Ceramics: Akiko Hirai

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I love the beautiful contrasts in Akiko Hirai’s Kohiki ware, it looks strong yet delicate and I was fascinated to learn that it is inspired by face powder. Two worlds collide – make-up and ceramics – I hadn’t thought about glaze like that before. Trust me, Akiko’s combination of white on black clay is difficult to pull off. It’s a look that I’ve been trying to emulate recently and I’ve been far off the mark! Perhaps I can pass it off as adolescent experimentation? Akiko’s work is available is several great shops and galleries, including The Cold Store, Maud & Mabel, and Mint, and I am delighted that she agreed to be next-up in my series of Q&A’s with inspirational makers.

Tell us a little about what you make?
I make tableware and large decorative jars that are inspired by antique storage jars.
What materials do you use and why?
I use coarse stoneware clay. I like the texture and feel of it. I also mix in very coarse grog which appears on the surface of the pots when thrown thinly.
What techniques do you use and why?
I use white slip on a dark body. It is called Kohiki ware. The direct translation from Japanese is ‘powder blown ware’, the metaphor of women wearing white powder make-up. It has the beauty of ‘whiteness’ but is less harsh than sharp cold white porcelain. That was my intial inspiration and I tested a few materials to create suitable ‘slips’ and then developed it in my own way. I also often use wood ash for the subtle colours and tones on the surface of my pots.
How do you fire your work?
Most of the pots are fired in my gas kiln for reduction firing to give a feeling of movement on the surface.
What/who inspires you to make your work?
Mostly antique pots. Some are wood fired and have lots of marks of ‘accidents’. I am also inspired by novels and poems. I like the idea of ‘reading between lines.’ I have been trying to apply this to my pots.
How/where do you sell your pieces?
Various galleries mostly in the UK, and a few retailers abroad.
Please recommend a good book?
Linda Bloomfield wrote several good glaze books. These are very practical and contain lots of useful information. I always recommend them to my students.
Also, Besstatsu – Taiyo, a Japanese magazine. It no longer published but you can obtain back copies. The editor’s selections are excellent and each issue features topics that are very interesting. It also contains many good photos so even you do not understand the Japanese language, you can enjoy looking at these.
What are your plans/ideas for the future?
I have signed up for the Elle decoration online shop. I have not produced enough work for it yet, but plan to be up and running on there in the near future.
I also have solo shows at the New Ashgate Gallery, Oxford Ceramic Gallery, and Slader’s Yard up until March. Each gallery will have something unique and details are on my website.
Will you be running any workshops this year?
I am doing 3 days masterclass at the beginning of August at Maze Hill Pottery in Greenwich this summer.
I am also teaching ceramics at Kensington and Chelsea College. I teach BTEC level 2 and 3 depending on the level of people starting from September. For enquiries or to be added to the waiting list, please email a.hirai@kcc.ac.uk

Thank you Akiko!

Weaver: Catarina Riccabona

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Catarina Riccabona weaves wonderful, colourful, slubby linen textiles, the kind that call out to be stroked and explored. The cloth is handwoven in small, limited editions with different weave structures and combinations which keep your eyes gently dancing over the fabric. Catarina also has an admirable ecological philosophy, using a lot of undyed, plant-dyed and recycled yarns. She was kind enough to answer a few questions about her work below.

