A tough decision

It’s now 3 1/2 months since the fire cleaned us out. We have been working hard to clean everything up and bring our life back to some semblance of normality. Well, the sort of ‘normality’ that we chose as normal for us.

I keep thinking, well hoping is probably a more apt term, that I have finished with chainsawing blackened logs. But they are every where and I still find myself at it after all this time. I haven’t even started t think about clearing up the rear section of our land, down the slope behind where the pottery used to be. There is a lot of blackened sticks down there that will have to be tackled one day. For the time being, I’m concentrating on just the front half of our land. The part that will face the next fire in 5 or more years time after the forest grows back.

With global warming increasing at an increasing rate, and world leaders with their heads in the sand, its going to come around again in the next decade. A long dry spell with increasing temperatures, The east coast will burn again. I need to work now to set us up to be better prepared for the next episode. I thought that I was well prepared before, but you learn from experience, and I had never experienced anything like that before. I had no idea what a catastrophic fire event could be. I’m a bit wiser now. No-one should have to go through that.

So with this idea firmly fixed in my mind, we are back into it, cutting and stacking the last of the stumps, fallen branches and pruned dead limbs from the front garden. Of course it’s not a front garden any more. It’s now just a front yard of bare scorched earth. We will keep it as a meadow of wild flowers into the future. something that we can mow down when required to keep a clear space to the west, where the next fire will most likely come from.

Janine loads the smaller logs with the help of the chook formally known as ‘Ginger’.

These logs are so heavy that I can’t lift them onto the truck, so I use the tractor to do the lifting, but even then, the tractor has a load limit of just under 200 kgs. and one load was so heavy that I could only get it just 100mm. up off the ground. I learnt to limit the load to just one lump at a time.

So now it has become the time to make that really big decision. it’s one of the toughest decisions that I have had to make. We have decided to take out the stone fruit orchard and move the pottery up the slope a bit onto that site, farther away from the bush at the back of our land and closer to the centre. We will re-plant a new orchard in the front area, on the other side of the entrance driveway. This new ‘orchard’ location will be easier, and therefore cheaper, to build on.

We rented a weathboard pottery studio up in Dural to the north of Sydney when we first started out in the early 70’s. It burnt down in the bush fires of 1976. We moved to Balmoral and built a pottery out of galvanised iron, hoping that it would be more fire proof. It burnt down in 1983. The next pottery was build of mud bricks, I hoped that it would be more fire proof. but it still had a timber ceiling and roof framing. Now it has burnt, I’m slowly getting the message. This time I will build in steel. I’m a slow learner!

The first pottery we built here in 1976 was on 3 levels to accomodate the slope of the land. We build it over several years, one room at a time as we could afford it. When it burnt down in 1983, the next pottery was rebuilt on the same sloping site on the same 3 differing levels. We had no money, or any prospects of earning very much of it, so we worked with the lie of the land to save money.

As this will hopefully be my last pottery building. I need it to accomodate me in my zimmer frame and wheel chair in the future. This pottery needs to be all on one level. This also probably means building it on a concrete slab. I have strictly avoided using concrete in the first 3 potteries because of the huge carbon debt that cement incurs, but I need to be both practical and economical. a slab is looking like the smartest option. So I’m selling out my green credentials and going with concrete for the first time in my life, thinking of our old age.

So the orchard is gone. We planted all those trees as bare rooted whip sticks in 1976. That’s 44 years of nurturing, pruning, fertilising, watering and mowing. It’s all gone now!


We have engaged our friend Ross, to dig up all the top soil that we lovingly created over the past 4 decades. The top 200mm of soil has become a rich dark brown humus rich soil. Far too good to bury under a concrete slab. The original native soil here was an orange/yellow sandy loam when we started. I was delighted and surprised to see how deep the top soil had become over time. So good in fact that we couldn’t bear to waste it. I decided to ask Ross to dig it up and transport it to the front garden to fertilise and enrich the new orchard site.

We piled up all the best dark soil into a heap, not unlike a mini Mt. Everest in the garden. The chook formally known as ‘Ginger’ decided to climb the mountain of soil looking for bugs and worms. This top soil is extremely rich and alive with life.

I noticed that she attacked the problem from the North Face, the hard way, without ropes or carabinas. She will now be known as the chook called ‘Hillary’!

We will plant another orchard on the new front site, where we will plant all new trees that are mostly grown on dwarf grafted rootstocks. This will make the orchard easier to manage in the future as we grow older and less vigorous ourselves. The opposite of the fruit trees. We will grow the new orchard under a full netting cover, just like the vegetable garden has been now for 15 years. What we have learnt from the veggie garden experiment, is the kind and size of netting to keep out the fruit eating birds and rabbits, but let in the smaller insect eaters.

Once all the top soil has been moved to the new site, I will to start extending the poly pipe watering system all around the new orchard site to allow for access to plenty of irrigation water in the future.

So many jobs and so little time. I hardly notice that the rest of the world is in lock-down, we are happy being busy here on our own little piece of land and our self created world. We have been living ‘self-isolation’ voluntarily for decades.

In the afternoon I set fire to one of the many piles of dead trees and branches that we have stacked up, and in the evening after dinner, I roast, sweat, peel and pickle the huge crop of bell capsicums that the recent rains have brought on.


Nothing is perfect, nothing is ever finished and nothing lasts! I’m grateful to be still here doing this. I have to try and creative a positive outcome from the unmittigated disaster that this is. I take up the challenge that has presented itself to me. I could never have pulled down the old pottery to ‘improve’ it for my old age. I couldn’t have ever concieved of digging out our beautiful old orchard that we had worked on for so long. This is an oportunity to re-define ourselves here on this piece of land that we love. We have been offered this once in a lifetime opportunity to make our homestead age sensitive and apropriate to our coming frailties. Gone are the steps and in with the ramps.

We will be better prepared for both natures next holocaust and our old age.

New Sericite Clay Samples

I was recently in China doing some research. I have written a little bit about that, intermittently, in the last month or so. While I was there, I arranged to get my hands on some new and different sericite samples. These have now just arrived here last week and I have done my first tests with them.

I now have 4 different Chinese sericites to compare.

Although it isn’t immediately obvious from the image above. If you look closely, there are 4 different colours of rock samples from top to bottom, white, cream, grey and pale buff. They all look more or less white, but they each have various tints or shades of colour to their whiteness. They all do have one big thing in common. They all throw badly, the palest ones being the least plastic and most difficult. They feel a lot like my local Mittagong porcelain stone, only better behaved.

I felt like I’d gone all the way around the world and come home again when I threw these tests. They felt so familiar.

I’m really looking forward to seeing the results fired. I had a bit of trouble with the usual shrinkage and drying cracking problems, but I did get some of them through successfully. But I lost quite a few. Still, nothing that I’m not used to, and I’m getting good at recycling the turnings and failures.

I almost filled the tray on my old wooden kick wheel with turnings after trimming just 12 small bowls. I must be removing at least half of the weight of the original material to get them thin enough to look and feel like porcelain. I aim for 2mm at the rim and 3 mm lower down, graduating 5mm at the foot. This tapered wall thickness allows the best translucency at the rim and higher up the pot, while retaining sufficient strength to hold the pot up against gravity while it sits at 1300oC in the kin to develop enough glass in the body to be come translucent.

If I’ve done it right, the whole finished, fired, ceramic mass, has the correct quantity of primary and secondary mullite crystals to glue it all together, while becoming glassy enough to allow plenty of light to pass through.

Too glassy and/or too thin and it slumps. Too thick or not fired high enough and it stands up straight, but isn’t very translucent. It’s a bit of a fine line to tread.

not too bad.

As I sit and grind away at this damp, ground-up rock dust with my tungsten carbide tools, I realise that I’m truely happy doing just this. There is a gusty wind outside, but I’m in here sitting in the sun and I don’t want for anything more at this moment. This is fun. I can’t wait to get them into the kiln.

It has all the promise of something special about to happen.

I love that.

