From the Perspective of the Artist in Residence – Intro

Artist in Residence (AiR) programmes enable artists to take time and space away from their usual environment and commitments, to reflect, carry out new research and to explore their practice in depth and develop new skills.

Experiencing life in a new culture, working within a different community, making new friends and using the local materials all add to the experience.  The conditions offered by AiR studios are conducive to creativity, skills development and idea exchange, through providing space and specialist facilities for the artists to use.Kawakami sensei

The Shigaraki Ceramics Cultural Park (SCCP) in Shiga, Japan has welcomed over 1000 ceramic artists and others from 49 countries to the Artist in Residence programme since it began in 1990.  (See my post ‘Shigaraki Ceramics Cultural Park: A site for creativity’).

This year SCCP will host the International Ceramic Art Workshop and Symposium, ‘From the Perspective of the Artist in Residence’ to celebrate its 25th anniversary.

The purpose of the symposium is to discuss and learn about the state of international residency programmes. Visitors and guests will include residency hosting organisations and artists, designers and other creative professionals who have partaken in residency programmes.

The current global economic climate has hit the creative sector hard.  Many residency programmes are struggling and it has become more difficult for artists to find ways of sustaining their own studio practice, let alone financing an AiR project.  Funding cuts in the arts have also affected the numbers of artists applying to AiR programmes.  Right now as artists and creative thinkers we need the kinds of places and resources offered by AiR programmes more than ever.

Can the global recession and changes in society present an opportunity to re-consider basic conventions and plan for a different future for international AiR programmes?  Imaginative and practical approaches need to be considered to sustain AiR through such difficult periods and this may be a point of discussion at the symposium.

To highlight the true value of being an AiR, I would like to give the Perspective of the Artist in Residence.  I will introduce some of the Artists in Residence at SCCP and share with you the inspiration they took from being involved in the AiR programme alongside their own personal comments.  I will also thread my own experiences into the post and show how the programme influenced my own work.  This will continue in the next post coming soon!

In the meantime here is a link to SCCP’s 25th Anniversary Commerative Event:

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Kanayama Kiln, Part 2 – The Firing

Kanayama Interior (3).ds

Here is some of the work ready to go into the Kanayama kiln for its first firing starting Friday 2nd September, 2005.  The work was placed in groups related to their position in the kiln and marked with red wash (that burns away during firing) to indicate their location to make kiln loading easier and more efficient.  With this preparation the kiln loading would only take 1 or 2 days.

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Shigaraki Ceramics Cultural Park (SCCP) technical staff/ceramic professionals Kojima San and Matsunami San patiently wait next the Kanayama kiln ready to help load the kiln.

The images below offer a peek into the empty interior of the kiln before loading – to understand more about the making of this kiln, please see my previous blog post.

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Thursday 1st September, 2005 – Loading the kiln from 9 in the morning to 5 in the evening.  Most of the work loaded into the kiln were raw unfired ceramics with the odd one or two pieces which had already been bisque fired.  The loading started from the back of the right tunnel to the front followed by the back of the left tunnel to the front.

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The above images show the work being passed into the kiln down to the end of the two tunnels through a line of people inside.  At the front of the kiln, balls of wad clay (high refractory clay) were stuck underneath each piece of work before the work was passed further down the tunnel.  The wad clay separates the ceramic from the kiln shelf and prevents the clay or glaze melting and attatching itself to the shelf.  This work was a collection of pieces from local ceramists in Shigaraki, the technical staff and resident artists at SCCP who all helped to build the kiln.

Below are some images taken from the damper at the end of the kiln, of the very first pots being loaded at the end of the right tunnel.  Entering the damper space/chimney exit to take these pictures was like climbing down into a deep Japanese bathtub which indicates the large size of the damper.

After the kiln had been loaded up, a small space was left in the firebox area (the space at the front where wood is stoked into) between the kiln entrance and the first layer of ceramics.  The door was then bricked up.

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Electrical pyrometer reading machines were connected up to the different areas of the kiln to give indications of the rate of temperature increase during firing.  These weren’t to be relied on as accurate temperature measurements.  The temperature was gaged by the colour of the flame and using cones set on the kiln shelves in different parts of the kiln.

