Show-n-Tell Ceramics, Neriage Nesting Bowls

Neriage (pronounced nair-ee-ah-gee)is the Japanese word for the technique of combining different colored clays.

Neriage, according to ceramic artist Thomas Hoadley, comes from “neri…a root word meaning ‘to mix’ and age…a root word meaning to ‘pull up.’ This refers to the pulling up action in throwing clay on a wheel, hence neriage refers to wheel work with colored clays.”

I created these bowls by layering brown and white clay, and then throwing the combined clay. I glazed the insides in matte white and the outsides in glossy clear. Stripes give way to swirls and, since I wanted to maintain the clays’ natural patterns and didn’t smooth the insides completely, you can feel some of the throwing lines.

Patterns and textures–so fun to create!

Show-n-Tell Ceramics, Nerikomi Mugs and Plates

Mugs and coordinating plates. Insides and edges glazed with Sky.

Hon, have you heard of Nerikomi?

Neither had I and, although I’d combined different clays in the past, it wasn’t until this spring that I learned what it was called. Peter Syak, one of my amazing instructors, had finished Nerikomi hand-built mugs and coordinating dishes and, as ones does in ceramics, I wanted to try to create the same. Peter glazed the insides and edges of his pieces with GB Blue and I used Sky. More posts to come on this very cool technique.

Nerikomi defined by Robin Hopper, author of Making Marks:

In Japan, the words ‘neriage,’ ‘nerikomi,’ and ‘zougan’ are all used for specific colored clay processes and there is some confusion as to which is which. In England they are often referred to as ‘agateware;’ in Italy they’re often referred to as “millefiori,” from a decorative glass-forming process meaning “a thousand flowers.” 

In Japan the words neriage (pronounced nair-ee-ah-gee), nerikomi and zougan refer to different ways the colored clays are used. Always interested in why things are called what they are and the confusion surrounding names, I asked Thomas Hoadley, a long-time artist working with colored clays, about the Japanese names.

Hoadley told me, ‘When I became aware that colored clay work would be my primary life’s work, I figured I should get to the bottom of the nerikomi/neriage question. I had been told that even in Japan the terms are mixed up. I spoke to a Japanese woman who lives here, and she explained that neri is a root word meaning ‘to mix’ and age is a root word meaning to ‘pull up.’

This refers to the pulling up action in throwing clay on a wheel, hence neriage refers to wheel work with colored clays. Komi means ‘to press into,’ as in pressing clay slabs into a mold. Nerikomi thus means hand-building with colored clay, which in Japan I guess usually meant mold work. It has been expanded to include other methods of hand-building.”

Neriage and nerikomi both use either naturally occurring colored clays or light-colored clays that are specifically stained to satisfy the artist’s color requirement. Neriage, or agateware, is done by laminating different colored clays together and throwing them on a wheel to develop a swirling and spiraling blend of the clays. Cutting across the grain…will expose an infinite variety of random patterns.

Robin Hopper, author of Making Marks, for Ceramic Arts Network Daily, April 21, 2021