Just the Facts

stoneware and porcelain

Primary forming method 
wheel throwing

Primary firing temperature
salt firing at cone 6 and cone 10

Favorite technique
forming the inside of the vessel rather than its silhouette (the outside) 

Favorite tools
homemade throwing ribs and, of course, the wheel itself

Studio playlist
varies depending on the season, material, and mood. Sometimes I find music or podcasts stimulating, other times I prefer to work in silence with the clay.

more space, a de-airing pugmill and/or another electric kiln


My wife, Yuka, and I share a studio. Our business, O’baware, is the manifestation of our daily lives, our experiences, our feelings, and our influences. Our studio is attached to our home and extends into the backyard. The Colorado weather allows us to have fluidity between our indoor and outdoor work. The area is flooded with natural light, which brings a seasonality and awareness of nature into our work. 

The studio is a combined space of about 1000 square feet. This includes the walk-in damp room, kiln room, main production room, and outdoor workspace. We are continually adapting and innovating, building the studio out as production needs demand. The flexibility of our space is in relation to the evolution of our work. As with our approach to the work, nothing is static; everything evolves over time.

Most of our production involves the wheel. We have additional surfaces for handbuilding, jewelry, and sculpture. We work in shorter periods throughout the day and then once our daughter is asleep, I work steadily until midnight, but longer if needed. I’m much more focused on the production than the clock.  

I have a learned sensibility about working with windows and doors in relationship to the sun, times of day, and seasons. The result is that I can keep the studio comfortable most times of the year while saving energy. We conserve by paying attention with small acts.

We have a rigorous cleaning regime: sweeping, vacuuming, and mopping regularly. It intensified once our daughter began crawling. The specific cleaning relates to what is happening in the studio. When glazing, I will mop throughout that process, sometimes several times within the same day. If we are attaching handles, doing any sort of assembly, or working with porcelain, we need to clean more because those processes involve working with additional water. 

I am also trying to work as efficiently as I can to save human and material resources. My principle of creating a completed shape at the wheel informs this effort. I don’t spend a lot of time trimming and creating clay that needs to run through the reclaim process, which requires extra labor and expense. I also work on a softer clay body when trimming, so the trimmings can be added to clay storage for throwing rather than needing to be reclaimed. When I pull a form in one gesture or as few gestures as possible, I feel that brings the best results. Those forms are less about me and more about the material and the purpose they serve. As it turns out, this principle is even related to conserving materials and studio cleaning.

We have two electric kilns on-site. One is an oval kiln and one is a smaller secondary round kiln. We do most of the firing in the oval kiln and use the secondary one for overflow as needed in preparation for events and exhibitions. We also use a salt kiln that I helped build in 2009 at the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities, where I have volunteered and taught classes and workshops over the course of many years. 

When I began, I was working in restaurants; many of them served Japanese cuisine, so I had access to free 5-gallon soy-sauce containers. I stored clay and glazes in these containers for many years. More recently, I have started to purchase 10-gallon containers for the many glazes I am using. The wider diameter makes it easier to glaze wider forms, like plates. I store wet clay and glazes in containers within the damp room because it is removed from direct sun, stays cooler, and is humid. The clay in different stages of the reclaim process is also stored in 5-gallon containers under the window along the wall in my studio, simply due to the lack of space until we increase our storage capacity. I can still get those soy-sauce buckets from restaurants, but prefer the white ones from the store because they are less busy, visually. I’m sure most any Japanese restaurant in the country would be happy to give those buckets to potters if they ask! 

Studio Inspiration

I find the studios of Constantin Brâncuși and Isamu Noguchi deeply inspiring, although I have no personal experience with them. The two studios that have undoubtedly had the most influence over my own studio are those of the two masters with whom I have studied and worked for over the course of many years. 

