Electric car review – 12 months

Janine and I have owned our Hyundai Ioniq hybred, plug-in electric car for one year now.We just got our latest owner statistics down-loaded from the onboard computer.We have driven almost exactly 12,000 kms. over the year.We managed to drive 503 km per litre of fuel used in the last month.500 km to the litre is pretty impressive fuel efficiency by anyones standards!I’m very pleased to see these results come through.The expected Hyundai official results for this model car, by the average driver should be around 22.4 km/litre
Dec. 2019

 My average503.16 km/ℓ
 Official22.4 km/ℓ
Results of this month’s 400 km trip, the results are shown below;
IONIQ plug-in official fuel consumption should have been; 17.857 litres
My fuel consumption   0.79 litres

Our CO2 emissions : We generated about 1 gram of CO2 per km.

* Driving standard per 1km
IONIQ plug-in Official CO2 emission 26 g.
My average emission CO2 this month1 g

Over the past year, we have filled the petrol tank 4 times, but the fuel tank is still almost half full.So we spent about $170 on petrol this year, to travel 12,000 kms. over the 12 months.We could only achieve these results because we are actively involved in living a ‘green’, low carbon, small foot print life.Up until last month, we could charge the car from our excess solar power. These last 30 days, since the fire, we dont have any more solar PV. So now we are using green power from the grid, and will have to continue to do so for the next few months, until we can get a new building approved by council and built, then have new PV installed. It’s going to take quite a while to get back our energy independance..But the car will still be driving us around very economically and cleanly.
Best wishes
Steve

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.

27 Kilns in 27 Days – vol 4

We get to spend a day in the Longquan Celadon Museum. I am travelling with my friends Len Smith and Robert Linigan. I am very interested in these old Celadon pots, particularly from my point of view of the inspiration that I can gain from the best pieces and equally importantly from what i can learn from the shards and broken sections. There is so much to glean from being able to see inside the clay body and looking at the interface between the body/glaze layers.

I love these rich and sensuous fatty celadons, guans and ‘ru’-like glazes. These are some of my favourite pots. It’s not too surprising that I like to try my hand a making glazes with this kind of influence. I wish that I could make something as good as this. It’s a quest.

In particular, I am keen to make my clay bodies and glazes as authentically as possible, by digging up all my own minerals, rocks and stones, then mixing them with ashes from my fireplace, where I burn the wood from my own forrest. It’s a complete commitment to my philosophy of self-reliance, not just in ceramics, but in my life. This coupled with a keen interest in the soft delicate beauty of ceramics the way I envision it. Not just the look, but also the feel of the surface. Equally important to me is the tactile impression -‘feel’ and balance of the pot in my hands, as well as how it will function when I eat or drink out of it.

My favourite coffee bowl at the moment, for my morning bowl of coffee, is a small white tenmoku bowl that is very translucent and very white, made from one of the Chinese sericite bodies that I have experimented with. It gives me a lot of pleasure just seeing it and handling it, even before I drink the coffee from it. It is beautifully balanced, only slightly weighted to the lower half for stability. It looks and feels gorgeous. I’m particularly fond of the slightly out-turned rim that is an essential quality of the tenmoku form. I’ve been using it for a year now and I’m still not bored with it.

Some of the unique qualities that I find I really engage with, are all its ‘faults’ – if that is what they are. I prefer to think of them as being part of its unique character. You can’t buy this bowl from Aldi on special for $2. Their white bowls may look superficially similar, but this pot has a story embedded in it that is only very slowly revealed over time as you get to know it.

For instance, because I’m not a very good potter, I don’t go to all the trouble of trying to make things perfect. Simply because I realised long ago that perfection only exists in the mind of the beholder, therefore can never be achieved, so why bother. Better to make things with character. This bowl for instance has a slightly mottled surface to the glaze, it has a very gentle undulation where the very thin clay body saturated during dipping and the glaze didn’t adhere perfectly. I have come to love this slight quirk of its appearance more than the very smooth glazed surfaces that I can sometimes make. This is a special part of this pots own history of its making.

Another point of interest for me is the hint of the remainder of the clay slurry on my hands left embedded in the surface of the clay after I finished throwing the pot on the wheel. I left it there as a reminder of the touch of my fingers. It is almost imperceptible, but it remains. I wasn’t aware of it presence initially, but it slowly became apparent to me as I got to use it, handle it and wash it up often. Not all my pots have this effect left in them, sometimes I wipe the inner surface clean with a fine textured sponge. At other times, I turn the inside of the pot with a trimming tool when I turn the foot. It all depends on how I am feeling about the pot as I make it. I never quite know how I am going to feel about what I make on the day. So its a surprise to me to be reunited with my own pots, post firing, and to re-discover their special qualities.

