Thursday, November 10, 2011

2232℉ TEST

In the beginning of 2011, I started the first batch of glaze testing.
At that time, most of my technical and reference books were still packed in storage.

I found 4 base glazes in which some of them I have used before.

My goals were to look for a nice transparent glaze with no craze, a buttery fat glaze, and a glaze with variation of colors.

Majority of the usage of these glazes are for functional wares.

Before getting into the glazes, I should mention the clay body I used in the test.

At the studio, I have 3 types of clay bodies. One is a white body, firing range from mid to high temperature, a locally mixed with imported raw material. This one was recommended by Prof. Liou, Chen-Chou at National Taiwan University of Arts for its easy manipulation. The other one is a sculptural body, mid range temperature, recommended by Prof. Liao, Jui Chung. This is specially prepared clay requested by an artist in Taiwan, Chan, Ching Yuan, a professor of Tainan National University of Arts, and shipped from Laguna clay company seasonally. The last one is a mid range both wheel and hand-built body, the Hawaiian Red by Laguna clay company. It fires to a color of brown/red similar to red terra cotta which is a color I could not resist.

In the first batch of test, I have used only the white clay body.
One transparent glaze has lots crazing with the white body. I will not be able to alter the clay body, so I look for another glaze which will fit the body well.

The second transparent glaze is supposed to have no craze. The result was truly no craze, except it looked foamy. By looking closely, the glaze contains many tiny air bubbles in the glaze. Perhaps, if I soak the kiln at the target temperature a little longer, the problem might be resolved.

The glaze with variations of colors is the visual texture that I am looking for. Rutile was used in the test.

The buttery/fatty glaze recipe did not work for this firing temperature. It was under fired.

In Taiwan, it seems to me, lots people fire their ware around cone 7 or 8, if it’s not cone 10.

It was some what hard for me to adjust while every one in ceramic field tells me the temperature in 4 digits in Celsius. I guess because no one uses the Orton cones at all, and most people in the world use the Celsius for measuring temperature.

I don’t see any reason I need to follow other people by using cone 7 or 8, and I am going to drop the temperature to cone 5 for the runny glaze problem.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Our last saggar firing 5/2010

It is my 11th year teaching in the State of Washington.
School starts just like every thing else, and it ends as usual.
When I was a student, I look forward to the breaks. 
I transferred from one school to another, 3 grade schools, one middle school, and 4 colleges. 
I never thought about how teachers would feel when we graduated.
Only after had I become a teacher, my heart ached when these lovely students were leaving.
However, this time is very different; I am one who is finishing up. 
This is my last semester teaching in states.
This is our last sagger firing.
Jokingly speaking, I sometimes call this "garbage firing", because we collect organic matters from the kitchen such as fruit peels, and coffee ground, etc. to be included in the firing.
The result was satisfying.
Or perhaps it's my last semester, no one complained.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Tar paper project

Since fall quarter, 2009, I had added the tar paper as one of our projects.
Susanne learned this fun, easy, and quick technique from other workshops. Therefore, she was designated as the instructor for this project.

1. the selection of the tar paper needs to be the thickest kind, often used for roofing not for sidings.
2. sketch a three dimensional form, and make a paper template for the form.
3. trace the paper template over the tar paper, no worries if the lines are rough. cut out the tar paper shapes.
4. roll out clay slabs, spay with water on both the tar paper and clay.
5. place the tar paper shapes on the clay, and roll them onto it with a roller till the tar paper inlaid in the clay.
6. cut the clay in 45 degree angle, inward.
7. bring the forms together and pinch the seams hard till the edges of the tar paper meet (the seams can be scored or without, depending on your preference).
8. peel the tar paper off when the clay is stiff enough to free stand. shape, refine, or alter as you like.

The rest of the pictures are the works from students who tried this new technique.
Questions are welcome.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Robert Sperry

Before coming to the state of Washington, I thought I was going to see Robert Sperry's hometown. Not until I went to see his retrospective exhibition at the Bellevue Arts Museum, had I realized he was born and studied in Illinois, the state where I have spent more than 6 years. Before seeing this exhibition, all I knew about his work was the signature crawl slips on platters and outdoor installations. His last sculptural installation was in the University district at the SAFECO insurance company
where I have passed by many times. However, after having seen the show, I realized Sperry was a very productive artist, not only in clay as a potter and sculptor, he was also a filmmaker, a muralist, and a printmaker.

