Monday 30 September 2013

Tea House Complete!

Finally it is done! Here are the final photographs before assessment (after assessment it is going to the Public and the outside will be painted grey to match the other tables and plinths).

In the end, to simulate the traditional Japanese clay/plaster wall finish used on the tea house in the British museum, I ended up using textured masonry paint! Dulux colours were just too bright and colourful, and wallpaper, although it would have looked fantastic, would have been impossible to touch up if it got damaged in transit, and without knowing how good a finish I could achieve having never used it before I decided it wasn't practical. I also considered fabric stretched over the boards and painted, but the cost of the fabric on top of the paint would have been prohibitive (and I couldn't get a Dulux colour I liked as I said). Here it is waiting on the paint to dry.

So while that was drying, I glued the washi paper onto the frame that would form the "window". As it turns out, I wished later that I'd glued the paper on after gluing on the bamboo frame, because of course where the glue spreads it weakens the paper and leaves marks where it runs, but overall this operation went pretty smoothly, so this is just a note for efficiency next time! The paper was unbelievably see through, and I was glad of the accidental ridge inside the frame where the lighting had to sit, because it prevented tiny pin pricks of light being obvious through it. When I finally got the "window" up and lit up, it looked like there was this halo of light inside! So as for looking like natural daylight, that failed, especially since the cool colour of the light from the LEDs shouted against the warm lights in the installation room and didn't look like sunlight at all! Instead, it looked like this super modern contemporary light fitting, and gave this kind of edgy atmosphere that reminded me of Tokyo, the ultimate blend of history, tradition and the cutting edge, which I really liked. After all, my work is not Japanese, although it is inspired by Japanese ceramics, and it is more fitting that work that is a new interpretation should be shown in a setting which is a new interpretation as well. Unfortunately though, true to the reviews on the website I bought them from, the LED lights aren't the best at staying stuck down, and may need gluing on as well later...

The finished tea room! I didn't have time to do all of the ties down the bamboo for this shot, but you get the rough idea :)

It's come out really well so far (especially since I'm using recycled boards). It has the scent of a Japanese room unlike my last attempt in the gallery, thanks to the real tatami mats, and overall it's much more authentic this time! Although it all still feels very clean and new compared to traditional Japan; there's no patina yet. 

It has a great cosy feel to it, my main downside is that for it to look good, I can't display as much inside as I did with the last exhibition. To look Zen, the shelving display needs to have only a few pieces on it so they can really stand out as individuals, and to give the wabi sabi lonely feel. I think in the shot below, I had too much on there. Maybe on the bottom shelf I just want one Naruto bowl, and one on the top shelf, and then a teapot and tea caddy or something on the middle shelf. Strangely, before the bamboo went up, I discovered (to my horror!) that the yellow hue of the paint brought out a yellowy hue in the green glaze of the pieces on the shelf, washed them out and made them look a bit vomited on. Magically, the minute the bamboo was up it looked normal again (the effects colours have on one another are amazing, the reddish hues must have balanced everything out) but next time I will definitely have to be more careful when selecting wall colours!

Now the display is all packed up and waiting to travel to be set up at the MA show! Since I can't be there to set it up (I'll be in Turkey for a symposium) I'm having slight kittens about whether it will be ok..... fingers crossed my instructions are legible!

Wednesday 25 September 2013

Tea house - so far!

It's been a while since I last posted, so I have a lot of updates to add!

First off, there was a trip to the Public in West Bromwich to look at the exhibition space we will have. For some years the MA show has always been held here, but Tracey Emin has exhibited here too recently, so the lecturers are abuzz with the extra crowds that will potentially pull into the building while our show is on. However, this is not your traditional art gallery. The Public is really a huge modern multi purpose community building with extensive gallery spaces and interactive exhibits, that specialises in visual media display with loads of flashing lights and projectors and hosts the odd belly dancing class. The architecture is very modern and somewhat whimsical, with a spiralling structure/layout inside, and many of the visitors I have seen have been young families enjoying playing with various cameras and press the button displays. Very clearly this is a place not just for viewing, but joining in, so making my display interactive (through tea drinking) will hopefully appeal to the audience here! 

