October 29, 2010

I took a trip yesterday to Sanqing Shan, a national park that is a few hours drive from Jingdezhen. I went with four other students from our group, and a Chinese friend who came along to help out with finding our way. It was incredibly spectacular. I had really wanted to go to see the ‘pointy mountains’ and I was not disappointed, at all! We spent most of the day on a walkway that was essentially a sidewalk attached to the cliff face, as well as up and down many stairs..

Along with the scenic beauty, it was definitely an “Americans in China” experience. We were photographed a lot, especially when we stopped to make a lunch of peanut butter sandwiches. All day we heard a lot of ‘Hello’, ‘Where are you from?’, ‘laowei’ (foreigner). However, I do confess to gawking at some of the outfits that Chinese were wearing to a national park: high heels, purses and suits!


This sign was by the cable car that we took to get up into the park. Any insight into the meaning, readers of Chinese?

The signs around the park were all in Chinese, Korean, English and French. I noticed, based on my limited French, that the English and French translations were quite different. For example, one that read in English “Watch the ancient trees” read in French something like “Do not hit your head on the trees.” Since the trees did not look particularly ancient, I think the French was probably more useful.

Now we are back to the studio and city life. When we first got to the mountains, the clean air was quite noticeable. It seemed like the most delicious, pure air I have ever experienced.

I’m off, as it’s the dinner hour; next post I’m sure I’ll be back to reporting on clay.


Time flies when….

October 24, 2010

Time does seem like it is starting to fly here! I have been neglecting the blog, partly because I don’t know how many times I can make working in the studio seem interesting, and partly because the days have been going by in a blur of making work, firing kilns, excursions around town and learning a smidge of Mandarin.

A few highlights: Last week was the annual Ceramics Expo in Jingdezhen. We went to the opening day, which was extremely crowded, and saw a wide variety of both commercial and individually made work. My favorite thing we saw were some very large (maybe 2 feet by 6 foot) carved tiles.

Later in the week, I visited a tile factory. There, they make a variety of sizes of tiles. Artists come into the shop to paint or carve them, and then they are fired on site. A few people from the group have been painting tiles this week – one of the countless ceramic opportunities available here. I don’t know of anywhere in the US you could walk in and paint on a 2 foot by 4 foot tile – let alone for a cost of roughly $15.

This man had two assistants on hand to tilt the tile, to control the direction of the stain he was painting.

Lately, I have really been appreciating Jingdezhen as an incredible place to be a  ceramic artist. For those of you who have been here – I know you understand! My routine includes walking to the glaze shop to pick out a new glaze, which comes in a re-used plastic bottle, weekly lectures from international artists at the Pottery Workshop (a residency center in town), picking out new tools or brushes from one of many shops, and a daily popsicle. (they’re delicious).

OK, I’m a bit on the tired side. We are firing a gas kiln tomorrow – so I will make an effort to post some pictures of those pots.


October 14, 2010

As promised, here are some shots of studio progress. I am working on some press molded plates and hard slab construction. As well, I’ve been throwing a fair amount of pots, for the soda and wood kilns. We have fired the soda kiln twice, and are gearing up for a wood firing next week. I find it a little strange that we use these kilns, as they are not traditional very few Chinese have access to these types of firing. But, as with most things here, I am going with the flow.

I have been given some encouragement to paint and draw on my work, and am giving it a whirl. Basically, I am using the patterning work on slabs as a point of departure, rather than an end unto itself. We’ll see where the investigation ends up.

This plate was fired in a public kiln in Jingdezhen. I did not want to wait until there was enough work to fill the gas kiln here, so I brought it to one of many public kilns. I dropped seven pots off one morning, and they were fired and ready by the next morning, for the cost of about $3 US.

In other news: I have been following news related to the Nobel Peace Prize, awarded in Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo. Because I have a VPN (Virtual Private Network) on my computer, I am able to read it. However, if I look online with the VPN off, it is heavily censored. I am curious what the long term effects will be for China – on its tolerance for dissent and free speech, and its relationship with other countries. Here’s a link to an article on China’s Nobel dilemma:

It’s been rainy and cold here, which has been good for my studio productivity! However, I do have a bit of cabin fever and am looking forward to the forecast of clearer weather and more exploring.

The Streets of Jingdezhen

October 7, 2010

My blog seems to be functioning again, so here are some photos. The woman in the photo is my friend Lane, a ceramics student at JCI. She is standing in her studio, which she rents in town. She can only access the ceramics studio during class time, so she has rented the space to have more time to work. It is located in an older part of Jingdezhen which is full of ceramic activity – slip casters, throwers, kilns, tool makers, glaze shops, etc etc.

