The boundless variety and stunning beauty of natural leaves provide an inexhaustible source of not just inspiration but the actual material for decorating pots of various shapes. In working with leaves, it's amazing to discover that they come in different shapes even when growing on the same branch. Since I could never aspire to draw leaves by hand as gracefully as nature actually produces them, I use real leaves that I press into soft clay to get their detailed outline and texture. Colorful underglazes and translucent celadon overglazes leave room for creative innovation.
Faceting round pots after they have been thrown on the wheel and pressing the clay (usually porcelain) out from the inside, makes the pots take on graceful geometric lines where the facets meet the uncut clay. In addition, if pushed out hard enough, the facets start to reveal the inner structure of the clay through random cracks, often deep in the clay, that conjure up winter landscapes in the mind of the beholder.
For many of my customers, these pieces have become indispensable pieces of cookware. They are made out of stoneware and can be used to cook or reheat food in a microwave, as well as in the oven, provided a bit of caution is observed. Despite having been fired above 2200 degrees Fahrenheit, they should never be placed in a preheated oven as they may not survive the thermal shock.
Through my wife and her family who spent a long time in Japan, I was introduced to Japanese art, including a form of brush painting called sumi-e. My mother-in-law mastered the art of sumi-e and inspired me to use it on clay. I was helped in that by a local Japanese sumi-e artist, Aiko Shimura, and a local Chinese potter, Tracy Griffith, who both conducted workshops in brush painting.
As in the case of my faceted pots, I create the surface texture of these pots by stretching the clay from the inside once the pots have been thrown on the wheel. But I first cover the outside of the pots with a slip (a liquid clay), which I let dry till it hardens. When the clay is then pushed out, the surface skin develops cracks and takes on this amazing wavy texture, reflecting both the thickness of the slip and the degree to which the clay has been actually stretched.
Shino is the name of a rather finicky glaze that originated in Japan more than four hundred years ago. This is how my shino mentor, Malcolm Davis, described it: "It is wildly variable, undependable, uncontrollable, unrepeatable, difficult and unforgiving." Like him I got hooked. I have been experimenting with overlapping different kinds of shinos and even other glazes--which is supposed to be a no, no! I found that the copper in copper-red glazes actually migrates to the shino-glazed pots during the firing, and adds red tinges to the latter pots, creating beautiful and often unpredictable results, as seen in these photos.
Teapots are among the most challenging pieces functional potters make, and I'm no exception. They require a lot of detailed attention, especially to the shape and placement of the spout; is it high enough? Since it continues to turn in the course of the firing, will it end up pointing in the right direction? Is its edge sharp enough, so that the teapot won't drip, etc., etc.
This new type of work (for me) is based on a Japanese tradition where different types of clay are combined and wheel-thrown. In my case, I use layers of porcelain and dark stoneware which I wedge first as little as possible before throwing the pots on the wheel. Trimming and/or faceting the pots brings out these incredibly rich and varied patterns that are unique to each piece.