High hopes are not enough

After I had such a terrible firing a couple of weeks ago. I got stuck in and remade all the work. I’ve filled the shelves and had 2 solar fired biscuit firings and I am almost ready for the third. Then I can pack the wood fired kiln again. Hopefully this time with more success.

I had slaked down all the turnings from the last work session and made half of this work from the recycled sericite bodies. I have made test batches of 5 different sericite this time round. I have 2 Chinese minerals, 1 Korean, one English and one Australian in this batch. Although strictly speaking, the local one is a complex mixture of Illite, kaolinite, quartz and felspar.

I’m always looking for something that I don’t know, so the search is a bit difficult as I’m working semi-blind. I know more or less what I want and how to achieve it. After all, I have been doing this research for the past 40 years and more. But getting what I consider excellent results is always elusive and difficult. It doesn’t help when the kiln shelves break and collapse… Still, I’m over that and all the new work is made and drying. I’m just turning the last of the throwing today.

Sericite is funny stuff. It isn’t plastic like other clays, it’s quite short in most cases and has to be coaxed along to get any height in the form. I learnt to throw the inside of the form as I want it, leaving a thick wall to retain the form without it squatting. I then have to turn quite a bit of material off the outside to realise the finished form from the thick lump at the base.

Although sericite isn’t plastic, it still shrinks quite a lot and has a terrible tendency to crack in drying where it is thick. I have developed a few techniques to cope with theses peculiarities. I’ve learn’t to throw everything on batts, as lifting the pot with my fingers causes a memory distortion in the body that shows up later in drying. I’ve learn to ‘polish’ the out side of the clay after I have finished throwing, to seal any possible defects or weak spots that might start a crack during the early stages of drying and stiffening. I have also learnt to turn the bases in stages. Thinning out the clay as soon as it is stiff enough. This stuff can’t be turned like ‘normal’ clay based bodies. It has to be very firm, almost dry to get a smooth finish. If turned too early, it chips and tears, making an awful mess of the fine surface. It’s a bit like cutting soft goats cheese, it just tears.

Trimming the base of this pot almost bone dry

I’m getting better success rate these days with each variation and improvement of these techniques. It’s a little frustrating to loose so many pots, but they slake down quickly and can be stiffened in plaster tubs out side, then re-thrown within a week.

It would be better to leave the body to ‘age’ in a cool dark place for a month or two, but with so many variations of sericite porcelain bodies in constant testing and development. I’d loose track. As it is I really have to concentrate and keep very good records, marking every bag with a permanent marker, identifying every bucket of turnings in the same way and carrying this over to the slaked recycled material in the buckets and in the plaster tubs. It’s quite a paper trail of provenance, keeping track of it all. I also keep a daily diary in the workshop of what I’m throwing and what I’m throwing it out of. Every pot gets inscribed with the batch of body and later identified with oxide as to which glaze I used. I also keep log books for the glaze and the body ball mills, so that I know what I made, the date it was done, and what it was made from. I always seem to have a dozen different batches on the go at any one time and they all need their own bucket and bag storage space. It’s organised chaos.

I’m nothing if not thorough. I have to be. With over 3,000 glaze tests and hundreds of clay body tests. I need to keep track. I really want to make simple, elegant, beautiful things. But things with a particular character that I admire. Just a little bit ‘damaged’ or altered by the process of their making. Perhaps I should say ‘enhanced’ by its process and journey, plus the unique quality of its material. I like my pots to have a story embedded in their form and surface. I can pick them up years later and ‘read’ that story. I like that.

I’ve just made a few more white tenmoku bowls. They are slightly bigger, fuller and rounder, more generous in feeling, less austere. I haven’t finished turning them yet. They still need more work over the next few days, but I have high hopes for them.

Unfortunately high hopes are not enough. It’s long term, steady, pains taking, thorough and often boring, consistent research that makes progress for me.

That’s really rewarding!

The life of a bearing

I used a wooden framed, foot operated, treadle, potter wheel. It’s a very old ‘Leach style’ potters kick wheel. Designed by Bernard Leach, way back, early in the last century. That’s almost a hundred years ago, coming up sometime soon. This actual wheel was handmade in Australia under licence sometime in the 1970s. That makes it almost 50 years old.

When I started to learn about hand made pottery in 1969 I bought a 2nd hand ‘Leach’ kick wheel to get me started. I loved it so much, that I have used them ever since. I have tried other pottery wheels, but keep on coming back to this energy efficient, human powered potters wheel. Tragically that first wheel was lost in one of the two fires that have devastated our pottery workshops over the 50 years of my career as a potter.

The other day I was throwing a large pot of 3 kgs of clay. Not so big compared to what other younger potters can throw on an electric powered potters wheel. But about as big as I like to go on this old wooden treadle wheel. Well, I was pushing hard to get the mass of clay onto the centre, when ‘CRACK’ ! That was the end of my throwing session. I had busted the leather bearing that connects the foot treadle bar to the steel crank shaft. It was reminiscent of peddling your bike when the chain suddenly comes off the derailleur gears. Everything sins free and there is no response to the effort of peddling.

Now it just so happens that only last weekend I was at a ‘Lost Trades’ weekend market and exhibition and my good friend Warren, the guy who can do anything. Warren decided to buy a hand made leather belt. But his plastic card wouldn’t work on the ancient, lost trade, candle powered, banking machine that was available on the site, so I lent him some money to pay in old fashioned cash. The Lost Trades traders still have the ability to take cash! That is a skill that isn’t lost!

I asked the leather worker if I could have the excess leather from the very long blank belt was was being custom fitted to my friend. I got 300 mm of leather belt material. The leather worker, who I knew, knows that I am a potter, and I have bought my belts from him in the past. He asked me what I wanted the leather for. I told him about my very old potters wheel and its antiquated leather bearing. How amazing that the very same piece of leather bearing would snap just a week later. I am so lucky!

.As good as new – well almost

So I had to stop work and do a running repair. I was prepared. In less than an hour I was up and running again. I bought this potters wheel 2nd hand, after the last fire in 1983. The old leather strap had lasted 36 years! Not too bad for a thin leather strap.

I’m wondering how long this new one will last? I only used half of the piece of leather for the repair, so I still have another piece in reserve for 2055.

I’ll be over a hundred years old by then, so it probably won’t be my problem.

A sudden cold spell

We have just emerged from a sudden cold spell. We were glad to find a few jobs to do inside for a while until the cold winds blew themselves out. Our good friend Annabelle Sloujé lives a little bit farther south of here and a lot higher up, she had a low of -9oC, I’m glad we live here in Camelot where it doesn’t get so cold. My friends in Korea report a range of -35 to + 38oC. They probably think that I’m a wimp for talking about a winters day of -1 oC. They possibly think that -1 is quite warm, in comparison.

However cold or hot it is, we found things to do out of the wind. I shelled nuts and Janine made a cake from the last of last years hazelnuts that she milled into flour. It’s one of those recipes with reduced flour and usually almond meal. The Lovely down loaded it from the internet, but as we didin’t have any almonds left to shell, she used all hazelnut meal instead. All recipes are just a guide. Living where we do, we have learnt to compromise and use what we have rather than drive for an hour to get something specific. We save all our jobs and shopping list for that weekly trip.

Glazed with melted 85% dark chocolate and a few chunks of chopped crystallised ginger. It was just right for cold weather and didn’t last too long.

For my part, I made a beef marrow bone and vegetable stock over a couple of nights, using the free heat from the wood fired kitchen stove after we cooked dinner.

I make stock like this a few times each year, especially during the colder months when the stove is always on. I have come accustomed to always having our own personal, giant, frozen stock cube in the freezer. We don’t own a dedicated freezer, so we only freeze what can’t be preserved by other means like vacuum sealing ‘Vacola’ jars. The special conditions required for safe preserving in vacuum jars is that the food must be boiled in the jar to seal it, so that counts out pesto. Also, it is best if the food is naturally acidic like fruits and vegetables like tomatoes. Meat can be preserved this way, but it is recommended that the vacuum sealing be done twice to make sure that it is perfectly safe. A bit of a bother.