Kanayama loading (30).ds    Kanayama loading (32).ds  Kanayama loading (31).ds

A few days before and during loading, wood from the surrounding forest was being cut and prepared for the firing.  This was strenuous work especially in the hot, humid mid-summer heat.  The chopping was done with axes, hammers and wedges to cut the wood into smaller sizes that would fit through the kilns stoking holes. Chainsaws and machinery were used for the initial larger chunks of wood.  When I was moving a large bundle of red pine to be chopped into stoking sized pieces, I found a snake hidden away underneath, which gave me a fright but it soon slithered away!

Sweets were placed above the kiln as an offering to the kiln gods.Kanayama loading (27).ds

and prayers were made to the kiln god.. mainly to protect the work placed inside the kiln against the ferocious flames of the kiln.Prayers to the kiln god.dsa bottle of sake was probably poured around the kiln too.. I can’t quite remember, but that is the normal custom.  I remember that I was intriguied by the beautifully packaged sweets on top of the kiln and wanted to eat some.

Then the kiln was lit from the front.

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Some pictures of the firing..

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Below is a group picture of some of the team involved in firing the kiln.  A kiln of this size cannot be fired alone or with just two or three people – it requires group effort and great teamwork.  The potters in the Shigaraki community are used to working together to prepare and fire wood kilns.Group pic.ds

Unloading the kiln was an exciting event and also filmed for the local news channel.Unloading.ds

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The hottest area in front of the kiln – the firebox, had a bit of a meltdown so many of the pieces of work at the very front slumped, warped and cracked in the intense heat.opening the kiln.ds

All the work was taken out of the kiln and placed on the grass in front, and positioned to match its location in the kilns left and right tunnels.  This allowed us to see and analyse the different effects of the flame and wood ash deposits in the different parts of the kiln.

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Here’s a view of some of the ceramics from underneath with wad clay still attatched or already knocked off.  The wad clay that separates the pots from glazing or melting to the kiln shelves can easily be removed after the firing. Kanayama unloading (10).ds

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Here are a few of the broken pieces.

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Below is an example of the unique qualities of Shigaraki clay.  It fires a warm toasted orange colour and the pieces of shamotte mixed into the clay melt into white glass-like beads or water drops.  The bowl on the right has been tinged with green from copper flashing – this could have flashed from a copper glaze on another object close by.

Some final pictures of people searching for their work, discussing and comparing results  and discovering the transformation of the ceramics loaded into the kiln 1 week earlier.

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Kanayama Kiln, Part 1 – Rebuilding a 16th Century Kiln

Kanayama (46).dsKanayama (47).ds

In 2002, the old ruins of a ‘Kanayama’ wood-burning kiln were discovered in Shigaraki, Shiga prefecture, Japan.  Information gathered from the ruins was used to rebuild the ancient kiln at the Shigaraki Ceramics Cultural Park (SCCP). In this post I have documented the journey of the re-making of the Kanayama kiln through a series of images following the brief introduction below.

The Kanayama kiln is an anagama-type tunnel kiln built for firing ceramics and contains a long central wall inside the kiln that divides the interior space into two separate tunnels. It is notably unique because it has two tunnels inside instead of the usual single tunnel of most anagama.  This type of kiln was used until the end of the Muromachi period (mid 16th Century) in the Shigaraki area.

The ancient kiln ruins were excavated by the educational section of Shiga Prefecture Government and the Kanayama kiln is named after the place where the ruins were found, near the entrance to the expressway in the northern part of Shigaraki.   This was an exciting discovery, but the local community had known about the kiln for many years.

Following one year of careful planning and six months of materials preparation, the rebuilding of the kiln started in October 2004 and took two months to complete. The project was carried out by a team of ceramics professionals working in Shigaraki and led by ceramic specialists at SCCP. The kiln was rebuilt to closely follow the original design.  It was important to the people of Shigaraki to recreate the Kanayama kiln in order to find the roots of Shigaraki-yaki (Shigaraki ceramics) and to understand more about its historical development.  

