I was obviously not looking up when I chanced upon this very important sign on the pavement outside Ang Mo Kio MRT station, but at least I wasn't too engrossed in my phone screen (yes I was looking at my phone) to notice it!
This sign was placed in the direction of pedestrians exiting the station towards a busy junction, and I imagine it is to reduce the risk of accidents. But what a pertinent message this is for our lives in this season we are in. How much of our time has been wasted, how many of our relationships have been diluted, how much beauty around us has been ignored in our preoccupation with our mobile devices? Of course, it is not the lifeless devices that should take the blame, nor the social media platforms, which do connect us positively in ways never before possible. Rather, could it perhaps be a weariness of heart, a narrowness of mind, and a barrenness of spirit that lulls us into keeping our gaze lowered instead of lifted? And leaving us snugly cocooned in the comfort of triviality while those wings on our shoulders remain folded, shrivelled, never able to stiffen and spread open in the light of the sun?
And it is not just our devices either, isn't it? What about our preoccupation with that insensitive remark, that wealthier neighbour, that unhealthy habit, that stumbling emotion?
May I have the courage, the wonderment, and the humility to look up from where I am - towards whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - so that I do not get blindly struck down by the oncoming traffic of this world....
AT THE EDGE OF THE SHORE
You are kind to me
Ebbs and flows soothing my soul
Before I step in
Some days I have many words to write, some days I can hardly find words anymore.
So I try to think about the sea, even though I hardly go there. I imagine for a moment that the waves actually know me, that they are cradling my soul, rocking me gently and telling me that this too shall pass....
I was filled with dread as we learnt of covid cases in two nearby preschools (one case each). I share in the anxieties of parents with young children below 12 as we move into the endemic phase of the nation. Apart from taking precautionary measures, seems like all that is left to do is to pray.
“既然无处可逃，不如喜悦。既然没有净土，不如清心。既然没有如愿，不如释然。” - 丰子恺
This quote by Feng Zikai, roughly translates to:
"Since there is nowhere else to go, why not rejoice?
Since there isn't a piece of untainted land, why not clear your own heart?
Since things are not going as you wished them to be, why not let go and get over it."
He wrote these words way before the pandemic but they sure sound applicable for our times! As Nightbirde also said, "you can't wait until life isn't hard anymore before you decide to be happy."
P.S. this bowl's glaze didn't exactly turn out the way we expected but it is still pretty isn't it? :) Things may not go how we want them to, but we can choose our response and make it a happy one!
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!...