Kirsten Murray


Personal musings on all things creative.

Ceramics: the Japanese way


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.


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.


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.