Kanayama (1).bc.dsFirst stage – Drawings contained in Shiga Prefecture Government’s report of the kiln were used to develop 3D models of the kiln.Kanayama (2).bc.ds

The models provided valuable information for planning the kiln building process. They helped determine the internal and external dimensions including the number of blocks required and enabled visualisation of the various parts of the kiln at the correct gradients. The initial planning was the most lengthy process of the project. After locating a suitable space in the grounds of SCCP, the site was cleared and levelled to the correct gradient and dimensions.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA       In the image below, Sugiyama San discusses the structure and framework of the kiln with the team using the research developed from the 3D models.  The ground was measured, then markings were made to map out the kiln foundations and the scaffolding was set up.Kanayama (3).bc.ds

Kanayama (4).bc.dsThe contours of the exterior walls are marked and tied into place with rope and the central dividing wall and fire box area is clearly indicated with red paint.

A roof was erected to cover the site and protect the kiln from unpredictable weather.



The white bags in the above image are full of sand.  The sandbags were used when building the kiln walls to prevent expansion.

When the digging of the foundations of the firebox began, ground water was released from below, which, needed to be drained away by a pipe in the ground. The floor of the firebox is being layed in the picture below.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Kanayama (9).dsBending bamboo to form the tunnel arches. The bamboo was curved to precise dimensions.

Many of the bricks used to build the kiln were hand-made. Some ready-made firebricks were used too. It took about 6 months to make the bricks and prepare other materials for the kiln.

Kanayama (10).ds                                                                   Beginning to build the interior and exterior walls with bricks.Kanayama (11).dsA range of different sized bricks to fit the kiln were hand-made by a team of people led by Ishiyama San, Tsumori San and Sugimoto San. The brick making involved a lot of physical labour.  The surfaces of the bricks were scratched before they were fired, to create a rough texture for the cement to grip firmly into.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe bricks were made from a high-refractory clay for strength and to reduce distortion under the high temperatures and fierce conditions in the kiln. A high fireable cement was used to hold the bricks securely in place, which worked very well. Here’s a view from the back of the kiln. The draught box and chimney entrance is marked out with wood.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe heat and atmosphere is extremely intense in the firebox at the front of the kiln, so this area requires extra strength and support.  During firing, the kiln bricks could easily distort so large stones were used at the front of the kiln to help retain the kiln shape.

The ancient Kanayama kiln builders of the 16th Century and before, didn’t use bricks to build kilns. The original Kanayama kiln was dug like a tunnel directly into the mountain and had no chimney. The old kiln masters only started using hand-made bricks for kiln building after the introduction of the noborigama climbing kiln. (See my post ‘Hot Flames’, to learn about noborigama).

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The original dimensions, materials, form and structure of the ancient kiln are preserved, but it has been brought into the 21st Century through the application of contemporary processes and techniques in its construction.  The main framework was created with bamboo and  supported by sturdy wooden blocks for extra support. The bamboo and wood were tied together to secure the structure in the correct places.Kanayama (16).ds. Building up the walls and the roof framework of the right tunnel.Kanayama (17).ds     The structure of the firebox area is now strong enough to support the weight of people.Kanayama (18).dsMore and more bamboo is added to create the structure of the right tunnel. This looks like an incredible piece of artwork in the form of a bamboo skeleton!Kanayama (19).ds

Kanayama (20).dsThe right tunnel is almost complete and the structural support remains inside until the bricks have been placed and set.

The left tunnel has yet to be started, but the interior support structure is already in place.

Forming the curved roof structure of the left tunnel – the curves are not easy shapes to create.  Building the kiln involved a lot of great teamwork and communication.Kanayama (21).ds

Here are some images of the kiln sides being bricked up.

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The roof was then bricked up.

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Now the kiln is almost finished and covered in a plastic sheet to protect it from the rain.

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Here’s the chimney.

Below are some views of the almost-complete kiln. Machinery is being used to return the earth to the kiln area and up around the walls of the kiln.

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The kiln starts to look like it has been dug into the mountain. Large stones are visible around the firebox area at the front of the kiln. Kanayama (46).ds

A first few glimpses into the interior of the kiln.

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The interior wooden framework structures are removed.Kanayama (49).dsKanayama (50).ds Ito San checks the left tunnel wall.

The building of the kiln was completed on 4th December 2004 after two months of hard work. An outer covered area was constructed to protect the kiln front and firing materials from rain and snow.Kanayama (52).ds                  The kiln was dried out thoroughly before the first official firing. These images show the flames during the initial heating of the kiln. The first official firing was planned to take place in Spring 2005, but this was moved back to the summer of 2005.

