Monday, December 16, 2013

Tobe: the Real Deal

Two weeks ago Stephanie and I took her friend Sarah to Tobe Yaki. Tobe, like Bizen, is a traditional Japanese pottery center. Tobe's style couldn't be more different than the dark reds, bronzes, and gold browns of Bizen's climbing kilns, but the feel is largely the same. Almost every home has some little ceramic detail, and every garage, livingroom, or back yard has some type pottery studio, collection of slip molds, or even a small kiln shed in the back yard. IT WAS GLORIOUS to see.

Simply the idea of an artistic community dedicated to preserving, promoting, and simutaniously modernizing local pottery traditions is like stepping into my dream list of job titles and making them materialize before my eyes. The Tobe Culture Center has a fantastic show room that takes you through the early traditions of the pottery, and also showcases the way the various artists and families of potters have changed the traditional forms and had fun with the glazes. Tobe is most well known for its navey blue brush work on white clay, but as you can see there are many takes on this old standard.

We got a chance to try our hand at painting a pot of our choosing. My brushwork clearly needs work, but I think Steph is a natural! It was great fun, and I'd return in a heart beat to show just about anyone this little treasure of ceramic culture.

Here are a few of the more contemporary designes we saw at the cultural center. There was a huge (very cool) store where you could buy work, but photos were prohibited.

I have some peices in a local christmas market in Kochi City. If you're in Japan and have just been itching for one of my pots then this would be a good chance. Yamma Neko gallery is a great place.
Mr. Leach even made time to stop in. It's always such a pleasure to see his work.
All this typing about pottery has me itching to get into the studio and get back into the making cycle. I saw some really fantastic slab work in Tobe and have been thinking about trying my hand at it since. I'm off to create something, you should do the same!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013


After loading a small test batch of work into the newly repaired kiln I punched in the firing cycle and waited to see how the freshly refinished Kiln Gods would treat me.

The outcome is a mixed bag of over exposed and passable results. The kiln's programed cycles all were wiped durring the repair, and I must not have quite gotten the down fire temperatures right for this firing. Some adjustments are in order, but we'll get it sorted.

I'm particularly happy with the sculptural form I'd been working on for some time. It's one of the biggest peices I've ever done.

These little ochoko were really fun. At the end of the day, I'm jus texstatic to be back in buisness. The kiln is finally filled with the tiles from the workshop I ran back in October. As the weather turns my mind shifts to how to keep my hands warm in the studio, and what forms I most want to work on for the comming months. In January over half the school goes on class trips for about 3 weeks, and I will have more than ample time to get my hands really muddy.

If you just can't get enough of pottery and people talking about pottery, and you'd really like to see some fantastic surface treatments check out fetishghost (a fellow blogger user and great potter). Until next time keep creating! 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Follow Up

The school is like a came. The halls are dark, and the thick cement walls hold the night's cold far longer than one would think. Fall's colors are all scattered across the hills and it's dark by 5:30 if your lucky now. It seems like winter came almost without any sense of Fall at all. Perhaps two weeks at best, but that's ok by me. Winter here is quite mild, and though the homes are not so well heated or insulated it means more hot beverages and soups. I'd take being cold over being hot any day.

I wanted to follow up on my post about the young potters I saw in Tobe with a few pictures of the more traditional Tobe Yaki look.

There is a lovely little hand made gallery just down the street from my apartment where I try to stop in once every month or so just to check what pottery and laquer ware turns up, and this month they had a real surplus of new potters. The two folks from tobe above, and a new Kochi potter. All I was able to understand from the store owner's description is that the potter was a woman who lived about 20 minutes away in Tosa and that she built everything by hand without the use of a wheel. I really love the glaze on the first tea bowl pictured.