A note about the name Lane – that is her English name. It is common for younger Chinese to have a chosen English name; the names tend towards the unusual. I have also met a Fish and an Arrow. Lane speaks pretty good English, though we certainly don’t always understand each other. It is great to have clay in common and we have spent a lot of time looking at books and discussing work that we like. Students here have little access to a lot of the technology that US students have, particularly atmospheric firings. On the other hand, they have quite a lot of traditional techniques at their fingertips.

Today marks one month in China. I find that my attitude fluctuates wildly between counting the days until I return to the US, to wishing I could be here much longer. In terms of the ceramic possibilities, I can see that two more months is not nearly long enough to explore everything I am interested in. As far as day to day life – I will admit to being a bit homesick.

Next post, some images and words about my studio work. I promise. If there are any other requests for things you’d like to see on this blog, send them my way!

Fame and fortune

October 7, 2010

I’m having trouble uploading pictures to the blog at present, so this entry will be short.

However, I have a link to pass along. Shortly after we arrived in Jingdezhen, we were visited by a delegation from Savannah, Georgia; apparently they have a sister city relationship with Jingdezhen. It was an odd experience, to feel like a tourist attraction for Americans in China. They had a reporter with them, and lo and behold, I have appeared in the US press. Here’s the link:

It’s been a busy week so far – we’ve had demonstrations by a slab builder, brush maker and an underglaze demo.I have made friends with a Chinese ceramics student, and she has shown me some interesting parts of the city. Photos soon, I hope!

I have had a request for information on what I am working on in the studio. You might notice that I have been a little quiet on that subject. It has been tough for me to get my bearings in the studio. Mostly I have been going through the highlight reel of things I have made in the past. However, I have started to find a bit of forward direction and I promise a report once my photo upload capability returns.

To Yixing and back again

October 3, 2010

I’m in my dorm room in Jingdezhen, listening to firecrackers (it’s another holiday) and wearing a long sleeve shirt (cooler weather has arrived!)

This past week, we visited the city of Yixing, which was about a seven hour bus ride and close to Shanghai (the acute blog reader might take note that the bus is MUCH faster than the train). Yixing has a long history of ceramics and is particularly well known for its teapots. Most of our time there was spent, well, looking at teapots. We were given a crash course in bartering, which I basically failed. It was great to see so many well made objects. We visited some artists’ studios, and I managed to communicate to one of them that I work with clay, and she let me try my hand at teapot making. That was definitely a highlight of the trip for me.The part of Yixing that we stayed in is fairly developed and feels much more modern than Jingdezhen.

The area in Yixing where we stayed was fairly wealthy and developed, compared to Jingdezhen. I drank some coffee from McDonalds and some of the group visited Pizza Hut. Most of the clay, however, was in another village outside of Yixing, which was more reminiscent of Jingdezhen.

We returned to Jingdezhen on Thursday night, and it definitely felt like coming home. I’ll be here for the next two months, working in the studio and eventually taking Chinese. We do not have class this week because of a weeklong holiday commemorating the founding of the People’s Republic. I did get to practice a lot of basic Mandarin in Yixing. (Hello, How much? Very good, No good, Thank you, I don’t understand). I find the pronunciation to be so slippery that being understood when I say anything feels like a major accomplishment.

“Takes the paper mouth” was underneath a paper towel dispenser.

Pots, pots and more pots

September 25, 2010

Yep, sure do feel like I’m in the ceramics heartland here!

It’s been a pretty uneventful week; I’ve been working in the studio quite a lot and have been a little delinquent with photography. Highlights of the week have been the Mid-Autumn Festival, or moon festival. There weren’t that many festivities, really, but we did go to dinner at a hot pot restaurant, which was indeed hot. Eating out for meals has given a whole new meaning to the term ‘family dining’. I have renamed the Lazy Susan the “Angry Susan” because of the frustration generated when a dish you want has almost made it around to you, and then someone reverses the direction.

Today was another field trip day,  within Jingdezhen. We went to an ancient kiln site, a big pot factory, and the porcelain museum. The ancient kiln site was great to visit. It covered quite a large area (84 hectares, according to one sign), and included quite a few working artists, a plethora of gift shops as well as the old kiln. Most of the photos on this post are from the site. In the photo with the big chimney (below the trash cans), the smaller house-like structure is actually a wood pile.

Discovering English translations is one of the more amusing aspects of life here. At times they seem intentionally funny – but given the number of people I have met who have a reasonable command of English (maybe 2), I think they are accidental. We saw this vehicle today as part of a wedding procession, and concluded that the last letter was a sideways E. You might also take note of how close the bus we were in is to the back of the car! Driving in China is not for the faint of heart.

However, I should not be too critical of anyone’s English, given my still pitiful Mandarin. We had one class this week, but none the rest of the week due to the holiday. We are spending next week in Yixing (another ceramics hub), so the Chinese is unfortunately off to a slow start.