I can just see this swipe of my fingers in the image above. You won’t find that in a pressure cast or jigger-jollied bowl from IKEA.

This bowl also has a single iron spot in the glaze, just below the rim. It’s a bit like a beauty spot. I didn’t put it there, but I’m OK with it. This is a real object of beauty and interest. It isn’t perfect. It’s just gorgeous. It also shows my two stamp impressions. One is my initials, the other is the workshop stamp.

Finally there is the total lack of an obvious foot ring until you turn the bowl over and look underneath. I hid the foot recess inside the bowl form to minimise the weight, so as to keep this delicate bowl as light as is possible, but still have an elevated form that lifts it up off the table in a continuous elegant curved line. This is not true tenmoku form, but I think the it is better on this pot.

In the Longquan Museum we saw a lot of shards with loads chipped edges, shattered rims and broken bases. I loved this part of the display. It was all real. Many of the perfect examples had long ago been taken away to other larger collections, as this is only a smaller regional Museum. What was left in this Museum were all the other pots. I learnt a lot form looking inside the shards to see the very same qualities, problems and faults that I get in my work, using very similar materials and and almost identical techniques.

What I found particularly reassuring was that I am not alone. Someone else, 800 years ago also went through all these technical trials and difficulties to arrive in a similar place. Ultimately, there is the reward of the occasional lovely piece that survives.

This bowl is lovely, but what others probably don’t see, but I did, was what, at first glance, appears to the an incised line inside the bowl. That is easy to see, but it is in fact not an incised line, but a remnant of its making that appeared in the kiln during firing and wasn’t there when it was packed in the setting. It was formed in the fire. That wavy line is the raw glaze surface drying out and cracking slightly. The crack then doesn’t completely heal over when the glaze surface melts, but remains as a line in the glass. Perfectly fused, but hinting at its life before it became ceramic. I get it often in my glazed surfaces. It used to annoy the hell out of me, as there was no way that I could see to prevent it happening, if you fire long and low to make that particular satiny surface, it’s just what sometimes happens. If you fire hot, it disappears in the fluid melt at top temperature. This ‘scar’ is a relic of its process and making. I now look on these healed over cracks as an authentic product of the unique process that I indulge in.

Nothing is perfect. Nothing lasts. Nothing is ever finished, and that includes learning.

27 Kilns in 27 days – vol 3

Vol. 3. Recent industrial wood fired celadon tunnel kiln.

While in the Longquan traditional celadon region researching celadon, we took some time out to visit a former celadon factory, that was forced to close when the economy was modernised. It has now re-opened as a celadon museum/cultural park.

I found it a bit shallow and lacking in depth. That is to say what was there didn’t grab me. It may be of interest to the more general tourist, but there wasn’t enough there to speak to me, as I’m interested in the more intricate details and technical information/insights that could be included, but weren’t.

However, there was an old wood fired tunnel kiln that had been restored. This kiln was the main means of firing the celadons here right up until 1998. One can understand why it went broke and couldn’t compete with more modern factories with up to date facilities and equipment.

There was also an clay processing section that used the old fashioned water-driven, wooden clay hammers, that is a technology that dates back 1000 years. It was exactly fitted with the age of the kiln technology, So out of date for a factory setting, it is hard to believe that it managed to last right up until the 1990’s.

Clearly, this equipment hasn’t been used for many years, possibly since 1998? Just like the kiln.

All the pots produced in the wood fired tunnel kiln, were packed in saggers to protect the ware from the fly ash from the wood fuel, which is so important when making a subtle glaze like celadon.

It is interesting to see that sometime between 60 and 20 or so years ago, they wrapped some parts of the wooden roof frame with ceramic fibre to stop it singeing or charring during firing.

The saggers that were used in the kiln firings are these days used as retaining walls and breeze way walls.

27 kilns in 27 days. vol 2.

Vol. 2. The Long Quan Celadons

We take the bullet train out of Shanghai for the three and a half hours trip heading South West. We arrive at Lishui station and wait for a cab. There isn’t much at the station and the crowd that we arrived with soon disperse, but are soon replaced with another hoard of people from the next train. They all swirl past us, coming through in waves every 10 mins. There are just so many bullet trains passing through here with astounding regularly. It’s hard to believe. This is a very popular service. It must be on the way to somewhere more important, because this place isn’t anywhere in particular, that I’m aware of. But with 1.4 billion people needing to get around, even if only a small fraction of them live and work around here, it is keeping this service very well patronised. 10 years ago there were very few of these super-fast trains in China. 20 years ago there were none.