Hoping to return to posting every Monday and Thursday now that the kiln in back on line. We'll see you soon everyone. Go CREATE!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Dream Walks and Fixed Kilns

Step by step in the quiet rain I head for temples hidden amoungst the hustle of one of Shikoku's biggest cities. Two weeks ago Steph and I checked off Matsuyama from our 88 temple trek. Along the way we stayed at the always fantastic Sen Guesthouse (seriously if you travel through Matsuyama do yourself a favor and stay there!). While there, I got to conversing with the owner about local potters. Matsuyama is home to Tobe Yaki, a place which I am sadly very under educated at the moment. The work that I associate with Tobe Yaki (as I knew it) is traditionaly a white clay body with blue designs painted under a clear glossy glaze. The owners at the Sen guest house assured me that that may be the traditional imagery, but that there is some really creative and absolutely fantastic contemporary ceramics comming out of Tobe.  

 This is a pot from Asato Ikeda, and I am absolutely in love with his forms. They're loaded with motion and energy. Appearantly the folks and Sen Guesthouse are friends of his and work to help him publisize his ceramics from time to time. I'd love to pic this guys brain, and watch his process for creating such movement within the clay. 

As some of you may know my other obsession in life is tiny houses, and I saw this little beauty cruzing down the road on the way to the Kochi Air Port for a business trip to Tokyo. Similarly to my desire to pic the brains of Tobe's youthful potters I would LOVE to spend an afternoon exploring the construction of this little movable cabin. I doubt it is used for camping or dwelling. It is owned by a bakery, but I am willing to bet it could be repurposed to be dweld within. If you asked me why I love tiny houses I don't think I could adiquately articulate my feelings in a clear enough mannor. The biggest appeal of them is that they seem doable! I have always wanted to build my own home, but have absolutely no knowledge of carpentry, construction, and only the very basest of handymanery. Constructing something tiny is a way to get around the daunting challenge of learning all of that full scale. They are also significantly easier to heat, own, make energy efficient, and leave less of an imprint on the world that surrounds us. I could go on for days about hwo freak'n cool tiny structers are and how much I want to make pottery in one, but I won't . . . because that isn't what you're here for.

You're here because you're my friend, and you are curious about my ceramics and life. Now we come to the news that you and I have been waiting for, for weeks and weeks. The kiln repair is complete! There is a bisque firing happening as we speak and Yamatogi Sensei assures me that I can do a glaze firing this weekend if all goes well. Extatic does not do my feelings justice. I have a load of my own work (mostly ochoko and a few tea bowls) to fire, and probably at least a load of tiles from the workshop I did last month during my exhibition.

Thanks for reading! If you get a chance go check out Asato's work. Keep creating.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Broke Down Blues

The mornings are quickly transitioning from cool to cold. Before I have time to blink it will be winter again, and my hands will be struggling to center in the cold of the studio. November is the busiest time of year. Speech contests for my students kick into full gear, my yearly volunteer course begins, and preparations for winter travels.

I have hit a rock and a hard place. Just before the show in Susaki City the kiln broke down. I was expecting the repair to be somewhat expedient, however my hopes have proven futile. Yamatogi Sensei assures me that the peice in need ot repairs has been shipped, and now we are just in a waiting game. This waiting. . . constantly not knowing when you'll be back in the flow of create, bisque, glaze, and fire is disheartaning. I've had little drive to go create in the studio because I've no garantees I'll be able to complete the works. I still am carving on pots, and tryign to keep my skills at least mildly sharpened.

I doodle frequently. . . in bright colors, and in rarely planned out patterns. They are studies in bordom and color. Like gesture drawings, they're done hastlily and meant more to capture the fleeting feeling of a moment rather than anything else. I would love to find the correct materials to allow me to doodle on the surfaces of my pots, but currently I do not have glazes like that at my disposal.

The maze.

Typhoon Friday

I'm veyr hopeful that we'll be back in business soon, and that I can return to work in full confidence that the work I'm doing will actually come to completion.

Untill then I'll keep the creative juices flowing however I can, and you should do the same!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Stuck in over-DRIVE

Today I'll walk the 20 minutes it takes to wind my way from my school to the Gallery where my work is. The walk will have my eyes right in the sun as it begins it's descent toward the mountains that encircle the horizon. I'll wind my way through Susaki propper. I'll pass the tiny hill top temple just after the only nice bike shop in town, and the famous soya(sho-yu) sauce business that all the city tourism pamphlets foucs on. I'll pass the post office, 4 run down houses overflowing with weeds and litterbox stinks, and many windows that belong to stores I've never seen open. I'm already anticipating the sense of relief I know the space will bring.