After the cold spell blew itself out, we have had a few glorious cloudless sunny days with no wind. I took the opportunity to move my chair out into the sun and get a little vitamin D and finish decorating my last few pots doing scraffitto, carving into the surface with a sharp tool. This will show the pooling character of my local granite blue celadon style glaze when fired in the reduced solar fired electric kiln.

Sericite Journal 4. Out of the fire and into the flying man (’s baggage) 

While my kiln is cooling down. I go for walk along the river, the runs behind the Museum.
Today I see a white crane stalking the shingly shallows, although he doesn’t look to be doing much business this morning. Maybe he is so full already that he is having a rest?
I also spot a black cormorant, ducking and diving. Popping up again here and there, working the deeper river pools.
Slowly a fisherman comes into view, he is strolling quite slowly up stream with his net in hand. He is working the river between the road bridge and the foot bridge. He stops to cast his net out occasionally, apparently with little or no success. I’ll put my money on the cormorant any day.
The sun is well up and I can’t see the sun. The air is just as dirty today as it was yesterday and will  be tomorrow. I imagined when I arrived here this time that it was just some intermittent phase in the air currents. I don’t remember it being this bad before, one, two, three or even 4 years ago. This is my 5th visit to work here. Miles away from the industrialised region of Seoul and it’s the worst that I’ve seen it. The air should be cleaner here. It used to be. I remember being appalled on my first visit here when I returned to Seoul to fly out. I couldn’t see the sky scrapers through the coach’s windows until I was right next to them. This is awful, I was appalled before, simply because of the contrast of country and city. I feel my chest tightening each day. Now the smog is every where. There is nowhere where it isn’t thick and grey.

I get to make another visit to the clay processing building, as there is a problem with the rock crusher that they have just acquired, 2nd hand. Apparently the electric motor starts to smoke after 20 mins of use, i have a close look at it , just from the outside. I can see that the motor is recently reconditioned, the over-spray is still evident on the motor housing and wiring. I’d say that it has burnt out the motto previously in its past life, That may be why it was for sale 2nd Hand?

I suggest t hat they do some research on other new models of this kind of machine and check out what sort of horsepower in really needs. I typed this last sentence in 10 seconds just now, but last week it took me about ten minutes to say all this is several goes at it using the translation app! Waiting for them to formulate a reply or ask another question, then I type my one fingered reply on my tiny, phone virtual key board. It takes a long time.

That’s just the way it is here with me and complex ides and a language that I can’t speak. I feel like I’m a child sometimes. I ave some complex questions that I would like to ask, but when I start to formulate the sentences. The moment has passed and I can see that i will al lot more contextual material for this all to makes one sort of sense. So i give up and wait for another occasion. They must think that I’m stupid sometimes.

It’s a fantastic resource to have available to them to efficiently process their own sericite porcelain from the excellent, but slow, ‘wet-method’ from ball milled slip, filter press and vacuum pugmill.

Colour me ‘Venco-Green’ with clay processing envy!
I the afternoon Mr Jung takes me for a ride, up to the South/North Korean border. There is a lookout post where you can see over the no-mans-land. The road takes us to the east of here through a volcanic crater that is called the ‘Punch bowl’. It is intensively farmed due to the rich volcanic soil within the extinct volcanic crater. It reminds me of the Rutherglen region of Northern Victoria. Great wines are grown in that rich soil and concentrated micro climate.
The lookout post is on a high ridge that is part of the caldera’s edge. I was not allowed to take any photographs of the Northern side of the border, facing the other way, as it is forbidden, and the solder/sentries on duty at their posts make sure of it.
I can report that there is absolutely nothing to be seen. Is this because there is so little development in the North? Perhaps. But I am skeptical. I think it more likely that The North, knowing that there is a clear view into their territory from this high place, have made sure that there is absolutely nothing to be seen.
Imagine the image below with no roads, no farms, no power lines, no clearing, no development of any kind. Just the green rolling hills, going on into the distance. That’s what you can see of the North from here.

 

 Last year when I was here for the Moon Jar conference, the streets in the village were being dug up, deep trenches dug and piping installed. The workers were so very efficient. We were amazed at the time how quickly the work was completed. 3 days for each street, excavated, piping installed, road rebuilt to as-new standard. Fantastic. So little inconvenience to everyone.
I wondered at the time what was being installed.
Now on my return, I can see that every home now has a reticulated LP Gas line and meter next to their house. The homes that are also restaurants, also have a small storage tank as well. I’m assuming that this is to allow peak load at the lunch time and dinner time rush hour, so that they don’t drain the pressure from the street.
This little village is miles from anywhere and a very long way away from Seoul, but the government is committed to reducing the air pollution. One way is the stop the use of coal briquettes being burnt in the countryside where this old anachronism is still in common use.
Coal is a very dirty fuel at the best of times, and the use of crude briquettes in an up draught stove is a real 3rd world solution to cooking and many thousands of women die of respiratory disease each year. Korea is a very technically advanced nation. They built my electric car for me for example. However, way out here in the countryside. Miles from anywhere. Some of the households are still using coal, as they have for 100 years. It’s a credit to the current government that they have funded this development in such a remote place.
I can’t imagine that the gas is pumped all the way from Seoul. It’s just too far to imagine. I assume that the liquid, compressed gas is trucked here from the refinery, to some local depot, where it is stored, evaporated and reticulated in the local network. I’m impressed, as I am with much that is happening here. They still need to stop building and selling diesel engined vehicles though.

As I walk down the street today I can see that one house is still using the dirty coal briquettes, as the spent bisque fired, low quality, circular coal briquettes are stacked up out side the dwelling. I know that some of these spent fuel blocks are crushed and used as a fertiliser. I’ve seen the remnants of them scattered through some of the vegetable patches.
I remember reading an old book back in the 70’s, called ‘Farmers of Forty Centuries’. It was a really interesting book that described the life of farmers of Asia, in China, Japan and Korea, their lives and techniques. I say that it was an old book, because it is! It was published in 1911. There was a chapter about digging silty clay out of the irrigation channels and making mud bricks from it. The bricks were made into a ‘Kang’, a wood fired stove that has an extended horizontal flue area that doubles as a warmed bed base at night after dinner.
After several years, the ‘Kang’ is demolished and recycled. The mud bricks, wood ash and whatever other minerals have been absorbed by the bricks are all crushed to powder and spread through the vegetable garden as a fertiliser! 110 years later, the old technique is still practised by some of the older residents of this village.
The other thing that I see that is different in the village is the new solar powered telephone. This is very new and quite impressive. I’m mostly impressed by the fact that the phones here aren’t  vandalised and still work. I must say that I’ve never seem anyone in there using it, as every young person in the village seems to own a mobile and the signal is very good here. There is also a new electric car charger in the car park!
The other thing that is a huge difference here is the construction of the new Museum extension. It is HUGE!
It looks to be about 3 or 4 times bigger than the old single room, exhibition area and offices building. The existing space was very cleverly divided into a lot of smaller ‘rooms’ using divisions to visually break up the big single volume, into more intimate spaces, each with a small specialised minor subject, display or video, used to explain some particular part of the amazing local history of the discovery and development of the single stone sericite porcelain story, that is endemic to this place.
The new building will occupy the entire length of the grounds from the road frontage, right down the side of the old Museum building and all the way down the side of the site, to the river-frontage walkway at the rear.

