Japan to England to Carolina and back again- Riding the Kohiki train

I came back from Japan with a few Kohiki pots and a lot of inspiration. It was great to put a name to a technique that I have been using for the last few years. Technically Kohiki is the practice of dipping a dark clay body into a white slip which is then fired in a reduction atmosphere. This gem by Kanetaka Mineyo shows the warm peach blush that is possible if you fire the kiln on the fine neutral line between oxidation and reduction.

When I first saw those halos of color I was reminded of the time I spent working at Rock Creek Pottery. When I was going to school in Boone, NC I would head down towards Bakersville for an occasional weekend to talk pots and philosophy with Will and Douglas. One of my jobs was sanding the bottoms of the pieces after a firing. This enabled me to look closely at the surface of their pots. I fell in love with the speckled surface that came from their lightly salted wood kiln. You can see from the bottle below they knew exactly how to load the stack so the kiln would surround their brushwork with marks of the fire.

I stopped atmospheric firing to pursue the English/European slip ware version of Kohiki. It seems like most cultures have some version of dark clay covered in white slip. If you look closely at the slip surface on this English Rooster platter you can see similar haloing to the tea bowl above. In this case the shadowy affect comes from the slip interaction with the lead glaze. I love the running/leaching affect that the lead has on the iron slip trailing. While I was in Tokyo I visited the Mingeikan which was showing selections from their slip ware collection.

Like many earthenware potters if I want depth I need to create it in the way I dip my pots. Deflocculating my base slip allows it to be thin enough for the clay underneath to show through. When the slip is just right it will run off the high points of a pattern while still giving the clay body a solid base coat.

The predominant characteristic I have been absorbing from Kohiki pots is their carving. The artist's have an amazingly steady hand when carving the intricate line work. They use the texture to frame large portions of the pot's form. I'm working with a similar idea to divide up decoration space on these mugs. The mug pictured at the bottom shows a carved version of the classic Herringbone pattern. In the west it is heavily used for men's suit fabric but the basic pattern exists in many cultures. I like that the heavy texture is softened by the slip. It sounds obvious but I want the texture on my pots to be more tactile than visual. By covering the texture with the white base slip I can have a texture that doesn't overwhelm the other decoration.

Kohiki reminds me of the practice of white washing the exterior of a house. This simple architectural treatment is frequently used to give brick homes a fresh start. When I first started the Red Rambler blog I wrote a post about this practice. Click here to visit that post from 2009. I can't believe its almost been three years since I wrote that. May will be the third anniversary of this blog and I'll do a give away to celebrate it. Any one have a specific form they would like to win? Leave me a comment and I'll get to work in the studio.


  1. that top bowl is wonderful I love the facets and the color, makes me want to do some more pinching and trying some facets on my bowls which I have never done. I also have never put a light slip on a dark clay, I may give that a try, so much inspiration everywhere, so much to try with clay, great post. time goes by so quickly and the blogging is a good way to keep track of that time.

    1. Isn't it amazing how many different ways their are to make pots? I feel like I could spend a life time just practicing techniques from older generations of potters. Hope your doing well.