Master sculptor Jerry Wingren’s Boulder studio introduced me to space in relation to the work itself. He taught me about being mindful of materials—conserving them, caring for them, and paying attention. Wingren often articulates, “It’s all of a piece.” These words heavily inform my space. We treat tools with respect because they are part of our process; it is similar to how we care for our own hands. We take care of our physical space and physical being because it affects the end product that arrives into another’s hands. Everything is connected, and we give careful attention to all points of connection.  

Takashi Nakazato’s studio in Karatsu, Japan, where I lived and worked for 18 months in 2003–2004, has had the most influence on my own space. The main shared element between my studio and his is the use of natural light and the practice of facing the wheels inward, toward the house, instead of out toward the windows. Nakazato does this for practicality: he can work and have guests visit him. After setting up my wheels this way, I realize that my environment stays more consistent from daytime to evening when I work facing inward.

Lessons and Thoughts

Opening my studio was a gradual process that developed organically over many years. I worked as a sculptor with Wingren, as a chef in restaurants, and as an assistant to Nakazato whenever he taught outside Japan. I took this time to develop my own skills as I learned from these two masters. Little by little, I began to throw and sculpt more and built a studio to accommodate both disciplines. 

My passion is my work at the wheel. I am very curious about how food and drink relate to the design of the vessels in which they are served. This relationship informs my work. In creating dinnerware for chefs, I want to know as much about the menu as possible. What are the ingredients and their origins? What is the story of the meal? How will it be presented? Asking these questions enables the work to become much deeper than it would be if our approach was quantity focused, like “we need 100 plates to serve salads.” This process asks questions of the recipe so that the vessel can become a part of the story.

To me, pottery is like calligraphy. There is not a second stroke to be made on top of the first. I aim to make a piece in one stroke; one gesture. The single gesture is the most honest. My more successful work is made with minimal gestures so that the intention is more direct and clear with its purpose to serve. 

In our own home, I took this a step further. We built our dining table and chairs in the Japanese dining style. This design process forced me to reflect on the actions within sharing a meal.

The table exists in relation to the human body. I designed ours to be lower than the Western standard height, allowing for space between the forearm and the table top. Additionally, with the lower height, one can see into the guests’ sake cups easily. In Japanese dining etiquette, one does not serve oneself, but serves the others at the table. Because our cups are not clear, but ceramic, it is important to be positioned at an angle to see into the cup of one’s guest to know when a refill may be offered. For me, every piece of the dining experience is in relation to the meal itself, and in this case, to our traditional roots.

Paying Dues (and Bills)

Yuka attended a vocational school for pottery in Kyoto, Japan, and began teaching pottery soon afterward. I earned a bachelor’s degree in fine art, but didn’t begin studying sculpture or pottery in earnest until I apprenticed with Wingren and Nakazato.

In terms of income, our revenue streams are as follows: 

  • Commissioned work (restaurants, private clients, and organizations): 5–10%
  • Individual direct sales (return and new collectors, website, studio events): 20–30%
  • Point of sale with vendors and galleries: 60–70%

For 2020–2021, the revenue streams shifted to commissioned work: 60%; studio events and website: 30%; galleries and shops: 10%.


My marketing strategy has been to work every day and continue improving. Word has spread, and we are lucky to have faithful collectors. I think the organic nature of how I have grown my business has advantages. The advantages have been that I have spent a lot of time focused on the how of my ceramic production rather than on selling and marketing. As a result, I feel my work is authentic.

Similarly, we use social media organically and spontaneously. Yuka or I will take photos throughout the day that may appear on our social media pages. For more formal uses, I work with professional photographer James Florio.

Our website lists where the work is available in retail and wholesale. We have an online store, and I show my work with galleries in Japan, California, New York, and Denver. Our website also has information on future studio assistant positions and apprenticeships. 

All photos: James Florio, www.JamesFlorio.com.

www.obaware.com, www.obaware.com/retailwholesale

Facebook: @oba_ware, Instagram: @oba_ware

Topics: Ceramic Artists