Wednesday, April 20, 2011

2011 Spring Noborigama

We were lucky this year and had a beautiful sunny day for the noborigama aka wood kiln. The cherry blossoms were also late this year so they were in bloom on the mountain side near the studio.

Here is a close up of the wood kiln.

My three hour shift was from 4-7pm and there were a few people helping out during that time along with me. Here are three people feeding the fire with the black smoke from the logs starting to come out the chimney.

If you are interested about the noborigama please check my pas blog posts here and here.

After adding the logs huge billows of black smoke come out the top.

Smoke and fire also come directly out of the kiln cracks and holes.

When they wind blows the wrong way we all get a mouthful of smoke.

So after 18 hours of feeding the fire and a week of waiting, it was time to take the pieces out of the kiln!
As usually the wall is the first to go and pass pass pass.

The assembly line always goes to the big blue tarp where all the pieces are laid out in order. We lay it out in order so we can see how the wood kiln fired the pieces this time. Since some are up front, back, high, low etc and each spot in the kiln gives a different grade of firing. Some spots are great, and some spots don't get enough heat so by observing this we can adjust the amount of wood and how far it's thrown in.

This time was pretty good, not many bad spots and everyone's pieces turned out well, including mine!

First are these matching cup and bowl. I used glaze J (oribe) and it is normally a clear glassy green but in the noborigama it turned this wonderful green turquoise color with splashes of pink and purple! I love love LOVE them!!! Although you can't see the indents I made on them the color turned out AMAZING. I can't wait to try this again.

You can see the pink undertones inside the cup.

Here is an underside shot and you can see the indents and the nice orange flash of color on the unglazed base from the heat in the kiln.

Here are the two other bowls from the kiln. Left bowl is glaze B and right bowl is glaze U (my fav yellow color) Both turned out amazing as well. I love the drip marks on the left bowl.

Inside shot, great glazes but one minor mistake...

Glaze B on the left bowl ran too far down and pooled at the base of the bowl. Luckily it was only a little bit so I could grind it away easily. The right bowl came away perfect, with no glaze pooling at the bottom.

Last are a few of my teachers vases that went into the wood kiln. He was happy with the color but sadly ash settled on ALL of the pieces which turned into a hard cement type texture. He's chipped the spots off, but the vases are now damaged and can't be sold. He'll most likely sand the damaged area and re-fire them in the next nobirgama in fall to try to salvage them.

Until next time!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


After more than two months my giant vase has finally been finished. The color turned out great and I love the design.

I did an RF firing and am happy I chose to go with color instead of just plain white.

I'm of course happy with this vase but there was one big disappointment which will prevent me from entering this in any competitions.

There are large cracks all over it...They range from 1cm-12cm long...

I haven't tested the vase to see if it holds water but I don't think it will. There is one particular crack towards the bottom which I'm certain will leak.

The reason for the cracks is I didn't connect the coils well enough. So while the vase dried the clay never fully bonded. It is almost impossible to know where and if there are cracks since after bisque firing they usually won't show. Not until it is glazed and fired the final time will all the flaws show up.

The irony is the color turned out so well...but live and learn is my motto! This will still be a great vase to keep at home. I can place a container on the inside to hold water so I can put flowers or branches in it without water leaking as well.

Over all the vase took about 20 hours of time. I'm currently on my next vase and this time I will make sure I connect the coils correctly.

Until next time!

Friday, April 15, 2011


Like I've mentioned before my big vase has been bisque fired and is ready for glazing. I took it outside for a final sanding and air gun blast before starting the glaze work.

I originally wanted an all white vase, which was hard to visualize before bisque firing since it was a gray color. But now that it has been fired it turned into a nice white color. After starting at it for a few minutes I changed my mind and scrapped the all white idea, concluding it was too boring and I would regret the choice.

So I went over to the color choices and decided on three colors I like and use a lot. I also decided to use my typical design of lines and dots which are a theme in some of my other pieces.

An initial sketch showing my design with my color choices. I decided the lines and dots would be the iron red base with glaze E as an accent. The overall color would be U, a favorite yellow glaze I use quite often.

I first drew lines with a pen as a guide before painting the red iron. (The pen will burn off during firing)

I then painted each line on carefully. I used two calligraphy brushes. A normal size and a small detail size.

The glaze went on pretty well but the clay sucks up the color quite fast so I had to re-dip the brush a lot.

