“Do-tougeikan” Pottery School

Make a piece of tableware that brings out the flavor of your food

Take up the challenge of creating an original piece of art

Ceramics have a feeling of warmth to the touch, perhaps because their main material is earth. Especially with something you have made yourself, you can feel a deep significance in the piece even if it is a little misshapen. The authentic pottery school, “Do-tougeikan”, presided over by the ceramic artist Kazuhiko Sato, welcomes beginners and holds a hands-on ceramics workshop. So, I went to try it out (photo 1, 2).

The workshop offers three options: a 2-hour hands-on pottery course, where you can shape the clay and decorate it with a pattern; a 1-hour ceramic painting course in which you can paint onto an unglazed, already fired plate; and a 1-hour gold-leaf painting course, where you can take home your creation on the same day.

I wanted to make my own original piece of tableware, so I decided to challenge myself at the hands-on pottery course.

What to make?

First of all, I have to decide what to make. Samples are on display near the entrance, so it’s easy to visualize your creation using these as a reference (photo 3). You can make rice bowls and teacups, as well as plates, beer mugs, aroma oil burners, and more. I heard that making figurines of TV characters is popular with kids, and there are even people who make haniwa, which are ritual terracotta figures from ancient Japan.

Around 1kg is provided for us. This is enough to make one large item, or around two small ones. If you want to make more pieces or something larger, it’s possible to increase the amount of clay for an extra fee. The motto of this school is that the customer’s requests are the number one priority, and everybody should enjoy themselves as much as possible.

The clay used here is an original blend of earth from the Shigaraki area - an authentic, subdued red clay, also used by ceramic artists. After forming the shape from the clay, you can paint a pattern onto it using white and red slip. When a piece is glazed and fired, the finished article has white and brownish sections on a gray base. Bearing this in mind, I tell the instructor about my concept for my piece. I decided to make a largish bowl, just the right size for stewed dishes.

First, the instructor explains the pottery method while demonstrating on a sample. The whole process was explained at once, so I got rather worried that I wouldn’t be able to remember it all. This must have showed in my expression, because the instructor said to me kindly, “It’s okay. I’ll show you again partway through, and I’ll answer any questions you have”.

I start making my bowl by the “coiling method”, piling the clay little by little onto a round revolving platform called a “manual potter’s wheel”.

I’m looking forward to my finished creation!

I start by kneading the clay provided before me. It is cool to the touch and moderately hard. The kneading does not require much force. About as much as slapping the surface of the clay is enough. Strictly speaking we are supposed to knead clay for quite a long time, but this stage of the process is already complete.
I make a thick circle of clay, around 1cm high and 15cm in diameter, on the manual potter’s wheel. This part is the base of the bowl. Then, I make a long string of clay, about 30cm in length. Making sure this is a uniform width seems like it would be easy, but was surprisingly difficult. I place it on top of the base (photo 4). This is easy to accomplish if you turn the manual potter’s wheel as you do it. My next task is to flatten the clay of the string-like part upwards. The trick here is to place your thumb and forefinger at the bottom and pinch the clay between them. It works well if you turn the manual potter’s wheel little by little.

After flattening the clay to a width of around 1cm while turning the wheel, I then make another string in the same way and place it on top. When I repeat this process three times, I have made something that somehow looks like a small bathtub.

Next to appear is a spatula shaped like a comb. Using this, I smoothen the parts where the coils are piled, and form the shape of the bowl (photo 5). Finally, in order to flatten the lip of the bowl, I insert a thread - like a kite string - from above, and spin the wheel round. In the same way, I separate the base from the potter’s wheel.
So, next is painting on the decoration. Using a type of clay called slip, in white and red varieties, we can paint patterns and pictures, or carve away the clay to make our own truly original creation. After firing, the base clay will turn gray, and parts painted with the white slip will turn white. The red slip, however, turns to brown in the kiln. I settled on a simple design, with the lip portion in red and the whole of the bowl in white, painted on in a swirling pattern with the brush. What do you think? I did a pretty good job, huh? (photo 6)

The workshop ends here, but in the following one to two weeks, Do-tougeikan will dry your creation, bisque-fire it, apply glaze, then glaze-fire it, and after around 45 days, deliver it to you (the delivery fees are extra). There are various discounts available, such as delivery fee-included group discounts and family discounts. Of course, you can come to pick it up yourself if you prefer. I’m looking forward to my finished creation!!


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by Kanagawa P.G.T.D.

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