food for thought

Much time this week was dedicated to testing and producing the presentation board for the tea set while the ceramic work was being fired. The main feature of board was to be bringing the grain to the surface. This was to reflect the sand used in Japanese Zen gardens. I tested on pinewood the best way to bring the grain to the surface; I tried both wire brushing and sand blasting. Wire brushing took a fair amount of time and left the pine with a fibrous fluffy look that was not desirable. The sandblasting on the other hand revealed the grain smoothly but impregnated the wood with partials that turned it gray. It was clear that pinewood was not ideal. I was recommended by Dave Grimshaw to try ash wood. I acquired a good piece of ash and wire brushed it. Ash wood worked far better, the grain is far more defined and Is the look I wanted.


Before                                                   During                                                     Cleaning up                                                After

It had been my  intention to use a red glaze on the interior of all the pieces. However after discussing it with a friend who has more experience I learned It would be more reliable to use a different color. Instead I opted for a vivid blue using cobalt carbonate and clear stoneware glaze. I had tested this combination and knew it would give an effective result. However I will attempt to produce a reliable red glaze in future.


cobalt carbonate clear glaze mix

I coated the outside surface with manganese oxide, which would define the textured surface of the stones. However when everything emerged from the kiln the manganese had burned away leaving the surface bright white.


After the fireing  – the manganese has completely burned off

This did not go as planned. to rectify this issue I tested out some different methods . The best was to wash the surface with ink and buff it off with a tissue. This method is not what I intended but gives a better representation of the desired effect than leaving it white.


After being coated with ink

This project has taught me a lot about myself and how I work. a drawing method I had almost discarded has been revived and has shown its true potential . the hiccup with the manganese oxide has highlighted the need for geater testing before application In future . Getting glazing down to a science would be an very useful tool for the future .


Tea set

In future I want to work on improving :

  • Photos – must be taken with a decent camera and regularly
  • more glaze testing
  • More primary research

Tea is instant wisdom — just add water!

From the last blog posting I have done more research into Chinese and Japanese tea drinking.  The particular area that has interested me has been the association with Zen and Buddhism. I really want to pursue the idea that tea drinking is relaxing and meditative.


Symbol for Zen


One prominent symbol associated with Zen is stacked pebbles. The symbolism connected to balance and peace. I tried to look for where this symbol comes from. it could be linked to a stacked stone cairns that act as waypoints on pathways , perhaps these forms of cairns are symbolic of a spiritual waypoint for guidance .o-MEDITATION-BENEFITS-facebookf2a874402c7a3e5d8b2365268f49a548Grean leaves over zen stones pyramid on water surface

Stacked stones


A possilbe reason this particular form of smooth pebble is associated with Zen is because of their use in hot stone spa treatments. Spars are associated with relaxation and meditation. A host of initial ideas were generated from my research. I have chosen to commit to the idea of making a tea set in the form of stacked stones to incorporate the ideas of relaxation and meditation into tea drinking .


Hot stone spar treatment

I have thought about the possible components for the set and how to make them. It seems that ceramics will be the best material to work with. If I want to get a true stone effect I will have to collect stones to cast in plaster. Making my own stones from clay is a option but I want the stones to have the texture of real stones. To achieve this I need to make multi part mould’s for slip casting.  The Multi part-casting workshop has been really valuable in this project.  I am really quite enthralled with the casting process. It’s very methodical and relaxing.



mould from multi part mould workshop

After completing the workshop I went to collect stones at my local reservoir. It was a wet and windy day but I found what I was looking for and many extras. I thought it would be better to bring more than I needed in case a second inspection showed a flaw in a vital stone.


Bottoms reservoir – stones collected from here



Playing the stones by stacking them in different combinations has helped to solidify and finalise the form that the set will take. I wanted to know other methods of casting so I did the lost wax-casting workshop. It was very interesting; it has a lot of potential uses in future projects, especially using organic material.


Carved wax stamps for lost wax casting workshop

Currently I am on track with all the stone molds made and ready to be used at the start of next week leaving enough time to get all things glazed by deadline. So far I’m quite pleased with my project and the way it has developed, it helps that I drink a lot of tea to get in tune with the subject matter.

A simple cup of tea is far from a simple matter

This project started off with a group research assignment on afternoon tea, with the aim of producing a 15 minute long presentation. It was an enthralling experience but initially I was quite uneasy about working in a group. During the first meeting we identified the areas of research we wanted to focus on:

• Origin
• Food
• History of tea
• Other cultures
• Objects
• Afternoon tea now

We divided the sections between ourselves. I opted to research other cultures and their tea ceremonies. I believed this would provide me with a broad range of areas that could proved sources of insperation .

We went to Teacup in Manchester’s northern quarter to try afternoon tea for ourselves. The whole experience was rather odd. Eating filling food in-between lunch and dinner is not something I usually do and resulted in a major loss of appetite. However having a structured break to drink tea was very calming.

 teacup-manchester-shop    389690_373459246025615_148859161818959_970566_1833299643_n

Teacup in Manchester’s northern quarter

During Christmas I began my research.We had set a group deadline of the 6th of January. Setting a clear deadline helped keep the group on track .

I found teas origin in china where it develops a strong connection to religion an interesting contrast to our own culture. where its drunk as a secular social beverage.

Patterns started to appear in my research. Not just between tea consumption and geographic location, but the objects associated with tea. For example turkey and Russia share the same method of a two part boiling process that is not present in cultures in other parts of the world.

                                                   teapotOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Turkish Çaydanlık (top)  – Russian Samovar (bottom)

The rules and methods of Japanese tea ceremonies are so intricate and precise that it makes the conventions of British afternoon tea look simple. It would be a great experience to be involved in a Japanese tea ceremony. If I ever go to japan I will have to try it.tea-ceremony-japan-scidmore_8028_990x742

A Japanese tea ceremony in progress

The presentation took a few sessions of group work to streamline. Having a different person write each section made the hardest part giving the presentation a coherent focused narrative. It was decided we should emphasize the difference between afternoon tea then and now. After the modifications it did give the presentation a better flow, allowing the audience to put the information into the context of their own experience.

From the other group’s presentations, I found a section expedition of particular interest. Explorers traveling to remote parts of the world, with only the supplies they carry with them to keep them alive. It got me thinking about the bear essentials needed to make a cup of tea.


Climbers drinking tea on everest

Over the next few weeks I plan to do further research on the cultures of china and japan because I found their interpretation of tea drinking the most engaging. I also want to look at the British East India Company and their role in the tea trade. By the next blog posting I would like to have identified some design ideas and to have started testing these ideas in the workshops.