After drawing the lines I used the pen again and drew the dots. I used the detail brush to fill in the red iron color.

I didn't want just lines, but a gradation from dark at the bottom to the yellow at the top. So I took a large painting brush and filled in the bottom with wispy brush strokes of red iron.

Last I used glaze E over the red iron to create hopefully more depth and interest at the bottom.

Voila! Hand painted and ready for the top coat. By the time I finished painting the design it was dark outside so I'll spray glaze U over the top this coming Sunday. I hope it turns out well!

I've gotten bored with cups and plates so I've decided to continue making large vases for the time being with maybe a few small pieces on the side.

This is the sketch of my next project which I've already started on.

I'm using black stone clay and hope for a height of around 70-80cm, but there is one slight set back. I only have 10kilos of clay and I will most likely need more than that to build something this wide and tall. Luckily Arai Sensei is ordering more clay next week, but sadly it won't arrive for another 2-3weeks so I may have to hold off once I run out of clay.

In the meantime here is the vase so far, I've built a few more coils on top of this so it is about 7cm higher now than the picture shows. I'll continue building on it next week.

Until Next time!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Imari Amateur Ceremics Contest

From April 1st to the 10th was the Imari International Amateur Ceramics Contest. I was lucky enough to receive an outstanding achievement award for my "Blue Moon" vase. I was so happy and shocked by the news! I had lots of trouble with this vase but it all paid off in the end. This is my first recognition for my pottery in Japan! There was an awards ceremony and a photo session to celebrate the occasion.

Here I am receiving a plaque and gift from the mayor of Imari City.
Certificate and gift, an Imari porcelain bowl

A group shot of all the winners and judges!
A few pictures of me and the judges, who are from the famous ceramic families of Imari.

The ceremony and pieces were on display here in Okawachi area in Imari City.

A total of 77 adults entered the competition and over 400 children entered the youth division. Here is the room where the pieces were on display.

Here is a shot of some of the adult pieces. As you can see most of the pieces are large vases, mine looks tiny compared to the others.

Here are the top three grand prize winners. The middle is first place, a woman from Sasebo. Second place is on the right and third place is on the left. All the top winners were 50 years old or more.

Here is another outstanding achievement award. It was given to another lady at Sara Yama Studio! I remember her making this piece and it was cool to see how it turned out :) It has a cord next to it so I'm assuming she will use it as a lamp.

Here are some of the other outstanding achievement winners.

These were two of my personal favs. I loved the cherry blossom vase and the lovely hand painted plate next to it.

The kids pieces were in the middle of the room. It was so fun to see all the cute animals and creatures on display. Here are some pieces that appear to be monster themed.

The adult pieces are amazing but it's more fun to look at the creative kids pieces. Here is one titled "Bunny" hehe

Here are a few turtles.

And my personal fav. an octopus! So cute!

These are pieces from the pottery club at one of the elementary schools I teach at. Of course Arai Sensei is the head of the club.

Of course the kids section had winners as well. Here are the grand prize winners.

A shot of the kids section winners and judges.

Finally, me and my vase. What a great experience! I'm so sad my time in Nagasaki is slowly coming to an end, but I will for sure continue with my pottery and develop my style and skills. Thank you Arai Sensei! I couldn't have made it this far without you!!!

For those of you who aren't familiar with Imari ware I'll give a brief description of it. Historically Imari city was a port of trade for European exports, one of the main exports being Arita porcelain. (Arita is a town next to Imari which is know for Arita-yaki, and has a long ceramics history) The main types of ware exported were porcelain ware white in base and hand painted with intricate flowers, china themes, designs etc. The main colors are blue and red, but aren't limited to only these two colors. Eventually kilns started forming in Imari as well and Imari developed its own style and designs, mainly the Imari style and Kakiemon family style. The Imari and Arita area are very unique since they have outside influence from Korea, China and Europe. It is definitely a must see place for pottery fans. This is a very brief account of Imari so I urge you to do some research yourself to found out more about this wonderful pottery town. (Picture is a porcelain tile map of the kilns in Imari)
Imari is a great day trip. There are lot's of small shops to stop at and maybe buy a souvenir.

The Okawachi area has a lot of charm as well. There is a beautiful stream flowing through the town and the bridges are decorated in broken porcelain pieces. Sometimes you can even see koi swimming in the river.

Spring is also a great time to go. The cherry blossoms are in bloom and the days are nice and warm.

Next Post: Spring Noborigama

Until next time!