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In the next blog post I will share my experience of firing this kiln in 2005 – during the kiln’s first firing.  Thank you to Sugiyama San, Matsunami San, Ishiyama San and Kojima San for kindly answering my questions and providing me with some great images.          Visit Shigaraki Ceramics Cultural Park here:

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Rosanjin & Sakura Spring

RosanjinThe changing seasons have strongly influenced Japanese arts for centuries and permeate all aspects of Japanese culture.  Festivals throughout the country are held to celebrate different aspects of the seasons from ‘Hanami’, (cherry blossom viewing) in Spring, to ‘Tsukimi’ (moon viewing) in September and ‘Momiji’ (leaf viewing) in Autumn.


Rosanjin a Japanese masterchef and artist captured the essence of the changing seasons within his work.  The ceramics above are inspired by momiji.  The tableware used in many restaurants throughout Japan changes with the seasons as it must appropriately suit the atmosphere and the food of the season.  Therefore many potters are often asked to supply restaurants with four different sets of tableware.  Presentation of food is extremely important in Japan and traditional hand made ceramics for food and drink is highly valued.

Rosanjin strongly believed that the objects upon which food is served can influence the flavour of the food and the whole eating experience.  After not being successful in finding ceramics of an acceptable standard for his own food, he trained in ceramics in order to produce his own tableware.  Most of his tableware has a strong connection to the seasons using colour and texture often in a minimal and rustic way.

As Spring has arrived, I have shared some of my cherry blossom images below. I hope they will inspire!

kiyomizu temple kyoto.ds At around this time every year Japanese cherry blossom known as ‘sakura’, bloom for about a week, sometimes longer or less depending on the weather.  Viewing the cherry blossoms and picnicking underneath their branches has been part of Japanese custom since the Nara Period (700AD).  The cherry blossom viewing ritual is know as ‘hanami‘ which, literally translates as ‘flower veiwing’ and takes place all over Japan.  One of the most visited places during hanami season is Kyoto.

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Nanzenji Temple, Kyoto

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Heian Shrine Garden, Kyoto

Maruyama Park and Gion at night, Kyoto Gion Kyoto 1.ds Maruyama Park, Kyoto.dsGion Kyoto 2.dsMany of my favourite cherry blossom pictures were taken in Tsuruga along the Japan sea in Fukui prefecture.. pictures coming soon

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Tokoname, a town built from ceramics in Japan

Tokoname.1Imagine a town where the foundations of buildings are made from ceramic pots, walls are built from ceramic sake bottles and various designs of ceramic tiles, plates, bowls and cups are set into the pavements.  This town is Tokoname named after the slidey or slippery feeling of clay and it is located along Ise Bay in Aichi prefecture, Japan.  The town has a long history of ceramic production as it is one of the six ancient kiln sites in Japan (see my previous blogs on two of the other sites, Shigaraki and Echizen).  Tokoname is well-known for the manufacturing of tiles and sanitary ware in the INAX factory and there is a great INAX musuem in town.  Tokoname also happens to be the largest manufacturer of bonsai pottery in Japan, which links nicely to my previous blog about the bonsai exhibition!

Watch this space as I’ll add images and writing about this beautiful ceramic haven soon..Tokoname shop window 1.ds

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Natural Flux, Concrete and Bonsai

SabinaJuniperNatural Flux was a show held at Brick Lane Gallery in November 2013, conceived and curated by bonsai artist Peter Warren, who is based in London. The aim of the show was to exhibit bonsai trees, as a contemporary art form and to bring the powerful beauty of this art to a wider public.  For this exhibition, I was invited to create containers for some of the bonsai in Peter’s vast collection. Nine other creatives working across media also provided work to contain, display or surround the bonsai.