These days you can get to near almost anywhere quickly using this service, but mostly on the eastern side of the country. The government has produced a miracle in building this high speed rail system so extensively and quickly. Half of it is bored through the mountains in tunnels and the other half is suspended on concrete pillars above the valleys. It’s a masterpiece of engineering and it appears to run like clockwork. We comment on how Australia takes 5 years to make a 3 km road tunnel across Sydney. While the Chinese are building 3km of high speed rail infrastructure per day here.

Here in Lishui, we are about an hours car journey from our destination, as we wait for our car to pick us up. We try the local station food. This is just OK, not what I would usually want to eat, but I’m in a foreign country, so it goes down a treat.Anyway, there is only one choice. It’s a bowl of monosodium glutamate clear soup, with some fried tofu skin, 2 very small dumplings, a couple of dreadfully, scarily, luminously, bright pink ‘sausage’. I use that descriptor very loosely, and this is brought to life with some really great, bright red, slices of HOT, I mean very hot, chilli. A few drops of oil, some pepper and a lot of salt. It’s fantastic! I love it, but I try not to think about what was in the bright pink, extruded, sausage-like objects. I’ll never know. But when in Lishui, eat like a Lishuan! It was delishuious.

Our car arrives and drives at a little bit scary high speed to get us to our hotel for the night. We settle in and have a dinner of stirred vegetables. Soya beans and onion, mushrooms, fried tofu, steamed and then stir fried green beans, something brown that I don’t recognise, either in shape or in taste, which is quite bland and finally some little, green, mild chilis. something more akin to a small capsicum. It’s all delicious. but there is a lot of it, so I pass on the steamed rice and the soup.

The next day we are off to see the local Longquan Museum of celadon history. Longquan was a centre for the production of Celadon wares for several hundred years, from about the mid 900’s, through to almost 1600 – and it still is an important producer of high quality ceramic Art wares based around celadon.

Apart from Celadon, they also have some Guan ware and something that looks suspiciously like Ru ware, but can’t be, because Ru ware was only made in the Northern Song Dynasty. We’ve been tipped off, we have some local information, about an important new archaeological site. We spend our time dutifully taking in as much as we can in the Museum. But more importantly for me, there is the recently excavated archaeological site. I want to get some understanding of the early celadon manufacturing in these surrounding valleys. I have my pet theories, the possibility of seeing this site takes preference for me over other possible things to see and do while we are here.

The site is a half hour drive out into the country side. We wind our way out into the hills away from the fertile valleys. This is all very familiar to me. Even though I have never been here before. It is the same story. I can see it all unfolding. It has the ‘look’ that I recognise. These fertile valleys were colonised for food production first and pottery came later. The potters had to make do with the hilly surrounds where food production wasn’t a premium.

This is the same story or scene in so many other places where I have been researching in China, Japan and Korea. It also just happens that there are useful minerals to be found exposed in the wash-away edges of the streams up in the hills. This liminal country is very rich in feldspathic material I can see that from the car window. I’ve seen it all before. I call out to stop the car at one point. I say “We must be getting close now”! I can see out of my window, that we are passing a deposit of kaolinised porcelain stone. This is the local geology writ large in the road cutting. I recognise it from all the other deposits that I have studied over my lifetime of fossicking for porcelain stone and glaze rocks.

A pale vein of kaolinised feldspathic mineral, exposed in the road cutting.

If this is the local geology, of course someone would have been inquisitive enough at some point in time over the very long history of human occupation of these vallieys, to just pop a bit of that paler stuff into the existing pottery kiln where they were making earthenware and then later, stoneware, until finally they made porcelain. But it was only because the ‘stuff’ was here and available on site. No sericite and kaolin, no discovery of porcelain. It’s that simple.

The story is much the same where ever it happened in several different sites in a few different countries. If the suitable material was there, exposed near the surface, then it happened. If you are a potter, or several generations of potters. You can’t not make it!

We drive on, eventually reaching the dig site. All digging has now been completed and written up. There is a sign that tells all – but it is mostly in Chinese script and I can only decipher a bit of it using my phones translation app. But this is of little or no consequence, as the signage has a small section of English translation. How very thoughtful! Anyway, I’ve been in this situation before, and I know what I’m looking for and what I’m looking at in the most general sense. I can see what I need to see. As we wander the site for an hour, even making our way down to the small runnel of a stream at the bottom of the hill. There are even a few bits of broken shards in the water, all ground and polished into rounded edges of pale green celadon and off-white/grey-olive, guan-like glazes.