The new Museum extension will apparently consist of three new exhibition areas. Each with a particular theme. One of them will be a flexible space for a changing series of contemporary themed shows. One will have a small space for a glass case with my contributions to the continuing story of the Yanggu/Bangsan unique sericite porcelain history.
I look forward to getting to see it all finished on my next visit here.
Friday comes around soon enough and I have an appointment with the governor of the local government area or Province in his offices in the city.  Mr Jung has it all arranged. He has made the appointment a couple of weeks ago, when I first arrived and presented him with my 3 porcelain bowls made from the ‘borrowed’ sericite stones of my last visit, now all glazed with my local kangaroo blue opalescent glaze and returned to their birthplace in an enhanced form. The Premier seems to have been suitably impressed by the gift of my cultural amalgam of Australian/Korean porcelain culture.  As a way of promoting the Museum and gaining some exposure for his project, both with the political ‘machine’ of local government, who are funding the new Museum expansion, but also in the papers for local residential exposure/consumption. Mr Jung is always working to promote his life’s work and interest in sericite porcelain. Mr Jung and I are possibly the only two men in the world just now who are practising this ancient art form.
We meet in the Premiers Office. Myself, Mr Jung, Myeongki my translator and several local government minders. We are ushered into the Premiers private office, with its loverly, large round table and very plush leather lounge chairs. The official photographers are there and capture the moment for the press release. Everyone benefits from this meeting.
The Premier will be in the press showing that he is supporting the arts. Mr Jung can show that there is international recognition of the importance of his Museum. And I get to realise that I am under-dressed for a top level political meeting! After a bit of small talk, the Premier reaches out and holds my hand for the second photo-shoot.
I present him with the pots and a copy of my ‘5 Stones’ book, recently translated into Korean. He is polite and is well briefed. He says thank you for the important cultural gift, that now links our two countries. He tells me that he is impressed. They are beautiful. He also understands that I have developed a kiln design that is smaller, cleaner, more fuel efficient and less polluting than the traditional Korea wood fired kiln. I reply that I think that this is true. I have been working on this technology for a several decades now and the design is becoming quite sophisticated.
He replies that he thinks that Korea must have this technology, and goes on to express the opinion that they are intent on cleaning up their environment and doing what they can to become more environmentally friendly. Mr Jung has already made a proposal to build such a kiln at the Beakto Porcelain Village in Bangsan. The Premier says that he thinks that they should fund a project like this and also have the new wood firing book translated into Korean as well. I’m a bit shocked, is it that easy? Apparently it is.  I wasn’t expecting that!
We have tea and the locals discuss something, all in detail in Korean, that my translator describes to me in small whispered chunks, as it really doesn’t actually involve me at all. It’s secret-mens-political-business that involves the realities of the local government political/economic system. The meeting ends with much hand shaking, smiles and bowing. We leave and everyone seems happy with the result.
It appears that this was just the event to push the new kiln site and kiln building proposal over the political line. Apparently the combined project will be fully funded now, as well as the book. Is it really that easy? I think that there may have been a lot of lobbying going on for a long time behind the scenes? This may just be a ‘way-marker’ point. I mention this to my translator out in the street, adding that in Australia, politicians are renown for saying one thing in public, while doing another, totally different thing behind the scenes. She nods and agrees, politics is probably the same all over the world? Inferring that we will have to wait and see.
My Jung has managed to get the 6 million dollars to build the new Museum extension. He’s an impressive man. Maybe this much smaller, micro-project will happen too?
I cast my mind back 4 or 5 years to my first meeting with Mr Jung in 2015? with Ms Kang as my interpreter at that time. There were two architects invited in to see my presentation to Mr Jung about my research. I can only guess now, that they were there working on the new Museum plans at that time? That would make sense, as these large projects take a long time frame to evolve, develop, mature and eventuate.
The next day, the kiln is cool and my work comes out. I get to see not only my pots, but also the clay and glaze tests that I made from Mr Jung’s new glaze stone deposit from the hill behind his house.
My pots are mostly good. A few have minor faults, but most are good. A few are great, beautiful clear, rich, translucent examples of sericite at its best. I could have applied the glaze a little thicker to get a richer colour. I did give some of my pieces a second dip in the glaze to hopefully get a better result, but second dipping can lead to problems and  I didn’t want to loose all my work from a preventable problem, so just did half. These turned out the best, and now I wish that I had been brave enough to have done them all. My intuition was correct, but my caution was justified, it’s a good outcome. In the worst case scenario I could have lost all my work. So it’s all good.
It’s very interesting to me how the different sericite bodies influence the same glaze in the same firing to come out looking so different. All local sericite porcelains, each showing their own individual character.
 The glaze test results are very good. The new stone produces a beautiful satin blue celadon style glaze at 1270oC in reduction. It’s really good. I could use a glaze like this with pride on my work.
Most of the staff are there to see the unpacking, but Mr Jung has to go out to a meeting somewhere, so doesn’t stick around.
I start to explain to some of the resident researchers and a few of the staff just what I was doing with the glaze grid tile. No-one seems to have seen a grid tile before. It seems that they don’t learn much glaze chemistry in the art schools any more. Just like in Australia and the UK.
Janine and I were invited to do some work for the new ‘Clay College’ in Stoke on Trent last year. Clay College is a fantastic initiative. It’s an attempt to re-start a new hands-on ceramics course for potters in the UK, as it seems that all the universities that once taught ceramics have all been converted to ‘design’ schools, where students ‘design’ objects that get made somewhere else, by someone else, like China, or pumped out from a 3D printer?
I explain that the function of this test is to analyse the stone to find out its chemical analysis in % oxide composition. This sort of thing has usually to be done at great expense in a university chemistry lab using electron microscopes or similar.
I explain that I have developed a simple technique for achieving this using just a simple set of scales and a few ingredients.
They had all watched me make the test a few days ago. Now they see the outcome. I look at the colour and melt activity of the test tile and compare it to my data base of known results. I can quickly ascertain the oxide analysis. From there I can use ‘Segar Formula’ to adjust the glaze stone to make it do a number of different things.
I see that every one is very quiet. Eventually someone asks “what is that formula?”. No one has even heard of chemical formula for glaze calculation.  It seems that the only glazing that’s taught here is how to buy a glaze from the pottery supply shop catalogue. We are at that point here in Australia now. Nothing difficult or technical is being taught.
I give a quick class in glaze calculation. One of the older students tells me that he was taught something like that 20 years ago, but wasn’t paying attention and couldn’t see any reason to learn it at the time. Could I go through that all again slowly please.
I do and they slowly get the drift of the exercise. Not the Segar Formula part, but the compound line-blend test tile exercise. They really like the glaze quality of the result and the ease of ascertaining that result with just one test using a totally unknown stone.
They ask me how I learnt how to do this? Who told me that this was possible. I tell them that it is my own invention. I developed this testing technique during my PhD studies, as I was focussed on using local stones to make local porcelain. More or less trying to achieve in a few years what you have been doing here for 700 years!
I fettle and grind my pots ready to go. I pack them in 3 equal lots and wrap them very well in bubble wrap. One batch goes into my suitcase wrapped again in my clothing. A second lot is slid into my back pack. It just fits and the last group are packed into a cardboard box and taped up. I assume that I will have to pay excess baggage fees to get them onto the plane.
On the last day before I leave Bangsan, Mr Jung takes me up to the Baekto Porcelain village to say good bye to the resident researchers, Mr Jung wants to show me something. The money has come through as promised and work has begun on the new kiln shed. It looks like the project will be going to happen a lot faster than I could have imagined. The Premier is a man of his word.
The site has been a excavated and men are at work setting up formwork ready to cast the concrete footings for the new kiln shed. They have to dig down 1.8 metres to get down below the frost line where the ground freezes during winter. Here that is very deep as the temperature drops to below minus -30oC in winter. The frozen soil will expand and cause the ground and everything on it to crack unless the site is well prepared like this.
Mr Jung explains where my kiln will go in this huge shed. Over on the left hand side, there will be at least one other kiln in here and possibly two, in years to come. One of them is going to be a 5 chamber, traditional climbing kiln. A juxtaposition of the old and new in wood firing techniques.
Mr Jung missed my glaze lesson and asks Daewoong to ask me if I can send him my PhD thesis? I reply that of course I will be pleased to do so, but it is 120,000 words in English and academic English at that. Maybe I should just send him the glaze calculation part about rock glazes? As it happens I just happen to have a book called ‘Rock Glazes and Geology for potters’. I’ll post him a copy. I can see yet another translation project coming along in the future?
This may be my last attempt at a travelers’ tale from Korea.
I considder myself just so lucky to have met such incredibly nice, creative and supportive poeple here.
Best wishes
Steve

Sericite Journal 3 – Ashes to ashes, dust to glaze

While my work dries and I wait to pack the bisque, there are a few people and places I need to catch up on. I’m invited to both a lunch and a dinner with the students and staff of the Museum on two different days. I love Korean food, everything comes with chilli, even some sweet things!

