Ceramics Monthly: In what ways do your own cooking preferences inform the pieces that you make to serve food?
Yoko Sekino-Bové: When I create ceramic work for serving food, the visual composition is as important as the function the piece offers. In Japanese culture, people say that we eat food with our eyes first. Observing and appreciating the visual presentation should be the first part of the whole dining experience.
If I have a clear goal in mind, my designs can be more effective. For that reason, I select a specific food, such as sushi or mint chocolate chip ice cream, being as specific as possible, and create the work around that.
My mother has a great deal of tableware that is dedicated for only one type of food and/or event, and she trained me to hoard dishes the same way. My preferences and collection of food-specific tableware are more of my own private hobby and I am not expecting people to be that specific, but this approach helps me to visualize ideas that would enhance the dining experience, not only with the function, but also with eye-pleasing designs.
CM: On your sushi set, there are detailed renderings on each physical plate or platter that depict large and small platters filled with sushi and various side dishes. How do you weave that conceptual focus into the design of both the forms and the surfaces?
YSB: When creating artwork, I always start with the titles. From daily conversations, books, the media, and every little idea and story in my daily life, I pick up something that sparkles and start thinking about how I can turn it into artwork. Sometimes it is about multicultural issues, sometimes a private joke, but the start is always a story and a title.
Once the title is determined, I gather motifs and elements to deliver the story in the most effective way, including the object’s function. The goal of my artwork is to share the story in my own language, and the function is an element that enhances the story, as well as a tool to invite people to touch and connect with the work. By mixing up the design styles, cultures, and symbolism, I suggest how similar we all are and that we share the universal idea of beauty.
While I do not always consciously instill humor in the work, it often shows through. Each piece requires a great deal of time to complete, and often my own personality comes through as I entertain myself by placing elements that amuse me into the carved patterns and illustrations on the work.
Altering the Rim
After throwing a large plate with a straight wall, mark four equidistant spots on the rim with a dab of food coloring. Using your fingers, push out the wall marked by each spot from the inside to create a square corner (1). While supporting the outside wall with two fingers, one on either side of the square corner, push a finger into the bottom half of the inside wall to create an indentation. The bulge will be reflected on the outside.
Support the top half of the inside wall with two fingers, then push in the top half of the outside wall to create almost 90°-angled corners (2, 3). Gently squeeze the round rim sections between the square corners from the outside to adjust the rim to a slightly more square shape.
After trimming the foot ring, clean up the surface and start drawing a sketch with a soft pencil. The graphite will burn out at a low temperature and won’t leave any residue—unless the pencil tip gouges the surface. Any mistakes and unwanted lines are erased with a wet sponge (4). The test piece (small plate) was glazed to get an example of the finished surface, color, and imagery before creating the platter.
Using thinned black underglaze and a Chinese calligraphy brush, start drawing out the lines for each object in the composition (5). Any mistakes can be scraped off using a wood-carving knife.
Next, develop shading with thinned underglaze and texture with a carving knife. Keep applying details using both the carving knife and brush (6, 7). After completing the image, carve background patterns before bisque firing the piece to cone 05. Spray the glaze onto the bisqued platter to apply it evenly, then fire the plate to cone 5.
Firing a Large Platter Safely
Large flat items, such as plates, tend to warp or crack during cooling due to how rapidly heat escapes from the large, flat, open surface. When loading the kiln, I surround the plate with extra posts to pool and radiate the heat in the kiln to prevent the heat from escaping too quickly during the cooling phase. Using short posts and the next layer of kiln shelves to cover the plate is helpful as well; the heat will be distributed more evenly and trapped for a longer period of time in this densely packed space.
For any large and/or heavy items, spreading a thin layer of garden sand, or play sand, on the kiln shelf as a release before loading the piece into the kiln is also effective. Especially during a glaze firing, the piece’s own weight can cause the foot ring to stick to or get snagged on the kiln shelf, then the expansion/shrinking process will break the foot ring. If there is some sand placed in between the artwork and the kiln shelf, the foot ring can glide on the sand layer instead of sticking to the shelf.
the author Yoko Sekino-Bové is a potter living in Washington, Pennsylvania. To learn more, visit www.yokosekinobove.com.