in 2007 I was privileged to meet the master potter Shiho Kanzaki at his home and workshop in Shigaraki, through some very dear Japanese friends. we tipped up on a Sunday afternoon and introduced ourselves out of the blue. Shiho san is a very courteous and friendly, somewhat ascetic person, who loves to share himself and his pots, and his world view, and while my friends talked to him, I was invited to look at his work very thoroughly.

in his book, “Encounters with Fire, Encounters with People” which is available as an e-book on Amazon, he says some very interesting things about the creative process, and being a creative person. in living his life to the full, aware of the Infinite, and of his debt to it, and to every person that he has encountered, he can create his own ceramics, without pride and without the sense that he had accomplished success through his own efforts, and in gratitude. he says everyone has his or her own task, and each has a responsibility to fulfil that task – no-one else can fulfil it. his task is to “create his own ceramics, pieces that cannot be made by anyone else. his pottery is not made to please others, or for the sake of novelty, or to show off his technical expertise.” …..” either we live in confusion, rushing to and fro, misguided by short-sighted calculation and self-seeking, or we become fully ourselves and openly live our lives in the freedom of our essential inner natures.”

shiho kanzaki

Iga vase, iga hanaire. h.25.5cm, by Shiho Kanzaki

one can see a creative practice as an indulgence, as a form of narcissism. “what’s it for?” “why am I wasting precious resources making pots which are not necessary for daily life”. Shiho san  makes me feel that I am doing the right thing, following the path that my creative instincts tell me to. I am encouraged by my friends, and I am grateful to many friends and many encounters – a whole web of circumstances – which have meant that I am here, writing my blog about making pots in a particular way, which is my own.

“strong feeling” is an expression Shiho san often uses about those pots which have undergone ten to fifteen day wood firings near or in the firebox of his kiln. my most recent firing contained several pots that I would describe as strong, with some kind of intensity produced by the clash of materials used on them, not by long firing. I fire my gas kiln for about fourteen hours, but there are other ways of making “strong feeling” pots, I think.


for this firing I felt very confident that I could produce a lot of pieces with the oxide/crackle slip/chun layering, so two thirds are glazed this way. after the scraping off episode when I glazed the last batch I was fairly careful, but inevitably I was tempted to push just that little bit further with the thickness of oxide, slip and glaze. I almost overdid it on one piece and the whole lot started to crack off where the double dipping made it thickest – but I pushed it back on while still damp. some of that did fall off, and there were blobs of glaze on the kiln floor around it, but the pot itself was fine. this chun glaze is very forgiving – and the thickness gave me these wonderful blue coloured runs.

01 front black ice flagon 35 x 26 cm

I haven’t had the blue happening much on the chun for the last two firings and I was wondering if the new batch was different – but it was just a matter of thickness, and something to do with the firing as well, because on some of these it is only on one side.

05 black ice scored flagon 23 x 18 cm

on others where the chun isn’t so thick the black iron oxide appears to be bursting out from under the layer of slip.

10 black ice flagon 26 x 13 cm

I have a lot of pots that I can glaze this way – as this one, which had been hanging back for a good while now, with no inspiration from me on what to do with it. using the oxide means I don’t have to worry about which clay the body is; they all work well with this combination.

07a black ice funnel vase 26 x 17 cm

the other third of the firing was with the ash glazes – really the most interesting is the unwashed ash.

16 detail unwashed ash glazed platter 4 x 31 cm

I cleaned the glaze off the feet more thoroughly, and the firing was not quite as reduced and not quite as hot as the last one, so I didn’t have ash melt all over my shelves.

16 unwashed ash glazed platter 4 x 31 cm

you can find images of the whole firing here