 I havn't been able to spend nearly enough time here since the show started. On a rainy Saturday I met Tabe Sensei and her son for breakfast and we went to the show together.
 The building is just one block off the main road through town, and it affords it a quietness that I love. When a guest goes into the main room the gallery owners bring you a small cup of iced tea to enjoy as you explore the exhibit. I really loved spending time asking Tabe Sensei about her feedback on my exhibit. I miss having someone to bounce my ceramic ideas off at school. It was a great morning. Don't worry you faithful readers there will be more pictures of the exhibit to come shortly. This weekend I'll be hosting a one day workshop on tile carving and texturing. I'll also be photoing the exhibit to better showcase the space. I'm not looking forward to taking the exhibit down. There ended up being about 104 peices once everything was unwrapped and on the tables.

    The reasons I've not been able to soak in the gallery is because fall is always the most chaotic time for me as an English teacher. Speach contest has rolled around again, and I'm rehersing with a student every day after school (she's fantastic and excited about English. It is rare and wonderful!). I'll be starting my extra lessons with the older folks in my area at the local community center come November (they are always a blast, but it means extra lessons and loads of planning). There are also of course the ever present tests and papers to grade.

But the real pain has been studying for the Japanese Driving test. It's a wonderful strange process that has been ranted about far too many times in the history of internet I'm sure. If you're really curious about the multi colored insanity show that's pictured above and my exact thoughts on it, feel free to ask. I take the test tomorrow, and despite studying, and being a fairly compitant experienced driver, I've less than high hopes for my first Japan Driving Test experience. Who knows!

What I do know is I can't wait for the workshop on Saturday, or to get back in the studio once the kiln is repaired. I have a whole batch of new work that's ready to fire, and a new goal to work towards with my ceramics. Thanks for reading, and if you've time come on bye the show.

Go create something!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Flurry and Dust.

You're invited to come to: 

At the start of this long endevor I simply was craving exposure. I had 60 or 70 some peices gathering dust in my studio. My own collection of work rarely seen, and by anyone but you few internet friends. It was (has been) a supremely personal journey for the past 3 years into the world of pottery. The process of arranging and working towards a gallery show is so vastly different from the solotude of the studio I am so accustomed to when I make my works. Meeting the wonderful staff of the Machigato Gallery in Susaki, thinking over the best ways to instal my work in the gallery's space and "fill" it to a point that looks good, and then there is publicizing (which for me comes as the most difficult party). It is all wonderful, and new, and also very tiring.

 My extra time this week was eaten by preping works for transit to their new monthlong home. Hand wrapping each peice is an excellent time for self critique. My hands cradle each peice, and my fingers find the gritty imperfections that my eyes never reveal when I simply look at my collection. The learner's trials and happy accidents litter the surfaces of many of my works, and their lessons are greater for my growth than I could have hoped for.

Consequently, handling and wrapping each peice also kicked up quite a bit of duest which has rather unhappily settled itself in my nose. I sent 7 boxes packed full to the gallery on Monday, and will spend the greater part of tomorrow installing it all for the first time. I can't wait to see everyone's resonce to my work, and hope that you'll find the time to come and see it. I'm ever greatful for input and for your readership of my journey.

Before I go, I have been working on some new tiles for a tile workshop I'll be teaching on September 28th. Unfortunately the school's kiln's controle pannel and power switch have fallen victim to the extreem humidity here in Kochi. Yamatogi sensei assures me that it will be up and running again sometime in October, but for now that just means some of my peices will not be making it into my first show. It really jus tmeans I have more time to fill the kiln with more work for the next show!

Have a great day!
GO and make something!

Thursday, August 22, 2013


After a long trip home, the first in 2 years, I'm back in Susaki and in the studio. There is a lot of work to be done before the opening of my show on September 13th. I've been granted space in the Machikado Gallery to display my work. I've never put together a show before, esspecially a solo exhibition, so my thoughts about the best ways to display everything and all the other ins and outs are really racing.