After we have finished eating our lunch, it’s time to settle down and help the residents of the Baekto Porcelain Village make a thousand glaze test tiles. Everyone gets involved at different times. Many hands make light work and they are all made in one day.  

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I’m not really part of the group and I’m not too sure how I can help out in an unobtrusive way, so I decide to do the picking up off the floor of the cut sections and place them within reach of the real workers who know what they are doing. Later, having shown interest and done my time on the floor. I’m promoted to press-moulding the curved sections ready for assembly.

Before leaving the village, I wander up to the kiln shed to check out the kilns and I see 4 pallets of 2nd hand fire bricks, all cleaned and wrapped and one pallet of new firebrick slabs. I quickly calculate that this is about 2,000 bricks and 90 slabs. I’m guessing that these have been purchased for the kiln building workshop that Mr Jung has proposed to me. It may take some time to eventuate, as there doesn’t seem to be a a floor slab or roof for the kiln as yet.  

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I am scheduled for a meeting with Mr Jung and The Premier of the County of Yanggu, or State President, along with Myeongki Shim, the translator who has worked with me in the past and did the translation of my book, 5 Stones, into Korean. We are scheduled to meet on Friday to discuss the idea of offering a workshop style summer school open to potters to come and take part and learn about the down draft firebox in the process. I can see this taking some time to organise. 

It might not be the lack of a slab and roof that hold things up? Political realities being what they are, and money being hard to come by. We’ll have to wait and see.

I’ll need to do some calculations to get the whole thing to work correctly, as all the bricks are solid, hard fire brick, so this will limit what I can achieve with just one simple fire box. I’m also told that they don’t want to use ceramic fibre here for the lightweight firebox stoke-hole door, so there goes the idea of a top loading firebox lid and a throat chamber lid. It is starting to look like I might be building quite a small kiln, as I want to build and demonstrate a simple example of a single firebox, single chamber kiln that can be fired fairly cleanly in one day. Something in total contrast to the week long firings that take place in the traditional 5 chamber kiln that they have here.

The water wheel is working today, as Daewoong the resident wood fire potter, is keen to prepare some porcelain stone by the old method of using the stamp mill to crush the sericite. I’m unsure what he is planning, it could be for glaze instead of body material. Time will tell.  

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I can see across the valley to the new solar power farm that has recently been installed to generate solar electricity for the village. The admin block here was already covered in Solar PV panels, as is the Museum roof. It is noticeable to me that the new solar farm hasn’t taken any usable flat ground that was already used for farming. They have chosen to use the slope of the hill to get a good azimuth angle to the solar rays and not upset any farmers by taking over fertile, flat, productive land.

There has been a firing going on in the big gas kiln all day. The kiln is used by the residents in the porcelain Village. They can book the kiln individually, or as a group firing. They only have to pay for the gas consumed. As I understand it, the residents get free rent of studio and housing spaces, plus free use of the equipment like kilns, wheels, slab roller and pug mill, etc. They only have to pay for their own food, heating, kiln fuel and any exotic raw materials that they may wish to pursue. It seems like a too-good-to-be-true deal from my point of view, as an outsider from Australia, where the Arts are more or less ignored, or if acknowledged, they are mistrusted and/or miss-understood by the general public, encouraged by the Murdoch press, and any money spent on the Arts is roundly ridiculed by the conservatives. No wonder the facilities here are all full. It seems that the locals think that this is normal and complain about having to pay their own heating bill!  I couldn’t get a room in the student accomodation building this time round. Everything is fully utilised, so Mr Jung has kindly offered to allow me to stay in his home with him, 30 minutes away in Yanggu.

When I get to the Museum and Research Centre the next day. The bisque kiln is ready to be packed. My work is all completely dry now. I take it over to the kiln room for packing. There are 2 large electric kilns used for bisque firing on a regular basis. These are used to fire the the part-time students work from the teaching facility.

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My work is slotted in where it will fit among the regular student projects. My work isn’t large, so it can be fitted in economically. I nest stack them to conserve space. I start with a 5 high stack, but I am discouraged by the technical assistant/pottery teacher. He seems to indicated that with this clay, its particular dry strength and firing characteristics, it is better to just go 2 high, so I do. The firing goes on over night using a ramp programmer. It’s all very modern and efficient in this regard. However, in contrast to this, they also have a 5 chamber traditional wood fired climbing kiln as well for the wood firing enthusiasts. We took part in a 4 day firing of that wood kiln the last time we were here. 

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While my pots are cooling down from their bisque firing. Mr Jung arranges our us to go on a     geology expedition up into the mountains behind Yanggu. There are some logging tracks that we can use to get us up there quickly. He tells me that because he was born and grew up here in the foot hills of these mountains, he has tramped over most of it through the years. We swap his LPG-hybrid, city sedan, for his parents small 4 wheel drive, and set off. He wants to show me a couple of sites that he thinks might be worth our while investigating. 

After a slow and bumpy 45 minute drive over the rough logging tracks, we arrive at the first of what turns out to be 5 sites. This material looks to be a weathered or kaolinised, fine to medium grained acid rock with some small amount of free silica. It’s impossible to say what is in it, but I can hazard a guess that it has some sort of primary clay such as Kaolinite, Halloysite, illite or dickite. It also has the obvious spangles of some free silica that is just visible in the bright sunshine, then there may be some flux minerals such as the felspars or micas, if they haven’t all be weathered down to the clay minerals. The stone is very soft and easily broken up by bashing it together, so I’m certain that it will be low in flux and higher in clay minerals.

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The stone is so rotten, that the fragments are just tumbling down out of the hill side. To my naive geological eye, it looks pretty much like a lot of the material that I have collected back home in the Southern Highlands. It may be able to be finely milled to become sufficiently plastic to be throwable. But they already have a marvellous sericite body here that is beyond excellent, white, plastic and translucent. This new stuff won’t compete. I’m thinking that it might be possible to make a glaze out of it, but it looks a bit too weathered, kaolinitic and refractory to make much of a glaze with just limestone as a flux. I’m not sure, I get the feeling that it might need some extra felspar as well, and perhaps a little ash with it as well? 

I have no real concrete evidence for this thought, it is just what I have experienced back home in my previous research in Australia. The stones that are hardest to crush usually have the most intact alkali content and melt well. The softer materials that are very crumbly, have usually lost a lot of their alkali during weathering and are more refractory. Where this stone fall on the spectrum i can only guess at this point. I won’t know until I have fired some. However, my guess is that it will fall somewhere smack in the middle. Unmelted on its own, but forming a glaze at the end of the line blend series, requiring the maximum calcium flux.

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When we get back the the Museum a few hours later, I set to work making a few tests. I Start with a grid tile test to ascertain the chemical analysis. This is a unique test that I developed during my PhD. I involves producing a series of line blends with specific additions of a set ratio. The resulting grid tile when glaze fired, shows a particular range of melts and colours. By comparing the new material test with my data base of known and chemically analysed test tiles. I can deduce the chemical analysis of the oxides present in the new material to with in a couple of percentage points. It saves having to send the material off to the university chemical lab and pay a lot of money to learn the same thing.

Pretty clever I think, if I do say so myself.

Apparently. I am the only one who thinks so and says so. Everyone here watching me work, have no idea what I’m doing. but they keep an eye on me, just the same.

I also take a risk and follow a hunch and prepare a line blend in a series of 5 simple steps that I think will show some worthwhile result using this material as a body ingredient, based on my research on similar materials that I’ve worked with back at home. I’m guessing that it will be nice in a wood firing, but I’ll never know, as I only have sufficient material crushed and ground to made these few basic tests for the gas firing coming up. There isn’t a wood firing due at the moment.

