One of Korea's most respected Tea bowl master's,
Chan Han Bong, is seen here forming a Tea bowl.
He does not measure. He simply knows the feel of the bowl.
He does not measure. He simply knows the feel of the bowl.
I recently received comments from a new potter and decided to address them as a post rather than in the comment section.
Comment: As a new potter I have a hard time with sizing the tea bowls I am trying to make. I am using a shrink ruler when I throw, but sometime it is still hard to see the finished bowl in it's fired size.
Response: I have come to believe that a chawan should fit your hands naturally. (Your hands - the potter’s hands.) The old potters were not so concerned with exact sizes for tea bowls. But contemporary artists and connoisseurs have analyzed the sizes nearly to death. Chassabal range in size from 12 cm to about 17 cm in diameter. The Kizaemon Ido is H. 9.1 cm by D. 15.5 cm.
That isn’t to say that the old potters didn’t measure in some way, but obviously not because there was a ‘size’ for rice bowls/tea bowls. I doubt that the old Koreans measured with a stick as much as we do today either. The old potters didn’t worry about so many things.
Forming from the mound, the Korean way (that is slightly different from the Japanese way), allows you to place your hands under and around the clay and gather just the right amount of clay each time. Then the same movements are repeated and the bowls come out very close in size. Potters who do this a lot can be spot on, even edge-to-edge and depth-to-depth, without measuring with a stick. Yet, that may not be their goal. (I couldn’t find any correct ways on the YouTube.) But, filling ones hands with the right amount of clay is a type of measuring. If the old potters measured with a stick, most likely they measured because one bowl was to fit inside another bowl in the kiln. On the other hand all chawan artists know that most bowls, particularly of the "ido" type naturally fit within each other. The early Korean potter had no shelves so they stacked their bowls within each other with wads of clay under the each foot.
At the same time, I personally have little against measuring with a stick as long as we are not a slave to the measurement. Of much more importance is the feel and that should be our goal.
Another way to look at measuring is to think about the Western and Korean need to measure. Koreans have always been more relaxed. Things don't fit as tightly in Korea as in the West. For instance in the West a man's pants are measured to fit tightly and a good tailor is one who can do this very well. In Korea, traditional man's pants are loose and baggy because a waist is something that is always changing. Does a bowl not work as well if it is a little larger or smaller? The feel should be our goal. For Tea, a bowl is too large or too small not because of a measured size but because of feel. It should fit the hand. At a certain point the bowl becomes too small or too large for Tea depending on the feel.
Many contemporary Japanese tea bowl artists and their followers use a tombo or dragon fly potter’s tool. Tombos give both width and depth measurements. A tombo is not difficult to make and easy to find on the web.
It is easy to get carried away with too many potter’s tools so don’t get drawn in by all the possible tools one can find. After a while the tools take over. Tools are a little like too much candy. We like the variety, but too much is not good for our health. I say this, as one who designs potter’s tools.
One more point, there are many schools of Tea and many types of Tea bowls. When playing 'tag', you should not try to chase everyone at the same time or you will catch no one.
Comment: I have been making a white slip, and after reading your post, I am going to dip some of my bowls in it. I am wondering if there is something I can add to my slip to make it glaze-like after firing? I am using cone 10 clay body and slip and the firing is gas reduction.
Response: As for altering your slip to be more like a glaze. Even as a new potter, you already know what to do. If I were a seon-saeng-nim (선생님) - teacher, I wouldn’t say anything more. But being a Western potter, I suggest that you blend your slip with feldspar, ashes or even a glaze, possibly all or some of these together. How much of each needs your intuition, not mine. Whatever you decide, do what comes naturally to you. Remember that most buncheong pieces were glazed with a clear glaze after the slip was applied.
Dipping a trimmed bowl completely into slip may not be as easy as it looks. Once you have tried it several times let me know how you are doing.
Incidentally, chassabals were/are fired at around cone 7 not cone 10. Someday I may write about why but not now. I don’t want this blog to become a blog for too many technical discussions. As Hamada once said, “Technical things are important but we must go beyond them into nature.”
I’m not suggesting that you alter your firing temperature, just letting you know.
It is difficult to be in touch with our natural selves. One of the most difficult obstacles for a new potter to overcome is "being uncertain". Conviction is close to the heart of doing any task well. Try to find within you all the meanings for the words ‘intuitive’ and ‘natural’. Relax. Perhaps meditation before working and/or drinking some cups of whole-leaf green tea or a bowl of maccha will help.
Incidentally, just because something is done with “conviction” doesn’t make it good or even acceptable.
In everything we do, there are several “ways of being”: emotional, physical, perceptual, intellectual and spiritual, to name the primary ones. Each way should take its natural place in making a dawan-chawan-chassabal or tea bowl.
Most people are employed by these ways of being; we must employ them. Of these ways, the intellectual is of least value for chawan.
But, here I am, writing words and engaging in intellectual pursuit - much easier than the doing. Much better is the doing.
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