I have always loved texture and surface decorations. They alter the tone and give the eye a reason to pull the hands to the peice. This show's collection is largely going to e peices that focus on texture and giving a sense of agedness to something new, and also atempting to replicate the natural element of an atmospheric firing in my electric kiln with only factory made glazes and changes to the temperature and exposure of the firing cycle. Just come and have a look!

Home was wonderful, as home should be! The whole family came out in force to welcome me back. We soaked eachother in for two weeks, and I even managed to see some of my oldest and dearest friends from both high school and the good old Wooster days. There will be more info and news to come along with more photos of new work, but for now the sauna of a studio is calling to me. Thanks for reading! It's good to be back.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Toys, Important dates, and lots of Plates

 It's been busy BUSY weeks since I last posted here. The summer sun seems to have come and finally burned off the residual moisture of last weeks tail end to the rainy season. As seems par for the course the rainy season saw my dear mellon and cucumber plants consumed by white powdery mold, but my cherry tomatoes seem to be doing ok and my greens carry on as though there were nothing wrong in the least.  I've grown esspecially fond of my fish pot with two big gold fish, and a medly of water plants to keep it well oxygenated. They greet me every time I go out onto my balcony.

All too soon I'll be venturing home to visit the family in West Virginia for the first time in two years at the end of this month. I'm excited beyond beleif to see them. So, with packing added to the already impressive list of things to do I have been releived that I still managed to make time to create my pots. I've been testing out some new (absolutely astonishingly great) tools. We loaded two kilns full of my work and some student works and fired them up. The first firing came out very well for the most part, but unfortnately the second firing seems ot have unintentionaly gone too hot. This caused the glazes to become more muted than I was going for. All of this push for work is because I have some wonderful news! In early-mid September I'll be having my first solo exhibition. More details to come, along with fun promotional goodness, but I just wanted to relay the good news with this weeks up date. KIeep creating!

Great new toys from Mudtools. Thanks Mom and Dad these work wonderfuly.
I am esspecially fond of the rubber ribs and the new clay cutter.

I've really been focusing a lot on cup and saucer designs.
These were from the most recent long cool down firing.

I'm still trying to dial in the right mix of glazes and temperature change to result in the most
atmosphiric looking results. I don't quite have it yet, but I'm always after those
Bizen and Shigaraki colors. I am quite happy with these though.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Bisque and News

Today's weather really threw me for a loop. Cool lovely morning, hot mid day, and then humid but cool night. I have some large tiles that have been drying for days in the studio and the humidity is keeping them quite damp still depsite my best efforts. I would really like them to dry so that I can glaze them and try to slip them (yes unbisqued, my god right?!) into Friday's firing. Last week saw a bisque fire come and go smoothly and without any casualties. I've spent the week glazing like a mad man attempting to get everything ready in time because there's big news on the horizon (but for now it must remain a secret)!

 All tantalizing secrets aside I find that glazing is still a part of my creative process that is most in need of refining. I don't fully understand the techniques needed to smoothly blend two glazes, or even to get the same effect reliably every time. It is truley a new and fantastic experience almost every time I open the kiln. Sometimes my glazes behave exactly as I have hoped and expected them to, sometimes I'm surprised in the best of ways, and sometimes I'm greated by pots that look as though they were glazed with as much attention to detail as sand blowing in the wind. I've been quite active in the studio this week beyond just my glazing. Every day I have been working to teach myself how to reliably throw (though I should, perhaps, just say center) larger amounts of clay. I find it really challenging to maintain that perfect centered position on the wheel and my work (with one exception) has turned out good enough for the reclaim bucket every day this week. It leaves my wrists and fingers soar, but in reality I find that soarness refreshing!

I know you've seen these guys already, but I just fin this image far more pleasing than the other
and simply had to share it. 

My favorite mug from last weeks firing. 

Go create something TODAY! 