I used a bisqueted test tile that I have brought with me from Australia in my suitcase to do such a test if necessary. I’m glad that I did, as there is no time to make one now and get it through the next bisque in time. I decide that I will only do the first three line blends on this occasion, as the last line will be too siliceous to tell us much about a stone like this one. Or so I think. I decide to use the remaining material to make the body line blend of 5% increments.

The next day, the bisque firing is unpacked and I start to glaze my work.  

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I get all my work glazed and fettled and out into the sun to help it dry out by early afternoon. The smaller and lighter of my bowls are quite delicate and thinly potted. So I can only afford to swipe them through the glaze in one second, so as not to saturate them. Otherwise the glaze will start to run off before it dries. I like to glaze all in one motion if I can, but these pots won’t have sufficient glaze on them to develop any depth of colour. So I decide to partially dry them and give them a second dip to create a thicker glaze coating. This carries a risk of causing pin holing and crawling, but I weigh up the options and decide to take the risk. 

I could choose to spray on a thicker coat, and that would work better, just as the ancient Chinese did a millennium ago, but I’m not from around here and don’t know if there is a spray gun available. There certainly is a compressor, as I’ve already used this once before to blow the dust of my bisque ware. However, I don’t want to outstay my welcome, by constantly bothering the staff, who are always busy, by asking questions, unless it is absolutely necessary. Of course I am incapable of asking any question directly. I involves the use of the translation app on our phones. It’s a slow process and takes up their time typing out questions and answers with one finger on the tiny virtual key pad.

There is a change in this regard this year. I’m asked to down load a new language app onto my phone. This is a new Korean developed translation app, and every one here is using it. It is specifically built to translate Korean. It handles spoken word input too, which speeds things up. There is a little hick-up here with this. My Australia Post prepaid travel SIM card doesn’t handle data. Only calls and texts. Data packs can be purchased for other countries, but not Korea at this stage. So it turns out that I can only use the ‘Papago’ Korean translation app. when i have WiFi service to log into. That really limits where I can use it.

The standard porcelain glaze that they have developed here looks to be made using some sort of ash, as it has a fine grey cast to it and a infinitely fine dark speckle in the dried surface. It just looks like an ash glaze. I can’t justify that opinion any more than that. The next time My Jung, The Director of the Museum passes by, I have my question already typed out on the phone. “Is this glaze made with ash?”. He responds to me in English, “tree ash?”, I respond “yes, tree ash!”. He indicates to follow him into the next work area. I haven’t spent much time in here at all. I have only just glanced as I passed. I have had no business to be in here. I try not to cause any trouble as a guest. A position that I am very grateful to be in.

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Mr Jung takes me to the ash preparation area. There are a series of very large tubs where ash is washed and sieved, then left to settle. In the settling tank, there is a rope suspended in the water. I must look puzzled, as Mr Jung the word in English, “magnet”. He shows me this by lifting it out by its rope and sticking it to the metal floor grating, which he demonstrates, he can now lift up out of the drain, just by the power of the magnetism. The big round magnet must be very powerful. He takes the magnet to the sink and washes it, and to my surprise, it is not big and round at all, but narrow and skinny. It was clustered with irony material stuck to it. I don’t know where all this iron came from, perhaps they burn the organics in a steel furnace?    

The cleaned magnet after washing off all the irony ash particles.

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Mr Jung then takes me to the glaze store room, where he shows me the working stock of dried ash that they make here. There is ash made from all sorts of plants. Mixed tree ash, Pine ash, chilli plant ash, chrysanthemum ash, ginkgo ash, even calendar flower ash! I’m stunned. So much work! I know what I’m looking at, because we burn plant material to create ash back home and sieve it and dry it. But not on this scale. I guess that it helps if you have a staff of 12 to help you get everything done. The biggest problem that Janine and I face, is that we are trying to do everything ourselves. We are getting older and not surprisingly, we get tired.

I wouldn’t mind a staff of 12 to help get things done. Not too sure how we would pay them though?    Actually, just a part time staff of one would be nice.

My glazed and fettled pots are now packed into the glaze kiln. They will be committed to the fire tomorrow in a 12 to 13 hour reduction firing to 1260oC. I’ll have to just sit it out and wait-n-see. 

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Sericite Journal Two – 5 More Stones

Sericite Journal 2  – 5 More Stones

I arrive in Chuncheon from Seoul by bus and I am met at the coach terminal by my friend Mr Jung Do Sub, the Director of the Yanggu PorcelaIn Museum and Research Centre. He takes me to dinner and then home where I will be staying in his studio, attached to his house.

It’s a stunning new architectural space, it is so new that he is still working on it. Brutal, modernist, bare cast concrete on the inside, with a recycled brick cladding on the outside, heaps of double glazed glass facing the southern sun. (This is the northern hemisphere.) The sun comes right in onto the polished concrete floor. The cast concrete walls and roof are over 500 mms thick. I suspect that a lot of this thickness is taken up with some substantial insulation, as it hits minus -30 oC here in winter.

The next day we drive to the Porcelain Centre, where I start work immediately on getting things ready to make some work. 

There are a number of sericite porcelain bodies here for me to choose from. The number has increased since I was last here. There are two new ones that I want to try out. When I visit the clay processing facility a few hundred metres away from the Museum. I see one of the new raw materials, the whitest sample, revealed from under a green tarpaulin, just outside the clay stockpile shed. It is actually off-white, but quite pale looking when compared to the standard local sericite that is mined near by. However, when this new white material it is crushed and milled, the whitish raw material in the wet plastic state becomes somewhat darker. This is usual with clays and I’m used to it.  It becomes almost a pale khaki, buff beige colour, whereas the local sericite which is slightly greyish white when raw, becomes whiter when wet?

After stiffening, the resulting plastic pugged clay is mid khaki colour. I’m surprised to see that the fired sample from the reduction kiln comes out very pale grey from under the local standard pale celadon porcelain glaze. I’m intrigued.

There is a related material from the same pit that is slightly pinkish in the raw state, but processes to a pale apricot colour. A colour rather beautiful and very pleasing to my eye. This sericite body fires to almost the same degree of pale grey as the white sample, just a little bit darker, when reduction fired with the same base glaze. I’m quite surprised to see how similar they are after firing, just looking at the difference in the raw colour.  

 

I get to try all 5 different sericite porcelain bodies over the next week or so of throwing and turning. The original local sericite that is mined just up the road here is highly vitreous at stoneware temperatures and is prone to slumping, even at the lower stoneware temperature of 1260oC. However, with a small addition of JinJu kaolinised sericite obtained from farther south, the resulting mixture throws very well and stands up to the 1260/1270oC stoneware reduction firing very well. I have discussed this beautiful porcelain body at length in previous posts, so won’t dwell on it again here.

My first mornings work involves me securing a wheel space in the crowded workshop. This is a community teaching facility open to the public. It’s mandate is to communicate the history and beauty of the local porcelain, and to offer that experience to the general public. I’m the intruder here, a foreign oddity, here for just a brief moment in the very long history of this place. So I know my place and ask permission before doing anything. I don’t speak the language here very well – if at all. I rely on the translation app on my phone to get me through, so I’m careful to be polite and not get in anyone’s way. I know that translation app software out-put is full of errors, so I’m careful. Some of the staff have slowly come to trust me with their very basic English as well. This is my 5th visit here, so I am getting to know everyone. Together we slowly and carefully explore a more friendly, trusting, and may I say ‘intimate’ way of communicating in this strange mix of two poorly pronounced and impoverished lexicons, extended by faulty software. What a mix! We manage to work our way through the errors, pitfalls and misunderstandings. Trust and friendship slowly develops. I’ve come to really like and trust these wonderful people. I’m so lucky.

Next, I have to source some batts, get a few extrusions of this special local sericite porcelain body pugged and de-aired. Then I clean the wheel scrupulesly to make sure that there is no cross contamination of other clay fragments under the wheel head and in the edges of the tray. I don’t want to contaminate other peoples work with my experiments here when I toss my turnings into the recycling tubs. 

