Coming back to where
Ever the grass grows, sipping
The warm glow of spring
As I grow older, more and more I treasure the feeling of going back home, having a meal with my parents and siblings. It was not always like that - I imagine most of us go through a phase of always looking out the window, chasing the next dream, admiring the greener grass anywhere but where we find ourselves.
But nowadays, I often find myself looking forward to family outings or family dinners, where we don't actually celebrate anything much but just laze around, maybe play a song or two, and complain about the Covid situation.
Once in a while I still allow myself to dream a little bit about going to some faraway land for a long vacation, but most times, I just think about coming home. Where the heart is!
Back to these vessels - I really love how the yellows came out when we don't actually have yellow glazes in our inventory! Our client wanted to express the image of young grass and sunlight from the poem 《游子吟》- "谁言寸草心，报得三春晖" (Who can say how the hearts of these little blades of grass can repay the nurturing light of three springs?), and I had already prepared her that it was unlikely that I can create the look of grass just from our glazes. But turns out, the vertical strokes of the brush created streaks of thick and thin that reacted with the clay below to give the greens and yellows with just our green Copper Rust glaze! But don't ask me to do it again, I don't know how haha!...
Presenting one of the most profound and indescribable joys of my pottery journey so far:
Who can relate to this?
When you have a commission to make 8 identical teacups of 7x7cm and you cut out 1.4x kg of fresh clay to throw all 8 cups off a single hump and then you think hmm that's maybe a little risky and you grab roughly a handful of recycled clay and wedge it all together and then throw the hump and make 7 identical cups one by one and the last bit of clay left is just right to make the last cup with NO CLAY TO SPARE.
Here's a hastily taken photo for me to remember this deeply significant milestone in my pottery career! (Our cat obviously doesn't share my enthusiasm but it's ok)
And by now you might have discerned that one half of Studio Asobi probably has a mild OCD issue. Guess who? 😅...
There was a moment, a few years ago, when we removed our rings from our fingers.
No emotional triggers of course! But as potters, it is not a good feeling when one carves a deep spiral gash in a vessel just before it is completed. So we started removing our rings while working, and I remember posting years ago about how my ring was lost for weeks before we discovered that our cat had kicked it under the storeroom door!
Gradually it just seemed to make more sense to keep our rings in a safe place, rather than repeatedly putting them on and taking them off. And so we did, quietly, without any rituals or renewal of vows or anything.
But you know the thing about removing your wedding ring... It allows things to seep in, doesn't it? Fats, for one. And then maybe an unresolved disagreement here, a careless harsh word there. A missed opportunity to cuddle, to say I love you. And these things add up don't they?
So, it is with a fair bit of childlike excitement that we dug out our rings again at the start of our sabbatical (incidentally in the tenth year of our marriage), and agreed to keep them on for the duration of these 6 months at least.
Meaning there will be accidental scratches, some hard knocks, and a gradual wearing down of the patterns etched into our rings. But why not?...
These photos captured on film, are part of a collection taken by Jonathan Levi (@chronicler.photography )for his upcoming photo book “Journey”. This book is a show and tell of the stories of artisans across different generations in Singapore. Find out more about the book at his profile from Jul 2021 onwards.
Things break down, and when they do, we can either repair them, buy new ones, make new ones, or do nothing about it. As potters, there is no real excuse to buy new pottery, and so here are our soon-to-be new dinner bowls because we have languished in the "do nothing about it" state for way too long!
Where else in our lives are things breaking down? What are we doing about them?...
MIND OF A BLOSSOM
For a brief moment
I shall embrace the heavens
And be on my way
This faint, ephemeral pink has been one of the highlights of our brief but exciting glaze making journey so far. Pinks are difficult to achieve, at least from what we gather from various glaze chemistry resources. You can either make use of an expensive rare earth element like Erbium, or you can combine Tin Oxide with a tiny percentage of Chromium Oxide to achieve what is known as a Chrome-Tin Pink. Chromium Oxide, usually a green colourant, turns pink in the presence of Tin Oxide but only with the right base glaze formula - enough calcium, not too much boron, no magnesium, among other requirements. Too much or too little of any of these minerals and you can end up with greys, purples, or nothing, which of course happened to us many times along the way.
Different amounts of Chromium Oxide can also give different shades of pink, all the way to a deep burgundy. So after lots and lots of testing, we have created some reds we are happy with (ok at least one of us), but this pink glaze (we named it Blush) was created with no Chromium Oxide in our formula, just Tin Oxide. It was a complete surprise to us because we had been trying to get a clean opaque white using Tin Oxide, and instead discovered this remarkably consistent pink more or less by accident! As far as we can guess with our limited understanding of glaze chemistry, it is probably due to some Chromium impurities in our base glaze components, but the verdict is still out because different batches of raw materials have all produced this consistent pink so far.