Monday, June 10, 2013

Fired, Blues, and News

About two weeks ago I opened up the kiln of an incredibly rainy Monday. The weather was terrible, and I had the day off from school to dedicate time to cleaning my house and relaxation. What I saw with this firing was really quite surprising. many more muted colors than I am used to, and lots and lots of drips. Now I7m really quite partial to runny yellow glazes, and that metalic blue that fades to slighly crystalized copper burns when exposed to my long back fire firing cycle makes for some pots with a lot of character, but this time the glazes left me feeling like they were a bit . . . rushed.
I'm very happy with this tea bowl.

I love the forms, but I really want the glaze to uniformly fade. Granted the kilns "kiss" and treatment of each individual pot is part of what makes pottery so endlessly entertaining.

I'm not the happiest with these two mugs.

Love this carved mug.  
I am still working on coffee mugs and demitause cups. I am amassing so many peices that I really need to do a bisque firing, but the communication barrier at school with my new ceramics instructor, Yamatogi Sensei, hasn't been 100% broken down as of yet. There are some deadlines for compititions at the end of this month that I would really like to apply to. . . so , we'll just have to do some sweet talking and creative gesturing convince him otherwize.

I wrote a few posts ago about my trip to Bizen and how I was equaly in awe and more than a little jealous of all the clay culture that surrounded me while I was there. Sometimes I think young artists, or just young people in general get a restlessness that builds within them. It's the desire to have the life you know you want. I often think that I want a life in pottery. I'm not sure where or how that happenes but 9 out of 10 days I want it more than just about anything I can dream of. So, when I see an artist with a studio in ceramics monthly it's hard to not think, "man they have it all!". The truth is that they are working, and have been working - along their own paths - for YEARS to get to that article. It's the same in any job, for any twenty something. We're hungry for our dreams to come to a point where we feel we're living them not living for the hope of dreaming them. All of that to say that I just got the June Ceramics Monthly and its pages are a wash with artists and pots that make me hungerier than and more excited than a 5 year old at an all you can eat cake and icecream buffet, but I opened it up to a quote on the very subject I've been ranting on by a Potrland, Oregon potter named Brian R. Jones:

"My advice to others interested in a career in pottery: You have to dig your well deep. invest in youself and others will invest in you. Things happen when they happen and that's not something you have control over. Don't get too concerned or resentful with someone else's success. They are not being successful at you. It's just their time. Use your energy to make better work."

So it's off to make better work I go!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Drive and publicity!

Working towards goals is one of the most self empowering things you can do in your day to day life. Be they goals in fitness, education, ceramics, painting, music or competative TV staring (well maybe not so much the later) striving to better yourself is a HUGE opportinity for generating happiness. 

For my first year and a half here my work was almost 90% spontanious. I might sit down to the wheel and say, "I'm going to make a bowl", and sure enough a bowl of some type would be the result. I don't see any problem with this, however recently I have been focusing much more on creating with a designed purpose. Sketching out pots, looking through Ceramics Monthly for inspirational forms constantly, and in general being more demanding of my own creative process. The result of this is an ever growing collection of work ready to be bisqued, and the need to set goals.

Greenware ready and waiting for the bisque.

Living here in Japan I feel fairly disconnected from the pottery communities I spend most of my days reading about, and the language barrier between Japan's pottery community and myself is quite large (this is mostly my own fault for choosing gardening and pottery over studying all the time). That all being said, I've recently really been focused on finding international art competitions and calls for entry to work towards. I like having a challenge or a goal to push for, and the addition of a deadline really helps to accelerate my drive sense of purpose while in the studio. The show I'm currently working at applications for is a call for demitasse and saucer designs. So I'm expiramenting.

If you like art of all sorts, and would like to see a fantastic digital collection of up and comming artists check out Art Ascent is a great sight. Their goal is to create themed competitions for international artists to have a chance to share their work with a wider community. If you are an up and comming artist I can't recommend them enough. They put out a lot of different calls for work and their themes are ussually really interesting. My work is up on their web site, and later I will be featured in a paper publication as well. Can't wait to see a hard copy of that. The other featured artists are really great and totally worth checking out as well.

I think that's about all the news from the studio this week. Be on the lookout in the near future for more news, and hopefully a firing soon!

Go create something! Stop thinking about it and do it!