I sort out my tools and start to work up a lump of this marvellously plastic wet mica rock dust. It’s so hard to believe that it is not clay. At least not as we are familiar with the term in Australia. This body might have 10% of Kaolin in it, but that is all. The kaolin is not there to add plasticity. I have used the ‘Jinju Kaolinised Sericite’ that has been added to this mix straight by itself 100% and it is rather floppy and ‘fat’. The Bangsan sericite is plastic enough without it. What the Jinju material offers is not plasticity, but a slightly higher alumina content to increase its firing range.

An aside: Before I left home to come here I packed up three pots to donate to the Porcelain Museum. Pots that I made over the previous 6 months since my last visit here. I made these pots from stones that I collected myself, directly from out of the ground here. I had the resulting powder analysed and it contained only sericite and silica, so I know what authentic, pure sericite mica is like to throw with on the wheel. It can be amazingly plastic. This isn’t always the case though. The sericite that I collected from the ancient and abandoned sericite mine on Tregonning Hill In Cornwall was almost totally non-plastic, As was the siliceous sericite that I collected from the top of Sarri Mountain near Yeoju, here in Korea. The most plastic sericite that I have ever encountered was from Cheongsong in the south of Korea. A strange place, but marvellous clay. It is a pity that it is totally unavailable for foreigners to access due to the difficult personality issues of the manager of the site.

I should point out though that these most plastic Korean bodies are not the whitest. Surprise, surprise there! The whitest sericite is probably the extremely expensive ultra-white special grade of hand sorted Chinese sericite from China, near Jingdezhen. This ‘sericite’ is very hard to get, and not just because of its extremely high price. Following that is the highest white grade ‘Gao Bai Neantu’, version of Jingdezhen porcelain. It is very good, as is the hand-sorted white Amakusa sericite stone body from Arita, but the Amukusa sericite body is not anywhere near as plastic and also a little tricky to glaze fire due to its very high silica content.

Note to self: try a blend of Amakusa white with Bangsan cream. That would be an unholy pairing from Hell! Possibly considered a cultural crime, due to their difficult historical legacies, but it might work well? Each mitigating the short comings of the other. I just might try it in secret at home, where no one will be offended.

To return to my experiences here at Bangsan. 

I only get to start throwing by 11.00 am. I begin by making the clay ‘chucks’ that I know I will need tomorrow when my pots are stiff enough to turn their bases. A ‘Chuck’ is a hollow cone shape of fairly thickly potted clay. This is used to support the delicate rims of the pots while they are having their bases ‘trimmed’ or ‘turned’. I throw these chucks on ‘batts’, flat circular wooden discs,  so that when I pick them up off the potters wheel, there will be no warping. I want the chucks to be running true and perfectly round when I come to use them. Even so, I usually trim them and tidy them up when leather hard by trimming them with a sharp tool to ensure that they are as perfect as it is possible to get them. By lunch time I have my 4 chucks out in the sun and 3 larger sized bowls made as well.

  

In situations like this, I always start with the largest items first, then work my way down to the smallest pieces last. In this way, they are all ready for the kiln at the same time. No waiting for the bigger bowls to finish drying and holding everything up. My time here is limited. I only have a little over 2 weeks. I know from past experiences that I can get everything done in time if I follow my work schedule pretty precisely. 5 days throwing and turning, 2 days drying, then bisque firing and cooling, 2 days glazing and packing the glost kiln, one day firing, 2 days cooling and then unpacking and fly out home. It can be done! I know this, as it is my 5th visit here. In China, they don’t bisque fire, but spray the glaze on dry. They also fire over night, crash cool, by opening the door at top temperature and crash-cooling the kiln. They unpack and repack the next day. So a full cycle can be reduced to as little as just 8 days! If everything goes to schedule! 

Once the main body of work is thrown, I get to play with the new sericite samples. The apricot coloured one is very nice to throw but suffers from a tendency to split and crack if they are too thick. Too thick in this extreme case is anything over 5mm! This body may be only suitable for very small, thinly potted items, or so it seems? I try my hand at the special school mix that they have developed here that is a mixture of three sericites. This body was developed to make it as forgiving and easy to used as is possible. It is used for all the classes. The Porcelain Museum and Research Centre also has a teaching facility where members of the community, school children, aged care groups, retirees and even squads of Army soldiers come in and learn a little bit about the history and culture of this part of Korea. As complete beginners, the work that they make is sometimes a little bit heavy and somewhat clumsy. The blended teaching clay body that they use for the students is designed to be easy to use, forgiving of lack of technique and indestructible in drying. It works remarkably well. I really like it. I’m not properly trained in porcelain. I’m entirely self taught, so this kind of clay is a great advantage to me as a ‘blow-hard, wanna-be’ potter of average skills and insights. However, I really like the challenge of the single stone varieties, even though they are harder to use. I don’t always get successful results, but I love to learn new ways of compensating for their – and my – short comings and developing new skills in coping with their individual difficulties and character. Giacometti once said that every failure brings you one step closer to success. There just might be some sort of truth in that. If you persist!

The teaching ‘clay’ mix of 3 sericites, appears to be a little bit speckly when I cut through it. I’ll wait to see how it fires. It just might have some iron specks?  Although I don’t see any in the students fired works. Some of the students recognise me and remember me from my last few visits. They welcome me warmly. I’m impressed and thrilled to be included in their conversation, even if it is at the most basic of levels. One student even comes up to me and addresses me by name. He produces my book from behind his back and asks me to sign it for him.

The standard body, on the other hand, is rather fertile this time round, with some sort of organic growth in this well-aged sample. This is of course no problem and will fire out in the bisque.

I end my 5 days of throwing and turning with 45 finished pots from the 5 bodies. The apricot coloured clay continues to self destruct day by day afterwards, all I can do is sit and watch.

The pale coloured sericite body doesn’t like being wire cut, it stresses the clay particles too much and they tend to come apart as they dry out and start to shrink. It seems to lack cohesion? It doesn’t seem to be too much of a problem however, as the cracks are only surface splits and they are easily turned out. I have seen cracking just like this in Jingdezhen in their porcelain body, but in that case some batches of the clay are almost impossible to use without significant losses due to high rates of shrinkage cracking. Those cracks transferred all the way through the pot, so there was nothing that I could do to solve the problem. The Jingdezhen clay also has a tendency to chip and tear too, if turned anywhere near leather hard or softer. It benefits by being left a little bit longer to stiffen more, waiting until it is completely covered in the white drying rings, then it turns a lot easier and smoother. The whitest batch of the teaching mix is also prone to chipping when turned a little too soft. Just like the Amakusa porcelains from Arita.  

 

The staff who work here are so professional. Their skill levels are very high. The Post-Grad  students who study here after completing their Masters or PhD, are also extremely talented and dedicated. The quality of their work is exceptional after 3 to 5 years of post graduate specialisation in porcelain techniques in this place, they are very accomplished. I can’t impress anyone here with my amateurish skill levels. The thing I can impress is the clay. I use my initials and the Yanggu Seal to represent the workshop where my pieces are made. I impress the seal in to he clay. I love it. It’s such an ancient way of identifying pots, and this is a place with a very ancient tradition.

I am so lucky to be able to work here within this system of nurturing support – as a foreigner, an outsider. The Other! Not from here. These people embrace me and go to great lengths to engage with me and include me in their life, day to day. They include me in their lunch time meals in one of the local family kitchens each day. It has proven impossible for me to pay for even one of these meals. I offer, but no one will let me pay the bill. Everyone here is so open and generous. I wish that I could say the same for Australia’s treatment of refugees! People who really do need, comfort, help and support.

  

I make a suitable mess all over the floor, as the wheels here don’t have trays. I have no problem in throwing without a tray, I own a Japanese ‘Shimpo’ potters wheel at home, Although I don’t use it often, as I prefer to use the wooden kick wheel for most of my work. However, I have taught myself to use very little water when throwing and don’t ever seem to get any clay slip splatter on me or the floor and I never use a towel on my lap!