Tell us a little about what you make?
I’m a textile designer and hand-weaver. I make functional pieces such as throws and blankets, sometimes also scarves and cushions. But my focus is definitely on throws and blankets.
What materials do you use?
Linen is practically in every piece I make (there are only a few exceptions). I love to work with it and I love the aesthetic of linen. It tends to become more beautiful with use. My practice is based on an ecological philosophy, so I use a lot of undyed yarns like linen, hemp, wool and alpaca (from the UK and Europe) as well as plant-dyed, second-hand and recycled yarns for colour.
What techniques do you use and why?
Weaving by hand (as opposed to working with a mill) gives me a great deal of flexibility in terms of weave structure combinations, irregularity and yarn types. I use this fact in my throws that could be described as whole compositions rather than repeat designs. One of my favourite techniques is block threading. During weaving you can separate out certain groups of threads and make them do something different to the rest. I like to play with this kind of juxtaposition of colour and texture.
What/who inspires you to make your work?
I admire the quality and feel of many tribal textiles. That trace that’s left from the making process by the human hand… small variations, irregularities, imperfections. There is something honest or even innocent about such pieces. Sometimes they seem to have been made quite intuitively. For me it’s a kind of timeless beauty that is also warming and comforting.
How/where do you sell your pieces?
I sell directly from my studio at Cockpit Arts, Deptford, (by appointment) or during our twice yearly Open Studios. I also sell through places like The New Craftsmen and other independent shops/galleries. From SS15 Liberty will have my work too. And I work to commission.
Please recommend a good book?
‘Colour: Travels Through the Paintbox’, by Victoria Finlay. My first year tutor at Central Saint Martins who taught us colour theory recommended it. Each chapter is dedicated to one colour and lots of peculiar facts about it…
Any plans/ideas for the future?
From 26th to 28th February I will be in residence at ‘Atelier’ run by The New Craftsmen. During London Craft Week I will be weaving in St James’ church (Piccadilly, 7th & 8th May)! I also look forward to the opening of Field Gallery in Bruton, Somerset, in April 2015. In the more distant future there could be a very exciting collaboration project on the horizon but I’m afraid it’s much too early to say anything about it.

Thank you Catarina!

Book: Imperfect Home

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I’ve featured Bailey’s before in this tour of their converted barns in Wales. The shop is a wonderful place and the couple’s latest book Imperfect Home, further hones their influential aesthetic. Below is an extract from the new book, a Q & A with Ryuji Mitani, a Japanese maker who creates wooden tableware such as trays, spoons, forks and bowls. Ryuji is passionate about promoting Japanese crafts and also curates exhibitions and writes books on the subject. His home, gallery and studio (pictured above) in the Japanese city of Matsumoto, are testimony to the simple pleasure of handmade things. It is not overfilled with objects, instead you are drawn to the detail of what is on show; the careful chisel marks of a bowl or the patina of a well-worn leather chair.
Q&A
Do you have your own philosophy of life?
I like everyday simplicity and comfort. I can’t change the whole world, but I hope that my wooden pieces will bring simplicity and comfort to someone’s life.
What music do you enjoy listening to?
Piano music by Keith Jarrett and Bill Evans.
Which authors or books inspire you?
Saigo no Shinran (The Last Shinran) by Takaaki Yoshimoto, Mon (The Gate) by Soseki Natsume and Onnatachiyo (Ladies) by Jyuzo Itami.
Likes: Carrying the table outside and having lunch in the shade of a tree. Meals with friends. Textiles and baskets woven with care. White porcelain and linen sheets. Well-used wooden vessels and chairs.
Do you have any recipes that you like?
Yes – pasta with negi (Japanese leeks). You will need olive oil, crushed garlic, thinly sliced leeks and some pasta. Pour a generous amount of olive oil into a pan and add the garlic. Cook over a low heat until soft, then add the thinly sliced leeks and continue to cook gently until they are soft. Bring a pan of water to the boil and add a pinch of salt. Add the pasta to the boiling water. Once the pasta is ready, drain then add to the leek mixture, combine and serve.

Imperfect Home by Mark & Sally Bailey is published by Ryland Peters & Small. www.rylandpeters.com

Inspiration: The Maker Drawers

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Hello and Happy New Year! I hope you are as pleased as me that a new year has begun. I tend to hibernate through December as a reaction to Christmas-mania then emerge in January, looking forward to spring. 2015 has already started well, with a pottery commission that I’m excited about and a general feeling that this will be a fine year.
I thought I’d kick-off by introducing The Maker Drawers, an interesting series of curated drawers from one of my favourite companies, The New Craftsmen. Housed in an old plan chest in their shop building, each drawer has been filled by a different maker, telling the story of their work and providing a unique insight into the techniques, materials & processes that they use. Pictured above are drawers by Aimee Betts, Michael Ruh, Gareth Neal, Laura Carlin, Silvia K Ceramics and Katherine May. If you get a chance to visit the shop and see the drawers in person, do! It is probably one of my favourite places to be in London, as all the work is highly skilled and expertly chosen. Otherwise, please enjoy this online rummage and visit their website to see more.