We had a good look around to try and find spaces within the building that might suit our work, and to start to work out the practicalities of our display to fit this - or at least, that was the theory! In essence, I had already planned to transplant my own custom made space into the existing space, so all it needed was enough floor and height clearance with a convenient nearby plug socket and good lighting from above. Although in my case, a convenient sink and kitchen area would be preferable!

These are some shots of the gallery space often occupied by fine art students. The spaces had good lighting, alcoves, and were very airy with plenty of open spaces, so they had the potential for neatly fitting my installation in, and the contrast between the stark, airy open spaces and my cosy, rustic tea house would have been really interesting and striking to visitors.

This spot would have been brilliant, right in the entrance to the upstairs gallery, if it wouldn't have contravened fire exit rules............

This is another interesting space just to the side of the entrance which had a lot of nice natural wood around which would have complimented my theme, but it wasn't very convenient; you can see it lacks plug sockets and is off to the side of where people would normally walk.

There was also a similar space on the opposite side of the entrance.

In the end it was decided the ceramics students would all go in the black room halfway up the spiral, as it has suited previous MA ceramic exhibitions, and we could have a cohesive display in our own space. It turned out that not only I had decided on an installation style display, but at least three other students also wanted to set up installations, and there were others who wanted to use specific displays to help convey the ideas behind their work, so we could all be curated into a kind of tour through different zones and a mini exhibition within an exhibition. It would also mean good plug socket access for me, and access to a kitchen area where I could fill a kettle and boil water. The area also had a dedicated lighting track overhead.

It was also the space Tracey Emin was in!

As for the tea house, here you can see my scale model before I added the shelves and bamboo beams. This was used to help explain what I wanted to the woodwork technicians who helped me build the full scale version!

The design is quite simple, the tea room has a display alcove and a window/ light fitting to help give some atmosphere, and it will allow me to display one set of work in the alcove for viewing while another is out on a tray/low table in the centre being used to serve tea. Luckily, the boards I need to construct the walls were kindly donated/rescued from a trip to the skip, as the university were throwing some out, saving me a cost of £100 for new ones, although they were a bit on the battered side. The bamboo and lighting had also turned up, as well as the washi paper for the window, so I had almost everything I needed. The bamboo looked great, but I had fun fitting it as not a single length was straight! 

I also seemed to have made a miscalculation with the window, as the inner ring did not match up with the outer ones forming a recess where the light would go, but since it fitted the hole made for it, this was not so important. The lighting could be raised up on padding, since the LEDs generate very little heat.

Stage one: Corner wall pieces screwed together 

The tea house finally under construction in the wood workshop next to the finished scale model.

After all the boards are joined together (the flat sides with butted edges were done last with metal plates and screws) Bryn cut the hole for the window.

 After that, it was time to make and fit the distinctive Japanese zig zag shelf.

And then on to drilling the holes for the ties to go through for binding the bamboo beams over the joints they are supposed to conceal. I purchased black linen thread for the purpose for a couple of quid, and it did an admirable job of being both strong enough and vaguely authentic looking. Each tie criss crossed over a joint in the beam to try and imitate Japanese construction techniques. It also helped stop the bamboo moving around, as these are also the fattest parts of the beams. 

At the end of the day I just piled everything into the tea house for storage ready to finish construction and proceed with painting. As soon as the walls were up the space took on a very den like feel, and it was fun to turn it into a base camp while I was working! Already it felt cosy and intimate, and strangely, personal as well.

 After this, the window needed to be painted then glued together, and the wall covering decided on, purchased and applied, which is currently in progress. More about that tomorrow! Night night

Sunday 25 August 2013

Sticky back Christmas lights.... sort of

So this morning I have ended up looking at potential light sources for my display. I'm starting to get a bit itchy about the deadlines coming up for my MA and everything else I'm supposed to get done before Christmas and moving house, so I want to see if I can get the last few materials I need ordered so I don't have to worry about supply and waiting on delivery at the last minute. I'm hoping to have a blitzkrieg in the studio on my pieces next week as well, as they have been a bit neglected while I was trying to sort house/studio/symposium article/display issues. So, this weekend I'm aiming to get at minimum some kind of framework for the new portfolio going, and order the bits for the circular paper window light.

