Kirsten Murray

Blog

Personal musings on all things creative.

Ceramics: the Japanese way

 
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Last month Creative Bloq interviewed me about making things with clay, for an article on creative hobbies. Here’s what I had to say...

1. When did you take up ceramics and why?

I first started making ceramics about 10 years ago, learning from Edinburgh-based artist, Jenny Pope. I then went on to do weekend workshops with Cyan Ceramics and a week long workshop in Croatia with Julie Montgomery-smith and Tim Betts.

Because the whole creative process is done by hand, ceramic making is the ideal creative outlet when you spend a large part of your day looking at a screen.

I also think it’s amazing that ceramic objects can last for thousands of years. The oldest known ceramic work in the world is The Venus of Dolni – a nude female figure dating back to 29,000–25,000 BCE. We’ve gleaned so much insight about how people used to live throughout history, thanks to ceramic artifacts.

 
 
 
 
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2. Why did you decide to study in Japan?

The first time I visited Japan, I was hooked - the temples, ancient traditions, architecture, cherry blossoms, train jingles, packaging design, and the warmth of its people. And what could be better than learning the craft in a traditional pottery town that’s been making ceramics for a thousand years?

I felt that to make significant progress with my skills, I’d need to practice every day. So I decided to spend a month at Kasen ceramic studio, in Akazu, Seto.

 

3. Is it more about the results or the process? 

My sensei (teacher), was Hiroshige Kato, a 12th generation ceramic master and fan of Fleetwood Mac (aren’t we all?). On my first day in the studio, he showed me how to spiral wedge - the Japanese method of getting air out of the clay. I felt frustrated and inept. Why was I not able to pick up this technique? It looked so effortless. He then told me it takes 3 years to master spiral wedging and 10 years to become a master at throwing pieces on the wheel. The lesson: if you focus on the process, the results will take care of themselves.

I rarely feel satisfied with the results of my work, because I'm always thinking about what I would have done differently and how I would make improvements. I think that’s why, for me, the process will always be more gratifying than the results.

 
 
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4. Has ceramic making influenced your day to day design work in any way?

At every part of the ceramic making process, something can go wrong - resulting in a cracked pot or a wonky bowl (that was supposed to be a mug). So you recycle the clay and start again, learning something with every piece.

I used to feel that if I worked hard at something there needed to be a tangible reward. And that what I create has to be perfect. 

There’s a Japanese philosophy called wabi sabi, which embraces and finds beauty in all that is imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete. It’s a great approach to any craft - and to life.

It’s been particularly helpful to apply this thinking to my design process – focussing on progress over perfection. And it is those very imperfections that can give design authenticity and a personal feel to them.

 
 
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