The story board tells us that along this stream was once a well-worn track along the banks that is mentioned in old documents. The finished ceramic work was carried out of this valley along here. We make our way back up to the kiln site. It’s a long tunnel kiln – or was. Only the base is left now. This site dates from 1000 to 1300. There are several layers of occupation/development on the site. The kiln has been partially excavated to reveal at least 3 layers of different kilns on the site over time. This site is called “Fengdongyan” and is 4.5 kms up stream from the small village of Daoyao. Daoyao village is where there would have been other potteries at that time. This higher and more remote pottery site was an ‘official’ government sponsored site. So it must have been important. Or so the info board tells me.

To extend my earlier proposition of the thesis that potters migrated up into suitable nearby valleys, Actually, I believe that they were pushed out by the farmers. I propose that the potters were originally farmers, who grew crops and made pots part time. Pots made from mineral rich clays from the valley floor. Something akin to red earthenware, fired in bonfires, or simple up-draught kilns made from mud, straw and shards. Over eons of time the space on the fertile valley floor became too precious for pottery making and firing. The potters who had by now become specialists, were relocated off the fertile valley floor and the now well developed paddy fields and their sophisticated watering systems.

the stepped tracing of the steep slope of the pottery site.

The potters now finding themselves on higher sloping ground, built their up-draught kilns into the sides of the slopes, becoming more like cross-draught kilns. This resulted in them achieving higher temperatures much quicker and with ease. The clays that they were close to on the slopes and valleys were better drained with certain fluxing minerals leached out. The clays became less fuseable, lower in iron and more refractory, needing the higher temperatures that were now possible, so paler stoneware bodies were evolved. etc, etc. Eventually semi cross-draught, down-draught tunnel kilns were developed because of their greater fuel efficiency and ease of achieving the higher temperatures. The rest is history!

When sites with porcelain stone were located nearby, in these valleys, it is impossible for me not too believe that someone like me, an inquisitive potter, could have resisted trying out this new white material. It needed a bit more work to get the kiln to mature it, it needed to go in the hottest spot, but it was possible, and therefore, at some point in time, it happened. The same porcelain stone body used for making the pots, could be mixed with limestone or wood ash and this now became a proto-celadon glaze that could be raw glazed, it’s that easy! It could be done, so it was done, it’s still being done! You only need 2 materials. Later, saggers were developed/employed to maximise packing and firing efficiency, but also to keep a lot of the wood ash off the beautifully refined glazes. Of course it didn’t happen over night, it took centuries. So much experimentation by generations of potters, each adding just a little refinement to the overall knowledge. That’s my thesis. I believe it. What is missing here is a clay supply. Why, this place so far up the valley?

When we were finished looking at this early Long Quan celadon site, we made our way back up the hill to the road, and on the other side of the road was a short track, that I hadn’t noticed previously, this led to an ancient mine site of very friable, crumbly weathered porcelain stone material. So this is why these potters migrated up here, 4.5 kilometres up this valley, away from the village, into this more remote spot, between 600 to 900 years ago. Now it’s obvious to me. They came here, all this way, simply because this is where the best material was to be found in its easiest, most workable form. No crushing required, just washing/blungeing, settling and stiffening. It all makes perfect sense to me. I’m dying to step off the walkway and go in and steal a little sample for analysis, but I resist the temptation. I’d put money on this stuff being a mix of sericite and silica, perhaps with a small amount of kaolinite or something similar. But I’ll never know!

In a way, I don’t need to. I already know. It’s just like every other site in a general sense. This place would fit very well into my book of ‘5 Stones’, except that I’ve already finished writing it. Every one of the 11 sites I studied in the 5 different countries, all fitted the pattern in some way, and every sample that I collected and and had analysed, with only one exception, contained sericite mica! That exception is Mittagong, where I live, where the mineralogy is similar but the mica is in the form of illite not sericite.

The mine site is quite extensive, it goes in two directions. I might imagine that they simply followed the softest, most plastic, easily dug material. I can see 300 years of potters endeavour, scratching out this hole here. It all makes so much sense to me.

I’m feeling really chuffed. This has been a really rewarding day. Even if nothing else happens on this trip. It has already been completely worthwhile for me.

Last Truffle of the Season

It’s so wonderful to be home again. I love being away somewhere exotic, learning something new and having experiences that lead me to make synaptic connections that I hope will lead to new ideas.

I really like to be back in my own kitchen too. I was very happy eating steamed and stir fried vegetables with offal every meal while in China. I cook a lot of steamed and stir fried veggies my self. I do tend to go a bit light on the intestines though, most, if not all of the time. Actually totally all of the time.

