Japanese Techniques: Pros and Cons

Looking through a box of photos recently I found pictures of my Japanese Sensei at the wheel. He was a small man with forearms like tree trunks. He threw pots sitting cross legged on a small pillow as did I when working in his workshop. He managed to stay spotlessly clean even though he threw pots 8 hours a day. I certainly didn’t.  And still don’t.

The techniques I learned changed how I worked, and how my work looked. It was my most formative training (so far). I learned to throw off the hump and make my own tools for each piece in my repertoire. It’s so efficient for smaller pieces… cups, bowls, mugs. His approach allowed me to “explode”. I went from throwing a dozen clunky pieces a day to 50-60 well formed pieces.

Unfortunately there are pros AND cons to these methods. Namely, throwing of the hump. I have a few issues stemming from this process. The dreaded “S” crack (it’s usually shaped like an “s”) and warping.   Here’s a picture of an “S” crack:

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I have managed to lower the “S” cracking to a very small percentage but the warping still plagues me. And there is so many variables that cause warping: height of pot, thin walls, cutting the piece of straight, setting it on the board, the boards themselves, uneven drying, kiln shelves… argh. But mostly it is the clay.

The clay body I am currently using warps easily. If at anytime in it’s different stages from wet to bisqued, it deviates from it’s first curve off the wheel, it returns to this shape when in the glaze firing. Potters call this “clay memory”. I’ve used other clay bodies that were much more forgiving but I really don’t want to change to a different clay body. I love so much about this clay, it’s yummy smoothness (no grog please!), its whiteness when fired, its ability to blush at the edges of the glaze.

Even with the problems throwing of the hump, I am not willing to give up this method.  I’ll keep slogging through and trying different solutions.  I will also continue the hunt for the perfect clay body, with all the attributes that I crave without such a sensitive “memory”.

I am so grateful for all that I learned while working with Sensei Iwamoto.  He freely taught me the tools I needed to become a professional potter.  It was a privilege to be able to enter his workshop every day and work by his side. To be immersed in the over 2000 year old tradition of making excellent functional pots was one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever been given.

 

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