And with that, we come back to sticky back Christmas lights... sort of. What these actually are is a nifty little gadget I came across when I was setting up my solo exhibition called LED strip lights or LED tape. Here's what it looks like:

What it is is lots of LEDS attached to a flat backing with a ready attached double sided adhesive strip that can be cut to any required length (or rather, at any indicated interval between the lights, which seems to vary between being between any two LEDs and between every interval of three LEDs). So it's basically a cut, stick, plug and play kind of deal.

The nice thing about these LEDs is that they are aimed at a slightly more high spec market than your bog standard Christmas lights, so they are sold with quite technical specifications, such as the colour rating of the light, the strength of the light and a whole host of other bits of information. This means that I can get a white light that will simulate sunlight (cool white), or look artificial (warm white) and I know how bright it will be. The only, and critical, issue is finding out the beam angle of the light. These LEDs are useless to me if they shoot laser beam like shafts of light straight up and create mini spotlights all over the place, I need a wide, diffused beam to create a general glow (even though there will be paper in front to help diffuse the light, it can't do it entirely on it's own).

A bit of internet digging later, and here is what I have found out:

The Comparison Between SMD 3528 and SMD 5050 LED Strip Lights
The Comparison Between SMD 3528 and SMD 5050 LED Strip Lights

SMD3528 (300 LEDs)
SMD5050 (150 LEDs)
SMD5050 (300 LEDs)
300 pcs
150 pcs
300 pcs
Viewing Angle
DC 12V
DC 12V
DC 12V
<2amp font="">
<3amp font="">
<6amp font="">
Power Consumption
<24 font="" watt="">
<36 font="" watt="">
<72 font="" watt="">

The LED strip I'm looking at is rated as being 900 lumen for brightness.

It would seem that on average, this kind of tape casts light out over a 120 degree angle on average. This is fantastic as it's quite a wide beam and should therefore be quite diffuse and spread the light over a large area as long as I aim it right. They are also low power so could potentially be run off of a battery pack, and bright.
Just for comparison, I looked up the strength of sunlight in lux/lumens (same unit used to measure the brightness of LEDs, since wattage doesn't quite cut it for them). Here's what wiki reckons:

Daylight intensity in different conditions

120,000 luxBrightest sunlight
110,000 luxBright sunlight
20,000 luxShade illuminated by entire clear blue sky, midday
10,000 - 25,000 luxTypical overcast day, midday
<200 font="" lux="">Extreme of darkest storm clouds, midday
400 luxSunrise or sunset on a clear day (ambient illumination).
40 luxFully overcast, sunset/sunrise
<1 font="" lux="">Extreme of darkest storm clouds, sunset/rise

and then a 100 watt daylight bulb, which stands at 910 lumen.
So, the LED strip I'm looking at is equivalent to a pretty overcast day and a strong daylight bulb. Since I'm trying to imitate daylight through a paper screen, this is definitely worth a try! The only drawback is I'll have to wire it.

Thursday 22 August 2013

This weeks update :)

Just a quick update!

Was sorting the house out again today and yesterday, hopefully it's mostly done now until it comes to moving in! The electrics in the studio at the bottom of the garden have all been wired in, connected and tested, and a mini panic about whether the kilns would fit has been sorted out and placement disaster averted! All that has to be done is the addition of a vent under the window so that the hot air can be sucked through to keep the kiln outers cool after some advice from an expert (and the supplier of said kilns). I still think it's crazy that the manufacturers want to sit them 90cm apart as well as 30 cm from any walls. The much bigger university kilns are probably nearer 20cm apart from the next kiln. So now everywhere is just waiting on a fresh coat of paint and nice cleanable flooring.