So it's a highlight because we didn't do anything to deserve this pink, except simply being there to discover it. And that is why pottery is so exciting! It's art, it's function, it's rigorous scientific experimentation, and it's magic. But magic is also in the eye of the beholder - not everyone is awed by the same things, or to the same degree.
It is my great hope, that in the time I have on this Earth, my mind will be in a constant state of wonder, no matter how much I learn along the way!...
Let our clothes be soaked
As we run through white grass fields
You are my shelter
Finally delivered yet another challenging project brought to us by Downstairs Coffeeshop Noodle Brother. It wasn't entirely his fault - all he wanted was a pendant with his girlfriend's name, for their first year anniversary. But I thought, wouldn't it be nicer to have a pair so that she can wear his name and he can wear hers? And then after finishing my noodles, I thought, why not have both their names on each pendant, one character on each side? He thought it was a fine idea, and that's when the trouble started!
To have double sided pendants, they needed to be suspended during firing so they can be glazed on both sides. No big deal, except I forgot that our glaze flows when firing, and so it pooled at the base of the pendants. No big deal either, except that the characters extended near to the bottom of the pendants, and so the pooling glaze obscured half of the word 夏 on each pendant. No big deal too, except that 夏 is his girlfriend's name...
These things happen of course, and we are used to such issues. So no big deal as well, except that their anniversary was exactly the day we opened the kiln and discovered this problem...
Thankfully, when nice people do business with each other, it's always a good ending! Made another pair, changed the glaze thickness and character positioning, discovered on Google how to tie a Tiffany bow, and delivered in time for the extended deadline!
And well, in the end, gifts are still just things aren't they? It's still the laughter, the warm touch, the gentle word, that makes all the difference....
He is one who loves unsparingly,
Knowing how to have joy like a little boy.
Mediating peace even as he suffers hurt,
Patience flowing like a meandering river.
His kindness extends to strangers,
He seeks to do good even though he can get misunderstood.
Faithful to God and family,
Gentle and not a harsh being.
He is my beloved, and a great father:)
Happy Father's Day, Kenneth! ♥️
Special thanks to Jon for the photos taken at an earlier shoot too.
These photos captured on film, are part of a collection taken by Jonathan Levi (@chronicler.photography) for his upcoming photo book “Journey”. This book is a show and tell of the stories of artisans across different generations in Singapore. Find out more about the book at his profile from Jul 2021 onwards.
Let the ocean dance
To the rhythm of our hearts
As we sail away
As a boy, I never liked the colour blue. Maybe it was because boys were supposed to like blue, maybe it was because it is a primary colour, I don't know. But then, somewhere, I saw my first photo of a lagoon, and fell in love with the colour turquoise. It's like, blue that has life - shallow, glistening seawater with just the right mix of suspended silt and algae, and far enough from civilisation to be untainted by human pollution.
For me, it's the colour of holidays, of being alone with the one I love, of floating in the water with the balmy breeze caressing my face and no one to tell me it's time to go back home, because I'm already home....
Haven't been having many good days recently. Tiredness, relationship issues, creative block, all these things can really mess with one's heart.
Well one good thing about having a pottery studio is that there are these really mundane yet beautiful things to do, perfect for when you just don't feel like doing anything. Here's one - making glaze tiles. Our previous post showed the individual cut tiles, and here's what they look like before being removed from the wheel.
There are many ways to make glaze tiles. Some potters use molds, others roll and cut slabs, we prefer to throw a cylinder with a footing and cut it into equal segments that can stand on their own and look almost the same. It's not the most efficient, nor necessarily the most elegant, but it is still efficient and elegant enough for a studio like ours.
So today I squeezed in some time to make one of these, and it's really quite therapeutic to know that I'm making something useful that needs to get done anyway, but that I still get to experience the peaceful and familiar feeling of soft wet clay speeding through my fingers, silently growing and transforming, not needing to look beautiful or perfect, but still looking beautiful anyway.
I usually make a cylinder big enough for 32 tiles, but today I thought I'd try throwing to the edge of the wooden bat, and ended up pretty satisfied with the 40 tiles that it yielded. Showed off the process improvement to Huiwen, who, noble wife that she is, gave me a very affirming "Wow, good job!"
