Summer means Raku workshops! Peter Syak, one of my wonderful Ceramics instructors, teaches Raku out of his carriage house/studio. I always learn a ton, meet new students, and have a meditative time working on new projects. This summer I learned how to make a large coil pot, building it up with flat strips of clay. As soon as its smokey scent abates, I’ll bring my vase inside and add some tall decorative branches.
New ceramics supplies at the Visual Arts Center of NJ means time to experiment! I’ve been creating textured dishes with the studio’s GR Pottery Forms. These cool, fiberboard shapes come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and I’ve been having fun trying out different forms, applying textures, and finishing with different glaze combinations.
Next up will be small, wheel-thrown bud vases. Hon, I’ll let you know how they turn out.
I spent a large part of the Fall semester’s Ceramic class working on a project that was way more challenging than I’d imagined. Since I’m going to Raku glaze and fire those pieces, that “Show-n-Tell” is a long way off. Once I’d finished throwing a number of closed spheres, I wanted to work on easier projects that would be glazed and fired much more quickly. Hon, you know I love texture so I pulled out my texture mats and got to work.
These ceramic pieces were created by using inspirational forms available at the studio. For the two small, shallow bowls and square bowl, rolled out clay was textured and then laid, trimmed and pressed into wooden bowls. The larger tray was textured and then draped, trimmed and pressed on top of a wooden tray. The berry bowl is an add-on. It’s not textured but I punched holes out to create a small colander. That was a project that I’d put away half-way done and just finished. So sweet!
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.
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.
Hon, just like my manuscripts, some ceramics are practice pieces, some get thrown away, and some will be polished and glazed another time. But, I’m happy with these small vases and bowls. I especially like the carving on the vases and the throwing lines on one of the bowls.
Wishing me–and you–places to go in our minds, practice and work where creativity keeps us in the moment and allows anxiety and self-doubt to disappear into the background.
I had no idea that a tea set project would take two years!
Wheel throwing a tea set was a challenging project for many reasons. Who knew that centering and opening a ball of clay that could fit in the palm of your hands would be so hard?! In my attempt to create tea cups, it looks weeks to get six, relatively similar sizes. Some were too thin and some were too lopsided–so many throw-aways!
Then there was the teapot itself. This proved so challenging that almost all of us students needed hands-on help from our instructor (Shout out to Beatrice!) She patiently taught us how to form a vessel and spout, a lid and, much harder than it looks, a handle.
After the tea cups and tea pot were made, what about a tray? My first attempt cracked in the kiln, and that’s where the project stalled. I didn’t want to glaze the pieces until I’d made them all so, discouraged, I put the them away. I waited and waited until I was ready to hand-build another tray. Two years later, this summer, I did.
The tea pot set saga is a metaphor for my writing, though working through the disappointments and successes of pottery feels completely different. In Ceramics, I’m more interested in the process than the product. When working on a manuscript, I enjoy the process, but have a specific goal in mind–to bring my characters and stories to life.
Whereas, the clay ignites my imagination…my imagination ignites the stories.
Hon, happy creating and imagining and working and persevering.
One of my favorite things is to Raku fire with my teacher and potter extraordinaire Peter Syak. In a (small, masked and socially distanced) ceramic class this summer, Peter introduced the extruder, which is like a giant Play-Doh machine, but for clay.
I made seven bowls: three small ones without feet and four large ones with feet. My carving needs a ton of practice, but I like how some of the pieces came out.
Though Raku pottery is generally not food-safe, it’s safe with “dry” food such as candy, nuts, and pretzels.
The Copper Blue Luster glaze is beautiful, and I always like the crackles that show up when using Clear Glaze.
Wheel throwing, hand building, trimming, carving, sanding and glazing force me to be in the moment. This summer, due to Covid-19, one of my Ceramics teachers offered a limited-spot, mask-wearing class. One of the wonderful things about learning from and working with Peter Syak is ending class with an always-dramatic Raku firing. My favorites pieces from the class are a desk caddy and lamp bases (my first ever lamps!). We used an Extruder, which is like a giant Play-Doh tool, to make unique bowls. I carved them and added feet, but won’t know they turn out until I Raku fire them this Fall.
I’m hoping to have as much fun tonight as I did last year manning a table of my ceramics at Oheb Shalom is South Orange, NJ’s One Stop Shop Fall Shopping Event from 6 – 9pm. I’ve made textured dishes, great for jewelry, watches, candy, soap, candles, soy sauce, olive oil, salts or anything else that needs a pretty place to rest. I’m also selling bowls, small vases and trivets. New this year–adorable jars.