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Oriental versus Western glazes

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Within Nigel Wood's "Chinese Glazes" is a quote from Shoji Hamada, "My recipes are simple, my materials are complex."    Western glazes recipes tend to be long and exacting - 12% this, 1.7% that - and so forth.  Oriental glazes tend to be really simple, for example, a classic Korean celadon is, by weight, 3 parts porcelain clay to 2 parts washed wood ash (the 1% iron content is in the clay body).   Sounds  easy enough.

It is not so simple.  The chemical composition of every natural clay is a very complex mix of silica/alumina/feldspar and a dozen other oxides, and wood ash chemistry varies widely by not only species - pine ash is quite different  from oak -   but by locality, and by bark, leaf, and trunk.  The differences between various regional wares  often has less to do with design aesthetics and  processes, and more to do with local materials; it is what works  using what they have.  

While  American potters are often proprietorial about glaze recipes, Japanese almost never are; they are happy to explain exactly how they do things, because you really cannot copy them - your clays, your glaze materials, your kiln, etc., are not the same.   Western potters know what they want in a glaze, and are disappointed if they don't get exactly what they had in mind.  Koreans and Japanese use simple, reliable recipes, and appreciate and both potters and buyers accept  variations due to the impurities of the materials.    Western artists often know more technically, and make technically better glazes.  Asian glazes are more interesting, for the content are often a mystery even to the makers.



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I think whether they are more interesting is a personal appraisal and I think it depends what you are after.  

It all comes down to a very different philosophy of making and processes but they both have good and bad points. I wonder if people in Japan who do electric firing still use these local handmade recipes for their glazes or if they have switched to more standardised glazes. I mean, while what you said might be true of traditional japanese ware, I don't know if this is still accurate in the modern ceramics landscape of Japan

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Guest JBaymore

Hum........ a kinda' sweeping generalization about both Japanese and Western potters there.  (Speaking as one who also "lives" in the combined world a lot, both philosophically and physically.)  The materiality business in Japan  is very true about the genesis of the regional wares....... as it is a part of geographic determinism that influences so much about Japanese culture....... but there are many western potters that approach their process in much the same way as the "generalized" Japanese profile above.  And I know some contemporary Japanese potters who are very "technical" in the scientific  sense. 

Note for those who don't know that Hamada Shoji basically had a technical ceramics 'engineering' type degree before he became a handcraft potter.   Behind that "folk potter" exterior lived a very well educated man.  Going back 50 years....... Hamada-sensei  was the "guiding light" for how my own life in clay developed.  One of the core aspects from my take-away from him was that I developed my technical expertise heavily so that I could then 'let that go' and work intuitively. 

Serendipity can be pursued in many ways.  "Interesting" can be achieved in many ways.  There is Japanese work that I find "interesting".  There is Western work that I find "interesting".  And the opposite.

Let's not forget the major Japanese ceramic production centers that are very technical and industrialized.  Look at places like Seto and Tokoname and Arita.   Heck, look at Mashiko these days........  some very "technical" production places there alongside the studio artists.   Look at the technical giants INAX and Noritake.

I often work in a large  woodfiring operation in Japan.  Sitting alongside the multiple anagama and noborigama kilns where all of the production is fired is an unobtrusive  small wooden building.  Inside that building is a computer running Rhino 3-d modeling software connected to both a 3-d scanner and a CNC machine (no 3-d direct printer yet).   That supports the production they do using literally all of the possible forming methods available.

At one pottery in Bizen, there is a lovely Bizen-style noborigama that I've visited during a firing sitting in a very traditional wooden building with lovely roof tile and carefully tended gardens outside.   By the kiln, all looks like maybe it did 100-150 years ago.  But if one looks carefully and knows what to look for (and are allowed to wander around and see the reality), you find the 'back room' behind the kiln with the  large multi-channel digital pyrometer system with a chart recorder and the flue gas analyzer. 

One of my main glazes is 48% local granite, 50% wood ash, and 2% local red clay. Tweaked off that batch by batch as materials vary.


And Alex, I too am one who is more "at home" in Japan than in America.  When I come back to the USA... reverse culture shock sets in.


Judith,  I happen to have spent some time visiting with the Kondo family in Kyoto a bit.  (Decedents of Kondo Uzo... Ningen Kokuho in porcelain.)  They fire reduction electric now since the air quality laws in Kyoto prevent not only woodfire but also gas reduction firing.  Yes, they use very "traditional" recipes for the glazes and still use stuff like gosu (impure ore) for the cobalt brushwork.

You are there in Tokyo...... do you get a chance to get out and explore the ceramics much?





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7 hours ago, JBaymore said:

You are there in Tokyo...... do you get a chance to get out and explore the ceramics much

Yes, I have visited Bizen, Arita and Kanazawa (even though there I saw only pieces in shops, couldn't go to studios). Next stop is Kyoto and the Raku pottery.

Too bad for the air quality regulations but I guess that's also a chance to explore other processes. Thank you so much for sharing so much John, I had a feeling you would pitch in on this topic ^^

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