I’m back just in time to get the last truffle of the season. It was harvested while I was in China. My son Geordie kept it for me while I was away. He had it in his fridge for a week, safely stashed in a sealed container with 4 eggs on a bed of rice.

The weather has warmed up a lot this last week. I’m pretty sure that the last frost has gone. We have planted out a lot of summer veggies in the open in the garden. If I had been at home, I would have got some early seedlings planted out under my portable shrink-wrapped closhes a few weeks earlier.

We shared the truffle with Geordie, half each. It is a real beauty, so aromatic! A wonderfull, deep, earthy, sensuous, almost hormonal fragrance.

We decided to make scrambled eggs with shaved truffle and some garden fresh asparagus. Perfect!

I steamed the asparagus for a couple of minutes, quckiy drained and sautéed in a bit of butter with course ground salt and fresh ground pepper. Pretty yummy by itself, but totally excellent in combination with the truffled eggs.

I served it with a few shavings of piquant pecorino for balance.

I’m so glad to be back in the kitchen! The truffle was so big that we were able to get another meal out of it and have a repeat the next day for lunch. This time with a small glass of very fragrant and complex, wooded chardonnay.

It’s a hard life. But someone has to live it. I quite like being retired!

Clean air in Shanghai

I’m recently back from China. It’s my 4th trip there in 15 years. I’m always amazed. Each time for different reasons.This time I was amazed how clean the air was. We had only 3 days of smog during the month. On previous trips in had some days where I found it hard to breath. Maybe their efforts to clean up their environment are working? But I don’t travel regularly enough to know. It just could be good luck?

This is Shanghai where we arrived and spent a day in the museum. We were there at the Museum before the doors opened and stayed inside looking at everything until they asked us to leave when they closed the doors.The Museum was a very popular destination it seems, as there were already a 1000 people in the queue to get in when we arrived early. Everything beautifully organised with people queueing in a very orderly fashion, in the zig,zag, hurdles, just as you get in airports to keep it all neat and orderly. As it was 38oC the Museum had placed water misting fans at various places along the queueing system to help keep us cool. There were also a few industrious folk selling very cold water in bottles from ice filled ‘eskyies’.
The Museum had erected shade covers all along the lines of waiting patrons. It was all most impressive.

The Museum was great. It’s a good collection, of course I was especially interested in the ceramics, which didn’t disappoint. I won’t bore you with too many images, suffice to say that there was too much to see and 7 hours wasn’t enough, but was too long, in the way that we get when we spend a long time in Museums. We get museum blindness, so after 2 or 3 hours we have to find the coffee shop. Which doesn’t exist in China, not even in Shanghai with all its international flavour and influences. So I spent a month without real coffee, or any coffee at all. No big deal. There was a product by that name, but it wasn’t coffee!I got used to weak green tea. Quite different from the Japanese super strong, slightly slippery, alkaline tasting, high caffeine, sen cha. The Chinese green leaf tea is mild by comparison. We got through the day with just 2 art-blindness, sit-down, recovery breaks.

This was a nice pot!

This begonia? bowl looked to me to be every bit like a simple microcline or possibly a plagioclase felspar and water, kind of pink blushed shino glaze. I wouldn’t have called it a celadon, but hey. What would I know? It appeared to be very low in calcium with no hint of green about it.Colour me confused. It was a really gorgeous pot!
This was a very nice opalescent glazed object. Interesting use of both ‘zun’ and ‘jun’ in the English translation of the Chinese?

It had a lovely depth to the milky opalescence. I’d have a guess at there being 1or 2% phosphorous in there somewhere, as bone ash, with the rest being 2/3 , or 3/4 felspar and another 1/3rd , or 1/4 ash? Somewhere between 2:1 and 4:1.


This Guan bowl was also very nice. Pity about the images through smudgy fingerprinted glass.

This is a superb pot. I really like guan ware. No! I love them! They really hit my Ge Spot. I’m an old guy and I have an old guys tastes. As always, I am principally interested in all the oldest pots. I start to loose interest at about the Ming. Maybe that is when my blood sugars start to run low:)

So that’s it. I won’t bore you with any more. That’s 7 hours and 1000 images condensed into a 5 minute read, and 12 images.
I didn’t go to spend too much time in Shanghai. It just happened to be where the airport was on this trip. I haven’t been there before, other than in transit. My real interest was in getting out into the country side to visit the smaller pottery towns and villages. Our next stop was to check out some celadon wares.

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.