I've also been working on a mock up of the tea house, got hold of some boards and ordered the tatami mats, so work on building is going to start hopefully this week! I visited the public last week to look around the exhibition space, and it seems that at least three of us ceramics students are going down the installation route as opposed to the usual plinths, so we'll probably be put together in the same gallery, but more on that when I upload the photos.

Finally, I have applied to exhibit with Allen Richards at a mixed art show in Shrewsbury next year, and sent an enquiry about applying to the potfest shows (apparently there are four of them), AND enquired about a job making replica Roman oil lamps for a museum shop in Wales. I don't know much about Roman pottery, so I look forward to hearing more about that opportunity! The lamps I've found online are gorgeous and I'd love to learn more about them. Also, growing up so close to Bath and the Roman baths and now moving back there, it wouldn't hurt to know a bit more about their history!

Tuesday 13 August 2013


So I've ordered the boards for my teahouse and found some bamboo for the beams inside! It's all starting to come together there :)

Now just to choose what kind of bamboo I want? Black, mottled or moso (normal)?

At the moment, I'm kind of liking the black as it's bit moodier and more of a contrast!

Thursday 8 August 2013

Mini tea houses and tatami mats

I am very excited because I have just discovered where I can get tatami mats in the UK that are affordable!

Ok, let me explain.

First of all, and unrelated to my work, I will be moving house soon and being a daydreamer and totally over excited by the idea of my own place, really wanted to create a Japanese space within my new home. Tatami are the woven igusa grass floor mats that traditionally carpet their floor spaces, and are a particular size and shape (except for special sizes such as half mats or mats designed for a very specific floor use), to the extent that rooms in Japan have traditionally been measured by the number of tatami it takes to cover the floor. They have a rather lovely fresh sweet scent and firm smooth texture, and the room I stayed in while in Tokoname used them.

Originally I found a company in the UK that would make tatami mats custom for the shape of any English room (, but was quickly brought down to earth with a bump on the realisation that this was going to be horrendously expensive, and it was unlikely that when selling the house on that anyone else would be impressed. So I settled for trying to find a loop pile carpet that looked woven and dropped the idea.

Tatami mats ^

Berber carpet >

However, and secondly, I am now at the stage of planning my degree show exhibit, so was searching for inexpensive igusa grass floor coverings.

Previously this year I had my first solo show entitled "Liquid", held at Creative Framing in Chapel Ash, based around the idea of the natural fluid properties of porcelain and tea, and the use of water in the forming of the clay and the use of the objects. It also aimed to reunite art and function, which in this country seem to have been separated into the categories of fine art and craft (check out Joanna Howells article on the topic, it's really interesting:, but in Japan are intrinsically fused. This is especially true in the tea ceremony, which my work is based on. In 'Liquid' I tried to recreate the atmosphere of a tea house and tea ceremony by serving tea in a ritualistic way (as close as I could get it to an actual tea ceremony while using an electric kettle and not being qualified!) and setting the gallery up to look and feel as Japanese as possible. I even made a soundtrack of what Japan sounds like (mainly bird calls and sporadic Japanese flute with a shrine gong thrown in for good measure). The different works were set up either to encourage or discourage people to touch them to try and get them to question their preconceptions about how we interact with art.

The camera didn't like the light in the gallery! Anyway, there were pieces on the wall which looked merely decorative and positioned well back to discourage touching, then pieces on pedestals, as in museums, which generally discourage touch, but then were very accessible and look extremely tactile to encourage touching, and then the pieces in the centre used for serving tea were given to guests to hold and use during their visit.

Set up for a ceremony with matcha cake and mochi in a bowl for guests.

Artist/master of ceremonies

Complete with authentic electric kettle! However I was very lucky to find a gallery with alcoves, textured walls, woven flooring and wooden rafters in the ceiling to use as my setting.

Overall the exhibition worked very well and I really enjoyed it, so I wanted to base the exhibit at the degree show on this and share it with more people. This time though, I will be going even further and constructing a custom tea house!