It's hardly noticeable when they are placed like this, but all of these tiles are actually very slightly curved, as they were all part of a cylindrical band thrown on the wheel and cut into 32 equal segments.
In other words, they look straight on their own but fit into a perfect circle when placed side by side.
Yes we are all taught to embrace and even glorify our individuality, but sometimes it can also be really powerful, and beautiful, to belong....
We would hardly consider ourselves "pro", but over the past 7 years playing with clay, our lives have certainly been impacted a great deal by this humble dust of the earth! If you've enjoyed our workshops, our art, or our writings, we'd love to have you join us for this little online session we are doing with library@orchard. We will share some of the insights we have gained over the years, answer any questions you have about pottery or running a pottery studio, and also throw in a live demo on the pottery wheel! To register, just click on the link in our bio! See you on Saturday!...
PORTRAIT OF AN OLD COUPLE
He stares straight ahead
She gives him a fleeting glance
Both grinning inside
We made this pair of cups for @chronicler.photography and his wife. Jon spent a precious afternoon in our studio, taking our photos and showing us photos of other artisans he had interviewed. I was very taken by the heartwarming portraits he took of this old couple (carpenters I think?), and when these cups came out of the kiln, their colours also reminded me of an old, wizened couple. Their forms are different of course, but their surfaces both have this uneven, almost carelessly aged quality, like two bronze sculptures left exposed to the harsh elements for a little too long.
I wonder what our portraits would look like when we are old. I wonder what kinds of feelings would go through our heads when our portraits are taken. It's good to wonder about these things, don't you think? I think that wondering and musing about how the future might feel like helps us begin to craft our postures in the present.
So right now I have this little scene in my head, for when our portraits are taken decades from now. I'd be standing here, and you'd be standing here, and you'd be thinking, "His lips must be starting to cramp up by now, and he's probably wishing he was doing anything else but taking a photo." And I'd be thinking, "She's panicking about her hair again, that bunch at the side that always curls out of place and sticks out of her head." And we'd both be chuckling inside, knowing how awkward the picture is going to turn out, and thankful for yet another thing to laugh about afterwards :)...
In this secret place
Time freezes to a standstill
And we come alive
I remember, in the middle of our honeymoon (wow 10 years ago), we hiked up Fox Glacier and met with the most breathtaking sight. A flock of kea cloaked in brilliant orange and green, circling overhead and then descending all around us. White snow on the slope peppered with orange dust carried across miles of ocean by Australian sandstorms.
And then, stooping down, we stepped into a little nook carved into the glacial ice, and looked up to see a wondrous, glowing blue hue spread out above our heads. I never knew that ice turns blue until I found myself surrounded by ice for the first time in my 30 years of life. I stared and stared, and were it not for our guide bidding us to move along, I would have huddled inside and just sat there till it hurt.
These days, life seems to have lost a little of its colour, hasn't it? Could we all, once in awhile, peel our minds away from what is right in front of us, and let our spirits be swept off the ground like that dust of the Australian earth, drifting across the ocean into the land of our dreams, wherever that may be?...
Things we took a really long time to get done, and then wished we'd done them a long time ago:
1. CUTTING OUR KILN SHELF IN HALF.
For years we had to bear with the inefficiency of firing tall matte vessels which had to be placed at the bottom of our kiln where the temperature is lower, but which also occupied a lot of previous space. We always felt we needed some half shelves, but nobody sold them for small kilns like ours. One day we randomly ventured to ask one of our suppliers if he could saw our extra kiln shelf in half, and to our surprise he readily agreed and cut it perfectly! Now we use them all the time.
2. BRINGING OUR WEDGING BOARD INDOORS.
For years our plaster board occupied different awkward spaces in our exposed balcony, getting worn down by the elements and making wedging (so fundamental to a potter) a sweaty and frustrating process. Until one day we decided enough was enough, and moved our entire tool cabinet and wedging board into a convenient corner of our living room, securing an upcycled plywood top against the wall so the heavy wedging board doesn't cause the entire cabinet to sway. What a difference it makes, to be able to wedge in comfort!
3. INSTALLING A BALCONY AWNING.
It might seem like the most no-brainer thing for a west-facing home like ours, but we worked under the annoying glare of the afternoon sun for years before we finally decided to ask for a quotation. Completed in a few hours, and now afternoons have become our favourite time for work!
4. INSTALLING A FLEXIBLE SINK TAP.
Just bought this from the hardware store and fixed it up today (I'm really proud of myself) after 10 years of living with a fixed tap that couldn't wash our pots and pans nor our large pottery equipment properly. Volunteered to do all the dinner washing tonight because it felt so good!