while sitting at our teaching desk jobs digitally discussing the ups and downs of having too much down time in the office, I suggested we start a new creative adventure. I would make her a pot and she would paint me a picture. The only inspiration for the respective pieces was to be a color of the other person's choice. Interestingly, we both chose the color green. The bowl was a blast to make, and the excitement of having someone else's work awaiting me once it was finished was excellent.

And here is the lovely painting I received in exchange. The red Kanji written across the building reads KUMA (Japanese for Bear), and the image perfectly captures the the feel of the small town streets us Kochi English teachers see every day. In truth it reminds me most of the street right outside my best friend's house in Nakamura City. Marie I love it! Thanks for the great swap. To all other artists reading I am always game for another swap!

See you on thursday with the results of the firing! Have a great week.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Fan Fiction? more like FANTASY

The kiln is full folks! 

It will fire tonight and tomorrow, cool all weekend, and come Monday I'll be one nervous but excited potter. This round is full to the brim with new glazes. Here's to hoping everything turns out better than I could hope. 

I think one of the most significant reasons why I am sometimes (on my best days) a potter is the element  of surprise that comes in the final product. Artists with far more experience than me can predict the results of their firings. Heck! let's even go ahead and say they can control their results. I can say that to a degree I am able to imagine the basics of how my pots will turn out, but the transformative force of heat is such a wonder to me. I understand the basics of the heat and chemistry, but in my reality it's still  a process riddled with mysticism and magic. I read of masters in these arts using incantations rooted in words like carbon trapping, soda kiln,  ash, reduction environments, oxidation, and so many other terms     that have such latent power in their histories. 

These words are nothing without the engines of change that tranmute chemicals suspended in bland chalky water into beautiful colors and endlessly surprising outcomes. 

Meet my current engine of change. I know virtually nothing about her. She runs of electricity and can't fire reduction. I know that for my purposes she has two settings: 1 for bisque and 2 for glaze. There are an endless stream of runes scribed across her, but to my eyes they are incomprehensible. 

Meet the dormant engine I wish worked. It sits in the school's kiln room gathering dust and rusting. Once it ran on gas, and there are still melted cones (relics from long ago) trapped behind it. 

Daily I read about the different methods of firing, and with each day my hunger for a better understanding grows. The best way to learn is to make time and seek out the practitioners of the skills turned mythos by my over excitable fascinations. May you all have the pleasure of being healthfully obsessed, and may your weekends be sunny and fun filled. 

See you on Monday! 

Monday, March 5, 2012

Families 2

Happy Monday! Some shots of older work once more coming your way. Thanks to those who came out the the Ino City free market and festival. It was a great Saturday.  I managed to sell two pieces, a tea bowl and a little blue bowl.  I talked with friends, noticed a lot of older folks looking at my work then walking away quickly, and generally just basking in the sun. Unfortunately that sun has long since run away.

I know you see some of the above pots every day on my blogs banner, but I really love the idea that each set was glazed in unison to reflect it's sister piece. 

Not sure what this week will bring in the studio. I have tests to finish grading, but I hope to get in there and get my hands in some mud. Have a great week, and we'll see you with some new work on Thursday. 

Friday, March 2, 2012

What was . . . (and what comes next?)

If you remember, last week I wrote on my excitement over some new more complex forms I was working on.  This tea pot was the cynosure of that post. I left school on Friday last week with the kiln full and my mind drifting to what glazes this pot would be most suited to. However, the fire gods had other ideas. I offended them you see. A good follower knows that work must be ABSOLUTELY 100% dry before firing, and when you wrong the kiln gods - what once was. . .
Sadly is no more. 

Yes my first kiln explosion claimed the pot I was most excited to see finish. Luckily it didn't take any other work along with it. No use lingering on broken pots though. Lesson learned. 

This week was graduation at my high school and yielded very little studio time. Did manage to get some tests of my four new glazes into a quick little firing of some students work. I am exceptionally excited to see the copper red (second from the left) and the white with blue accents. Unfortunately, I do not know the names of these glazes or their make up. If you are potter, and can enlighten me on the actual names of such effects PLEASE HELP ME LEARN!  I am limited by the great wall that is the Japanese language and its infernal love affair with Kanji. 

I've managed to get the bottoms all prepped for glazing on the majority of the cups and mugs, BUT the real news for this week is that TOMORROW!!!! I will be taking 22 pieces to a small two day craft fair in Ino City. If you are in Japan, more specifically Kochi-ken, please come bye and see my work, say hello, talk, and perhaps take a piece home with you. Monday will have a full report. 

Have a wonderful weekend!