His only documentation, "Village Potters of Onda" was played in conjunction with the exhibition. It was inspired by Bernard Leach's "A Potter's Book". When mentioning Beranard, the English potter, the immediate connection leads me to think of Hamada, who also had a strong impact on the style of US pottery. In the 25-minute film of "Village Potters of Onda", it documented the tight social structure of the village, intensive labor involved in the pottery making, and how they survive with their craft though the Mingei movement. It was a well-made anthropological document of Japanese pottery culture. One of the comments he made on the issue of control which I am fond of was:

"And the part about Japanese society that I like is this one attitude that they have about the fire and not being in control.... They let the fire take its course and what the fire does to the thing is terribly important whereas, for Europeans, it was the other way around.... Whereas the Japanese wanted the fire there and wanted the idiosyncrasies of the fire. The fire was an entity, a real living thing."1 

Almost 25 years later after the film was made, Sperry was contacted by a British anthropologist, Brian Moeran who wanted to track the development and changes since Sperry's documentation. To their surprise, there were almost no change in form. The pots looked the same in 1963 as they did in 1985. The most amazing thing was the master potter was still sitting at his wheel in the exact same corner. For the continuation of the tradition, Moeran explained, due to the leaders of the Mingei movement, such as Hamada, Kanjiro Kawai, Kenkichi Tomimoto, and Leach, they have educated the potters with the responsibility for carrying on the traditions. However, both Sperry and Moeran had different opinions.

"Preservation of an old technique may be acceptable, provided it takes account of changes in form. But, when people suggest as the folk craft critics have in the past that potters stick to certain forms, they are not preserving pottery. They are, as Sperry so aptly put it, "pickling" it, and this, surely, is not what we wish to mean by "tradition"."2 

This reminded me of my conversation with Mr. Takamori written in a previous post that while as a apprentice under a Mingei master Kumao Oota, all he did was 200 little tea cups per day. It is undeniable, keeping tradition is one thing, but, creativity is also an essential part of the craft art. If the tradition were kept for the sake of keeping it while suppressing the spirit of the craftsmen, what were they doing then? I think it would be less than preserving pickles. Even the pickles my grandma made, I could taste her spirit!

Another documentation I saw was about the process Sperry used to make platters. He used 50 pounds of clay on a plaster hump mold with a technique using a jigger. His tools and techniques looked simple and primitive. The result of his work was precise and well calculated.

While applying his signature white slips with various brushes and brooms, he mentioned the way the slip was applied would affect the outcome of cracks on the slip. Briefly he said in the film that the recipe of the slip was the combination of flint, feldspar, and magnesium carbonate. This light and fluffy magnesium carbonate is a highly refractory material, and is often used in high fire glazes and the results are an opaque and buttery texture. While added in excessive amounts in slip or glaze, it will result in a crawling texture.

In the exhibition, with most of the platters, he had white crackle slip on black-glazed stoneware. The slips were applied after the glaze was fired, so he could manipulate the slip freely. The way he applied the slip was similar to the folk potters in the the village of Onda, brushed on, poured on, or scratched through the slip with fingers or tools.

In the book about Robert Sperry, "Bright Abyss", the author, Matthew Kangas drew a close link between Sperry and his adviser for his master's degree, Paul Bonifas. Bonifas was a Swiss ceramicist. In his eye, ceramics was a medium for a designer. Before the War, Bonifas was the core member of the movement of purism and one of his sources of inspiration for modern ceramics was classical Chinese ceramics which he considered the highest expression of ceramic art. Particularly, the all-white Dine ware and other all-black ware were important models for Bonifas and indirectly, for Sperry. To Bonifas, the purity of the form and shape were far more essential than texture, ornament, or pattern. If the connection and influences from Bonifas to Sperry were true, their complex and tangled relationship had supressed Sperry for almost 25 years.

Class notes:

During the Fall quarter, 2009, we had discussed briefly Sperry's crawl slip recipes during our class. Here, I will post a couple of recipes which might be very similar to the one I saw in the exhibition.

Neph Sye 65%

Magnesium Carb 25

Ball Clay 10

As to the cone for Robert Sperry's crawl glaze, there is a note by Piepenburg on p.301. It was "obtained by applying a thick white SLIP over a black glaze that was fired to cone 7. As it dried, the clay slip shrank dramatically on the surface of the smooth glaze. The slip was permanently affixed to the glaze by refiring the piece to cone 5." On another entry, some one had fired this recipe at cone 10 with excellent results.

Another textured recipe with high magnesium carbonate

BALL CRAWL (^6-7) Interesting lichen-like texture

Magnesium Carbonate 50

Nepheline Syenite 50


1 Robert Sperry Bright Abyss by Matthew Kangas, page 74.

2 Robert Sperry Bright Abyss by Matthew Kangas, page 75.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Apple Banana Cranberry *ABC*

I love simple recipes, both in food and in ceramics. If I could make this work with fewer ingredients, why should I try to figure out one with a long list?
Here we go, this is one of my favorate recipe, ABC; apple banana cranberry muffins, and is pretty healthy.

Apple Banana Cranberry muffins

Cake flour (I modified this to cake flour:all purpose flour 1:1) 2 cups
B. powder 1 T
B. soda 1/2 t
salt 1/4 t
sugar 1/2 cup
egg 1
milk 1 cup
butter, melted (I substitute with other kinds of vegetable oil) 1/4 cup or less
apple (I prefer granny smith) 1
banana, very ripe (not on original recipe) 1 optional
cranberry (not on original recipe) 1/2 cup optional

oven temperture, 385 F
sieve through first 4 ingredients, set aside
peel apple, cut in cubes
beat sugar, and egg till foamy
add milk and banana, continue beating, till banana is smooth
mix in all dry ingredients, oil, apple and cranberries
bake 20-25 minutes till golden brown

makes 12 muffins

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Burnishing is not burnishing~2

In previous article about burnishing, I have briefly explained about the process of burnishing, and the result after firing. In this one, I will show the process of preparation before firing and the result of our firing before Thanksgiving.

