As I have written in a previous blog post, I studied with a 3rd generation potter in Japan. In my two last two lessons I was given the task to throw porcelain. I was throwing the smallest and simplest of forms, a sakazuki (a small saucer-like bowl for drinking sake) and a rice bowl. I was only allowed to throw these two pieces after all my lessons in stoneware were completed because it is considered much more difficult to throw. My Japanese experience with porcelain was just a tiny taste of what was possible, I hoped to explore this fabulous material more fully when I returned home.
It’s been 20 years since I was in Japan. I’ve been a full time studio potter the entire time. I’ve dabbled a bit with porcelain over the years but kept busy making stoneware pots. I had bills to pay and orders to fill. When there were no deadlines and I had some down time, I dove into the 50-100 pounds of porcelain I always kept in my workshop. I would sell a small amount of it at shows, but stoneware was my main source of income. As the years passed, my urge to make porcelain pots grew.
While working with porcelain over the years I’ve learned a few things. There are big differences between porcelain and stoneware. Porcelain is stronger than stoneware (chips less), shrinks more and is more vitrified. Porcelain has a pure white body, which makes a great background for glazes, making them brighter. Porcelain is also translucent where the walls are thin. Some stoneware bodies are developed for whiteness but are never translucent. And the white is different. Only porcelain has this blue-white color (is that even a color?) which can only be achieved in a reduction firing. I found that I wanted to accentuate the intrinsic whiteness in porcelain using only a clear glaze and make use of it’s most unique property, translucency.
Last year I decided to make porcelain a larger part of my inventory, I wasn’t sure how my customers would respond. I would be changing my palette drastically. It might be a bit of a shock to them. I didn’t know if I could sell enough (yep, still gotta pay the bills). So decided to move my inventory gradually over to porcelain. By my last show of the year in December almost half my inventory was porcelain.
I also recently read a book, an entire book, about porcelain (yep, I’m a clay nerd), written by Edmund De Waal. The book is called “The White Road”. I knew when the book arrived in my hot little hands that it was going to be a great read. The dust jacket is cleverly done so the words appear as if through a white translucent sheet of porcelain. I learned all about the history of porcelain from it’s first use and discovery in China, to the search for similar materials in Great Britain and America, to it’s modern day use and production, very inspiring. Thank you Mr. De Waal. I highly recommend this book to any clay nerd (I know I’m not the only one) wanting to learn more about this fabulous material.
I have found that working with a particular material influences inspiration. And… the more I work with porcelain the more I want to work with porcelain! I keep dreaming up work with translucent designs. I have so many projects that call for porcelain now. I’m hoping to work entirely in porcelain for the rest of the winter. Keep your eye out for these on my website and Etsy stores. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.