But trimming is another matter. I can’t stop the spirals going everywhere onto the floor as they effortlessly peel off from the razor sharp turning tool. I just get used to sweeping up at the end of the day.  After I have turned the last of my pots, I sit down and go through them and sort out a few obvious faults, mostly hair line cracks or slight warping. Then I give a little time to examining the forms pretty closely, as well as the weight and balance.

I cull and I cull. Each day I re-examine my work and trash a few more. I go through the almost dried work and cull another half dozen that are not up to scratch. No point in firing something with a form that isn’t as perfect as you can make it to begin with. Ceramics is the ultimate pollution. It last forever. Everything that we know about ancient cultures was dug up as ceramics! It won’t get any better with glaze on it. I will go through them again just before packing the bisque, once they are all fully dried. I may cull a few more!

I’m down to thirty pieces now, some of my forms were not sufficiently pleasing and didn’t pass muster. I’d like to come away with a dozen good exhibitable pieces for showing eventually.

My throwing time here is now ended, and the less interesting period of packing the bisque and bisque firing is coming up. I will have some spare time, so will start to write all this up.

It is such a honour to be able to work here with these amazing sericite materials. To get this unique experience, and possibly get to take home a few exotic, one-off pieces of unique sericite porcelain. Pots with a history that goes back 700 years on this site.

Autumn Draws to a Close and the Cooler Weather Arrives

As autumn draws to a close we have been in and out, travelling to the National Folk Festival, listening to some very good music. Then, recently I was speaking at the National Ceramics Triennial Conference, where I delivered a paper on sustainability. In between, as always, we were in the pottery making and firing our pots, both before, in between and after these events. Making pots and growing food are the two constants in our life.

 

We were also in the garden planting more veggies for the cool weather. The tomatoes are still hanging on with just a few tiny fruits ripening every few days, so that we can have salad sandwiches for lunch with our lettuce from the garden. The garlic that I planted in March is up and doing well. I planted 5 small beds of about 50 cloves each. A smaller crop this year. I was busy and didn’t find the time to get more in. I have planted another 100 cloves today. Maybe a bit too late to do well, but this is real life.

  

Tonight we will have baked vegetables, yesterday it was minestrone, with everything from the garden. Our gardening efforts feed us well.

I planted a couple of new avocados a few days ago. One more type A and another type B for our collection. We now have 6 different varieties. When these trees mature in a few years time, we will have a much longer cropping season and bigger harvests. The chickens love to get involved in any event that involves fresh dirt. They hop in and excavate the hole a little more, but then hop out and start to fill it in again. The don’t get it! but they have fun doing it and their eggs have super, deep, rich, yellow yokes.

 

The latest young avocado tree freshly planted with its with mesh guard to keep the kangaroos from eating the top out. As they most surely will, with any new tree that we plant in the orchard. They can’t resist having a taste of what ever is new. You can see the original 40 year old avocado tree behind the this new one. and the bare branches of the leafless cherry tree to the right.

The peaches are loosing their leaves, the cherries have finished and are barren, the apples and pears are turning yellow in preparation for the fall.

 

In the evenings it is cold enough now to start to light the fire every night. We sit by the fire and shell our dried beans. We shell them and then dry them out fully in the oven after we have finished cooking dinner. This extra heat ensures that they are fully dry and won’t go mouldy in the jars in the pantry. It also kills any little bugs and critters that may have bored their way in to the shells hoping to hatch out and consume the lot over winter. They are ideal for minestrone.  We will make many lovely wholesome meals out of them over the winter.

Bruised Butt Cheek Bones

Over summer we don’t go far. We stick around the house, just in case of bush fires. We concentrate on cleaning the gutters, servicing the fire pumps and working around the house and in the garden. It’s a very productive time of year in the vegetable garden with so much produce to harvest, preserve, cook, dry, bottle, vacuum seal. In March the fire danger is mostly over and we can relax and catch up on some music concerts and the Writers Festival.

We returned from Writes Week and WOMAD to find the garden gone mad and a lot of work needed to be done to get it all sorted out, cleaned up, weeded, mown, whipper snipped and mulched. I have it back in good shape now and most of the winter seeds and seedlings are planted for the approaching cold weather. Over summer, we don’t get into the pottery very much. Instead, it’s a time to use the heat for making clay, crushing rocks and ball milling porcelain stone, then drying that porcelain slip.

Now in April, we can start to think about firing the wood fired kiln again. The summer fire bans will soon be over and we can fire the wood kiln without restriction. We have been doing some firings. I have been firing our solar-powered electric kiln and reducing it with a few hundred grams of LP gas to get the reduced colours.

We have been back in the pottery for the past few weeks and started throwing again. I must say that the first couple of full days on the hard wooden seat of the “Leach” style wooden kick wheel leaves me with a couple of sore butt-cheek bones. I don’t think that they are bruised, but they sure get very tender after that first full day. It seems to take a week or so for them to toughen-up. Then I don’t notice it again till this time next year.

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I bought some sericite stones back with me from my trips to the UK and Korea last year. These stones are now processed and aged sufficiently to be able to consider throwing them. I always think that this time it will be different. This time I will be able to throw something better out of this wet gravel. I can’t! Every time it’s the same, I start off so optimistic. I’m sure I will be better at it. I’m Not! The stuff is just wet rock dust, I shouldn’t be surprised. But I am!

I struggle with it as it is and refrain from adding any bentonite into the mix. I should just get over it and give in, but I really want to make something authentic. Something that has some meaning in this post-truth, bare-faced lying, compromised, new world order of shallow poseurs, where everything is The Image and The Selfie. I know that what I’m living here has no value to anyone else but me, I persist. It’s the life I’ve chosen. It’s a challenge to make a nice pot from these original porcelain stones. Picked from the ground, in-situ by my very own hands, carted off in my back-pack and then brought home here and processed in my own equipment. Maybe if I aged these bodies for a decade, then it would be easier? I’m certain that it would. I have already done those tests a lot earlier in my career. I know it works. However, I’m not too sure that I still have a decade left in me. I strike a compromise and decide to make some very small beakers and some coffee cups. Now, I can almost manage these OK.

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Last year, my friend Len and I imported a tonne of Chinese sericite. I have been going to China each year and renting studio space, making work, getting it fired on site – with mixed results, and carrying the best pots back in my hand luggage, to show at Watters Gallery and elsewhere.

Last year I felt so guilty about my carbon miles, making work in this way that I decided to buy the milled sericite in bulk and ship it here, This way I can stay at home and the clay can log up the carbon miles. I feel that it ought to be less damaging environmentally to ship a tonne of milled sericite stone by sea, than fly my meagre 80 kgs to and from China in a plane. Any way, I buy my $400 worth of carbon credits, just the same each year, to appease my conscience for my carbon crimes.

Buying the material in bulk sounded like a good idea at the time, but like all the best laid plans…. The stuff that arrived was totally different from what we had thought that we had bought, or ordered at least. Back in the beginning, we purchased a sample of the sericite and tested it. It was difficult to work with, but OK. White, semi-plastic, just. It fired white and translucent. We ordered a tonne of that thank you very much!

What arrived was grey, short, very soft and soggy, difficult to throw with and split and cracked in drying. Totally different material. I couldn’t see us shipping it back. We had already paid in advance. I had to make it work somehow. I tried throwing it in the usual way that I have learnt to work, but I lost over 90% of my pieces. I took a while, but I thought it over and came up with what I thought was a cunning plan. I thought about the ancient Chinese and how they coped with the short-comings of their early sericite porcelains. This was just the same, only re-located over 600 years in time and 12,000 kilometres in distance. The old tried and true answers are usually the best.

I tried a small batch in a blend with something that I thought had exactly the right characteristics. Hey presto. I now have a way of making a unique white, translucent, Chinese sericite based, porcelain of my own making. It’s one answer. It works for me.

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What I still find perplexing and inexplicable, is that Len has no trouble in making perfectly fine pots out of his batch of this stuff with no problems, while I struggle. Obviously this sericite stuff responds to the hands of a true master craftsman but dumbfounds and perplexes a blowhard wannabe like me.