And here we come back to the tatami mats. Generally the smallest tea houses have rooms that are three tatami mats big (a tatami is usually about 180cm by 90cm), such as the one built for the British Museum in their Japan gallery tucked right at the top of the building, but there are also tinier ones at just two tatami mats big, and this is what I'm looking at constructing.

Tatami mat layouts for tea houses - the pale rectangles/squares represent tatami

This is because I do not want it to exceed a space larger than 2 metres by 2 metres, as it will be in a group exhibition where other people will need enough room as well. I cannot find the dimensions for it, but I think it would be a similar size to the 'Beetle House' designed by Terunobu Fujimori for 1:1 – Architects Build Small Spaces.

I was lucky enough to be able to visit this tea house while it was in situ at the V and A Museum in London. It was a very spartan space, but lovely to sit in as it is so intimate, and being separated from its surroundings on all sides by air, felt a bit like its own universe and a wonderful hideaway. The childlike side of me was celebrating its den like qualities - the simplicity of the interior also helped here, as it makes it a blank canvas for the mind to make it whatever it wants. I want my own tea house to have an element of intimacy and escapism like this, where my guests' imagination can take over their reality for a bit.

Here is the designer talking a little about his creation:

Here are a couple more two tatami tea houses to give an idea of how the space might work

This size of space could probably accommodate two guests and a hostess, possibly three at a push. At the original exhibition I never ended up serving more than three at once, so this should be fine and will keep the experience intimate.

The other thing I have been looking for, and the moving house has helped with this, is wall coverings for the tea house. Japanese walls have a very rustic, natural look, and the room I stayed in in Japan was made of a kind of rough chipboard with gold flecks in so that it caught the light. Most traditional Japanese interiors feature dark natural neutrals and natural textures. Most museums displaying Japanese artefacts use linen covered backdrops and plinths to echo this, like this example from the British museum. I visited the tea house in the British Museum yesterday to have a look at the layout and materials used in the construction (so actually it turns out I didn't take any good images of the overall structure - woops).

So looking at the overall structure, the roof is made from wood shingle with a mixture of cut wood supports underneath and bamboo rafter and supports, with the odd bark covered branch used as a feature main beam. The variation in simple materials helps to break up the structure and monotony of the roof which looks pretty cool. The wall is a rather weird dark sand colour with a rough sandy texture and the windows are thick shoji paper with wooden and bamboo slats. 

You can see the tokonoma here on the far left, the alcove built into the room for displaying artworks, usually a display of ikebana (flower arranging) and a scroll, maybe the odd treasure used in the tea ceremony. The guests would sit next to this. On the right you can see the tea master's entrance, right behind the area laid out for serving the tea. The door should lead to a preparation room out of site of the guests. You can see the three tatami mat layout on the floor, and the interesting mash up of different ceiling structures and wall panels.

The tokonoma floor is a little bit raised and sectioned off with a narrow log, and gets it's own mini tatami mat floor, although I've seen ones in Japan using polished wood. There's a kind of wood edging or frame all around the edges of the panels.

This mysterious rock is just underneath a small sliding hatch situated low in the wall. 

Layers of criss crossing lattices of different thickness's and wood types. Any nails used are very discreet, binding and slotting is much more prominently used and has become a feature. This is a porch roof over the wall with the hatch in.

When I got back I found this diagram online, and this helped explain a few things about the tea house I'd just seen. The first of them being that the hatch and the rock are in fact the entrance to the tea house, known as the crawl door, and designed to humble the guests at the tea ceremony. The guests were historically often very important people with lots of power over other people's fates, so tea masters liked to give them a sense of humility. The big opening on the museum tea house is in fact the window to allow the guests to appreciate the garden while they drink.

I've also managed to find a website selling Japanese wall coverings. It turns out the sandy texture is actually a clay plaster. I think I will just pass and mix clay and sand with paint and use that.

Anyway, I'm now getting on with my wall paper samples and designing the structure for my own mini tea house! Sorry for the long rambling post, but watch this space!