Peter accumulated his bonsai skills through rigorous training under a leading bonsai master in Japan and from his work internationally, teaching and caring for bonsai. Peter trained for 6 years in Japan, day and night, adhering to the strict rules of an art with a deep-rooted historic tradition (stretching back over 1000 years in Japan) while also developing personal focus and sensibilities to bonsai. The embracing of tradition is evident in many aspects of Japanese culture; a classic example is the study of rituals such as the tea ceremony, yet,  Japan is also a place that provides us with advanced breakthroughs in modern technology. It is a culture full of symbiotic relationships, one of the most evident being the one between old and new and a respect for tradition sitting hand in hand with cutting edge design and technology.BonsaiTo explain as simply as possible a bonsai is ‘a tree in a pot’.  It is a miniature tree that mimics the shape and style of a full-scale tree.  The growth of a bonsai tree is restricted due to the container in which it is planted and through continued cultivating and shaping.  A seedling, small cutting or tree specimin begins in a training pot and is moved to a display pot just before it reaches its final size.  Traditionally special antique ceramic pots are selected to display the bonsai and many considerations are made when deciding on the style of pot for the tree and I’ll write more about this later.  The container plays a significant role in the life of the bonsai and is as important as the tree itself.  Breaking down the word bonsai 盆栽, bon 盆 translates as tray (referring to the container) and sai 栽 translates as planting (meaning the tree).

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Most bonsai exhibitions throughout the world, particularly in Japan, are hooked in tradition and bonsai are almost always shown in antique ceramic pots to accentuate the importance of the art. For Peter I imagine it was a little risky to probe new ways of interacting with and understanding bonsai by challenging the more traditional ways of displaying bonsai.  As far as I am aware this is the first exhibition of its kind; the result was an enticing and engaging collection of work that opened many eyes to the art of bonsai and harmonious relationships that could exist between the bonsai and a range of materials in different forms.

Below are a few more images from the show.7.IMG_9725.c                           Young female hawthorn
oak.3.ds        English Oak

5.Japanese Maple1.ds  Japanese Maple2.Accent planting.Rabbits foot fern 1.ds  Accent planting, Rabbits foot4.Accent.Sabiner 1.ds  Accent planting, Sabina Juniper

1.Hawthorn 1.ds                                            Cascading hawthorn

6.Hawthorn 3.ds Hawthorn

13.Sloe 1.ds                     Sloe tree

9.Moss.Japanese flowering quince2.dsJapanese flowering quince, moss ball kokedama

14.Accent planting.pine 1.dsAccent planting, Pine

Untitled-1                                       Potentilla

Natural Flux website:

Saruyama Bonsai, Peter Warren


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Porcelain. Where does it come from?

Continuing with the subject of porcelain, in my previous blog I introduced how porcelain was first produced in Japan via the Koreans.  To go to the original source of porcelain involves travelling back through Korea to China a few centuries earlier. The site is Mount Gaoling close to the town of Jingdezhen in Jiangxi province, China.  Jingdezhen MapFrom first encounters with the incredible Song, Yuan and Ming Dynasty porcelain from China that entered Europe via trade routes to Africa and the Middle East, Europeans for a long time strived to discover the secret of this mysterious white clay.  It wasn’t until 7 Centuries after the Chinese started producing porcelain that the Europeans discovered the secret to making porcelain in the 18th Century.

The secret lay in one of the core ingredients, kaolin (Al2O2 2SiO2 2H2O).  Kaolin is what gives porcelain its whiteness, because it is a primary clay and generally over 95% free of impurities.  The word ‘kaolin’ is derived from the mountain village ‘Gaoling‘ (‘high ridge’), which rests 553m above sea level just outside Jingdezhen.  It was in these mountains that kaolin was discovered and from which the first porcelain was produced. Below are images of the kaolin dusted paths through the forest and the old mining tunnels.Gaoling mineKaolin is an example of a residual clay mined directly from its source.  Having hardly been subjected to erosion and weathering and pushed along the landscape like secondary clays, kaolin generally remains in larger particles and is therefore not as plastic as other clays.  The leaching out of alkalis and impurities leaves a pure white firing clay that can be taken to high temperatures.  Porcelain is also special because of its ability to vitrify to translucency without collapsing.

In Europe, ‘China clay’ is the name frequently adopted for kaolin.  Porcelain clay is composed of mixtures of quartz, kaolin/China clay, feldspar and ball clay (ingredients can vary slightly).  Each ingredient has a its own special effect on the way the porcelain matures in the kiln and performs.

The kaolin mined in Gaoling was crushed to finer particles using water powered trip hammers which are still running at the site today.

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The kaolin was washed in water pits.DSCN1143.ds

I will add more to this at a later date.







Posted in Ceramics, China, Kiln sites, Materials, Process | 1 Comment