I woke up just before 6 A.M. today with the light seeping through my curtains. I went into the courtyard and the morning light was so beautiful, I went and got my camera and took some pictures. There’s a sakura tree just outside Tomoko’s studio, and the light was filtering through all the petals.
Then we got talking about Japanese tea, after I put the water into the teapot too hot (oops). Tokoname is famous for it’s teapots as the clay here is very good for brewing tea in, so there is a lot of expertise here. Tomoko showed me two of her little teapots, called kyushu. Her favourite one is very tiny and incredibly thin, and she picked it up and sat it on the end of its handle to show me the balance. It looked exactly like something Allen would do with his ceramics, find some precarious and delicate way of standing a piece just because he could! Both teapots had been thrown in quite a dark clay, and the bigger one had a kind of impressed pattern which looked like it was made with a saw blade halfway up the side, and a metal mesh for a sieve instead of pierced clay. The lid rested on an inner gallery, and had no tab to hold it in, the Japanese place a hand over the lid when they pour. They also use side handles. Tomoko said she’d try and arrange for the artist of her favourite teapot to show me how he makes his teapots. I can’t wait! As she called him, he truly is a master to make such delicate and well balanced pots.
She’d given me a wheel thrown porcelain cup to drink out of, and I noticed it was very translucent, so I told her it was much better than English porcelain, which surprised her a lot. Apparently there are a lot of porcelain recipes here, some specifically for translucency, and many artists make lights with it. These artists are famous for being scrupulously clean to prevent iron contamination! Tomoko said she was too messy to work with it and never uses it, and I told her I work with red clay and porcelain. She then taught me that I was saying it wrong – terracotta is aka tsuchi, not aka do. The kanji for earth has more than one pronunciation, and I’d got the wrong one! She showed me the writing and a couple more words in Japanese. Apparently a clay mixer (I think ball mill) is do ren ki – dorenki. I told her I wanted to compile a glossary of ceramic words, so I could maybe make some kind of Japanese to English ceramic dictionary, and she showed me a book by Penny Simpson, Lucy Kitto and Kanji Sodeoka called “The Japanese Pottery handbook”. It’s amazing, it has everything in there, information and translation, even for all the chemical names. She has leant it to me, so I can study up! However, suddenly my idea seems a bit beside the point, Penny has done something similar already, but more comprehensive. I’ll probably still do it though, as Penny’s book is a text book, and the words are not in alphabetical order, so it will be useful to have a reference where it is easy to look words up.
Brain overload! Tokoname has a lot of galleries, and a ceramic mall, and we went around a lot. I saw a lot of very beautiful nerikomi, an interesting mix of marbled clay and a technique similar to Sasha Wardell’s. I really want to find out the name of the artist making those pieces. Tomoko told me that a layer of iron was painted over the marbled clay and then scooped away to reveal ovals of veined colour. There were a few artists I thought I recognised, and a lot I didn’t. One chawan had an amazing lustre glaze on similar to Miyazaki Miyamura, but I’m pretty sure Tomoko said the artist was called Murasaki. She didn’t recognise Miyamura’s name. The glaze was very crystalline , but the crystals were crowded and not obvious from a distance. It didn’t seem to be high fired either, but the clay body was white. I also saw the National Treasure, Yamada, everywhere in special display cabinets with photos of the artist. There were some amazing glazes too, many with jun effects, and even a couple of pale pink ones. Of course, there was a lot of oribe! There was also plenty of white engobes, one artist using sgraffito in it, which I really liked. Her plates and bowls were very simple white with a dun clay underneath, and flowers or vegetables drawn in. Another favourite was an artist who appeared to be using porcelain, or a very pure white clay, and left rough torn edges all over the surface so metal oxides could be rubbed in. The pieces I saw used copper, but some used silver which tarnished to multicoloured hues over six years. What really struck me was how skilled the Japanese are at using composition, form, line and texture simply to produce the best effect, and how much they used the qualities of the clay to create beautiful pieces. It made English ceramics look very contrived. A lot of the pieces had no glaze at all, and were just the fired clay surface, or the glaze was poured or splashed over sections, or created by ash in the firing. It made me seriously question my practice to date. I spend too much of my time fighting my medium. Most of the galleries didn’t allow photographs (but you can pick the ceramics up and handle them). So, I plan to go back later with more time and a sketchbook!
After the galleries, we got lunch (udon noodles – I didn’t mange to politely slurp mine, as they were busy burning my lips) and later a café for tea. I had a matcha set (sweet first, then matcha and a small cup of sencha to finish), and it was far more bitter than I remembered. Apparently this café is well populated by local potters, so Tomoko said I should hang out there and try to get to know them. If I talk to them about ceramics, they might show me their work shop, or tell me their techniques. She’s friends with the owner (and has her on order for four thousand guinomi – unbelievable. Who needs that many sake cups?!) who does pottery for a hobby. The sweet (made from rice and shaped like a – maybe a sakura or camellia) was served on a stand made by her. It was utterly beautiful with the sweet on. It looked just like a slab of flat rock, except it had feet and marks from the wadding it stood on in the anagama. The rock effect was caused by the rough edge. She ripped the clay when it was leather hard. Everyone was very friendly, and Tomoko got me to introduce myself to them in Japanese. They seemed to enjoy my clumsy attempts, and one lady was fascinated by my hands – first she noticed they were soft for a potter (it was a very sunny day and the heat does that to them), then that they were big compared to hers. English women are big compared to Japanese ladies, who are for the most part pretty tiny! Apart from the ceramics, Tomoko showed me where the supermarket and train station is, as well as tell me other basics. We also saw a glass workshop (again, using the glasses natural characteristics to create the pieces – they were very fluid looking, some with bubbles in, some thick, many not perfectly round).
This evening she laid out the ground rules about work, my curfew, and how to behave. She’s teaching me Japanese manners and how to eat like the Japanese. I must respect my elders and let them go first (including being served in a café and taking a bath), I mustn’t say “Mmmm” because it sounds like “Unnnnn” which means no in Japan, and when eating from a big plate, put a hand under the food like an “osara” (plate) when transferring it to your mouth. As for work, I get two days off per week, and time to make my own work, which I can sell in her gallery for 50% commission, because she’s paying for the clay! Soon it will be Golden Week in Japan, so there will be many visitors and we need affordable work to sell to them. I’m looking forward to getting back to making! She’ll show me how to use her workshop tomorrow. She gets up at about 7:30 A.M.
Internet is semi there, I can use Tomoko’s pc, but the keyboard is difficult (it keeps switching to hiragana script) and the browsers don’t trust any of the websites I need to use. Google chrome lets me on facebook under protest, and internet explorer lets me on blogger and gmail under protest. Ironic! Neither will let me on hotmail.