After burnishing, and a soft bisque firing, we wrapped our bisque wares in aluminum foil with varieties of organic matters.
The aluminum foil acts as a temporal ceramic saggar that traps all the fumes, and smoke within the aluminum poach.

In this firing, the organic matters include: banana peels, coffee grounds, sea weeds, dry cat food, saw dust, pine needles and orange peels. Minerals used in this firing include: salt, baking soda, iron oxide, steel wool, and copper sulfate.

Interesting material experimented in this firing are from Mary's hydrangea, and Susanne's steel wire.

With some organic materials, we experimented with salt and salt water. The result with salt water showed more variations of color than with dry salt.

The hydrangea created very soft smoky patterns around the pot. The steel wire left black/blue lines with halo around the piece. This discovery would open up many possibilities for line designs in the future firings.

It was raining and cold on the day of firing, so as the previous few weeks. Therefore, our outdoor kiln was wet, and as a result, the firing temperature was on the lower end, maybe around cone 019. If we fired with a little higher temperature, we probably would see more color at the end. This is a continuous experimentation, so we will have to do it again.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Akio Takamori at James Harris gallery

The reception for Akio Takamori was one week before Thanksgiving at the James Harris gallery.

This is the third time I have seen him and his work. I have admired his creative ability since I started taking ceramic classes in the early 90’s. During that time, I saw his work on posters and ceramic magazines.

His earlier slab-constructed envelope vessels were manipulated in such way that the inside/back space was integrated into the front/outside space. These hollowed vessels became a vehicle to transport his theme on memory and eroticism.

Growing up in Nobeoka, Miyazaki, his childhood experiences become the source of creativity. That is partly why I am fond of his work, because I share the similar kind of attitude toward religion and Eros. The artist stated, “We live between birth and death. Once a person is born, he cannot avoid death. The only energy that goes directly against death is what I call eros…. I understand that sexuality is a very important positive energy for human life. We should set a proper value upon sexuality, which I think is one of the key components to a proper value upon humanity.” *

In 2006, when I saw his exhibition in Portland, OR., "Between Clouds of Memory", his figurative sculptures had leapt out of the form of vessels, (starting in 1993 at in the European Ceramic Work Centre in the Netherlands), and become an ensemble of free standing figurative sculptures. Each figure stood for its own time, and collectively, all showed wealthy resources of political, social, and cultural references as well as history that the artist had experienced.

This time in Seattle, his most recent figurative works were inspired from photos taken by Danish photographer, Rigmor Mydtskov. Mydskov is most well known for being Queen Margrethe's official photographer. Takamori was attracted by the subtlety of gestures captured by Mydtskov and her interpretation of the subjects.

Each unglazed porcelain figurine is accompanied with a large photo of its own portrait. From the beginning, how the subject masked themselves, and how Mydskov interpreted her subjects, to the end, how Takamori translated the photographs to his sculptures and back to these watercolor-like photos, this long journey of interpretation and transformation had taken several stages from 3D to 2D and vice versa. These portraits are not simply the portraits anymore. They are very much the result of the artist's subjective point of view and interpretation.

In addition, 5 large stoneware figurative sculptures of Renaissance women were shown in bold characters in reflection of Takamori’s interpretation of culture, history and sexuality. For instance, similar to the female clay figurines in the Tang Dynasty, and European court paintings, these exaggerated balloon-like customs paired with bulbous wigs symbolize the ripeness for sexual implication.

After a brief greeting, I asked him how he wrote his Japanese name (as you see his signature on the top picture), and what is the unique dish of Miyazaki prefecture? I asked "Is cold miso soup very special"? "Yes, yes, the cold miso soup is the typical food in the area", with much enthusiasm he replied. That makes me wanting to try it some day. I wanted to ask him how is the accent of Miyazaki dialect different from the one from Tokyo? But, I thought that might be the too much of a question to ask. Later, I asked him in being in his early 20’s, what he was expecting to gain after his apprenticeship with Mingei pottery master Kumao Oota in the village of Koishiwara? He replied, for 2 years, all he did was make 200 little teacups per day. He could not throw anything else, but he learned the work ethics. A very honest man! Some one asked him if the little porcelain figurines took a long time to work on the details. “Oh, well, no, with my eye sight these days, he replied, I can’t work much of the details.”

It is understandable why he worked on Japanese and foreign figures in the past, but why only westerners this time? His answer was: in the past, we often see westerners depicted as easterners and people from other continents as some sort of exotic subject. Now, he is doing the reverse. Is this a kind of cultural revenge? He talks with gentle voice, humble, open and funny, but subtle with possibilities, just like his work.

* American Ceramics 5, no.1, 1986, p. 30-35.

Reference “Between Clouds of Memory” Akio Takamori, a mid-career survey, Arizona State university Art Museum, 2005.