Fong Choo Combines Wheel Throwing, Handbuilding and Layering Commercial Glazes to Make Compact Teapots that Pack a Punch

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Fong Choo makes tiny teapots but, visually, they are anything but small. Fong successfully integrates the form with the surface to make exquisite little works of art.

The teapots bodies are thrown and altered on the wheel, and then embellished with handbuilt handles, feet, and spouts. Then Fong layers commercial glazes to get amazing surfaces. Today he explains his technique in detail, including his secret to taking commercial glazes to the next level. Good thing I am headed to the studio tonight because now I am fired up to mess around with layered glazes! – Jennifer Harnetty, editor.


Teapots That Pack a Punch

by Fong Choo

For more than a decade I’ve been exploring the teapot in its miniaturized form. The teapot form continues to challenge and fascinate me, and the idea of doing one thing and doing it well has been central to the success of my profession as a potter. There are a lot of techniques involved in making these teapots, and some of the techniques require tools that I have made for myself to suit a certain situation.

Although a native of Singapore, I attended college in North Carolina with graduate work in Kentucky at the University of Louisville. I’m inspired by my Chinese heritage, and particularly in the long tradition of Yixing pottery. My teapots are small and jewel-like, made of porcelain and often fired to cone 6 in an electric kiln.


Center a well-wedged 1-1/2 pound lump of clay on a removable bat. I use porcelain for my teapots because it has a better color response with my glazes (figure 1).

It is important not to overwork the clay, especially in the early stages of the process (and especially with porcelain!). In three passes, you should have the approximate form (figure 2).

I use a push stick to expand and redefine the form (figure 3). Follow the push stick on the outside with a metal rib to smooth the surface and remove excess moisture.

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One feature I like to add to many of my teapots is a “moat.” It provides not only a visual base for the teapot, but also functions as a glaze catch (figure 4).

Begin the moat with a rounded tool and push in and down into the base. Using a bevel tool, round over the edge and move the tool underneath to provide lift (figure 5).

Next, I alter the teapot with a rib in a couple of passes, creating an interesting movement within the shape (figure 6).

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I use a small roller and further alter the gesture of the form. After completing these alterations, I wire off the piece and remove it with the bat to set up (figure 7).

To create a spout, roll out a tapered coil then push a stick into it. With the stick inside, roll the coil to expand it (figure 8).

Once the spout is soft leather hard, I cut it to the appropriate length, trim the end and attach it to the teapot body (figure 9).

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I adjust the spout to the correct angle and add pouring holes (figure 10).

For the feet, I roll and taper 3-inch coils. Gently flatten one side of the coil, then pick it up and curl each end toward the center. Set aside until soft leather hard (figure 11).

For the handle, I roll out a 6-inch coil that’s tapered on each end. I shape the handle into an interesting shape and set aside until soft leather hard (figure 12).

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I throw lids off the hump using a small homemade tool (figure 13).

A finished teapot. The teapots are bisque fired then glazed with commercial cone 06–04 glazes combined with cone 6 glazes, and final fired to cone 6 in oxidation (figure 14).

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Glaze Tip:

You can get wonderful glaze effects by spraying on an even coat of a cone 6 glaze then brushing on cone 06 glazes. Test applications before use.

To learn more about Fong Choo or see more images of his work, please visit www.fongchoo.com.

Comments
  • I attended a workshop instructed by Fong Choo. He is entertaining as well as talented at conveying his approaches and techniques. I learned a lot. He even throws in some ideas on marleting, and such.

    However, I believe the glazes mentioned are no longer available, as they may contain something we aren’t supposed to use any longer. At least, I have had a hard time finding them. Also, the glaze you see in the little teapot at the beginning of the article IS LT122 Dark Blue, a low fire glaze, fired to Cone 6. As advised by Fong Choo, I fire this on a catch plate coated with kiln wash, and make sure I include the “glaze catch” neatr the bottom in my pot design.

  • Oops! Marleting is not some new technique (at least not to me); it is marketing.
    I looked at Amaco’s site and they don’t list the LT122 Dark Blue any longer, and Mayco has reformulated the CG716 Pagoda Green to CG716NT, and taken the lead out to be not-toxic. Duncan also did the same with Spanish Moss 20065. I expect that they may not have the same movement during firing that creates the effect, but they are now lead free. Anyone have any experience with the new formulations?

  • Regarding the demo.images. Does anyone know if his latest creations are leaning,no pun intended,towards more personality and animation? From the past,I remembered them being pretty much symmentrically divided and less asymmentrical in balance,yet worth the viewers time. Where are the cups to go along with ‘the short and stouts’,Fong?Are our soulssuppose to be the completion to their content?

  • I love what he does with the little porcelain ‘dancing’form, and how he figures that making that ‘moat’ will catch any wild melting glaze!! What an invention! Making holes for the spout he solves that problem and the final teapot seema to work just fine !!! Yay!!!

  • Love the altered forms with such interest. However, I don’t understand being able to fire ^06 glazes to ^6. I’ve tried this, but ended up with the 06 colors firing out at ^6. What’s the secret?

  • The tea pots are lovely and very creative. I make T pots as well – but mine are poured porcelain and are 1/12 scale – so about 1/2 inch in height with the width proportional. They are hollow and their spouts are hollow as well. They are quite a challange. I have never had the opportunity to throw one yet. Something to look forward to. Paddy Culhane

  • Sandra, firing 06 glazes to cone 6 takes some experimentation. Some colors/formulations will burn out completely, some may run wildly or just give a different effect or color. According to the article, Fong is layering a cone 06 glaze over a cone 6 glaze. The base glaze, since it is a cone 6, will not burn out, but provide a base for the low fire glaze to interact with. This takes some practice, some combinations don’t work, and some end up as puddles! Some fantastic combinations can be found, though, and some great surprises. I would recommend trying some on several small concave dishes as test tiles so that you don’t end up grinding glaze off your shelves, as running is a huge problem with this technique. Number them of course and write down everything so you can recreate it later.

  • I would like to see details of the “small homemade tool (figure 13)” and understand the way it works for you…

    TIA
    Gil

  • hi all! my name is lisa and i am Mayco’s resident potter. some fun glaze stuff is being discussed and i wanted to add a bit. korey is totally spot on with the comments about firing 06 glazes to 6. it is a worthy endeavor for sure. just do a lot of testing. i have done a lot of that here at Mayco and have made some amazing discoveries. watch for running and pinholing whan taking a lofire glaze up in temp. some of our stuff is flawless at cone 6, (try some of our Elements glazes with your stoneware glaze…Copper Adventurine, Patina or Black Ice. also, the Jungle Gem line is awesome, as Fong Choo illustrates in his tiny teapot. this is the cg716nt used above). i usually have better luck when i apply them a bit thinner than the jar states when i fire them high. i have fired all of our lofire stuff all the way to cone 10 and most of them are lovely even at that temp. you will find a pretty wide firing range in a lot of the commercial stuff. they are an amazing tool for the artist! big fun awaits. http://www.maycocolors.com

  • Fong Choo is my idol. I wish some day to actually meet him. He throws the MOST beautiful pots and has been an inspirration to me since I first saw one of his teapots.

  • How clever…..I love to play with commerical glazes. You never know what will happen, but it usually is very interesting. Love your teapots.

  • If you google fong choo for videos you will find a 4 part series of him making the teapots from a few years ago. It was great to see the video.

  • What a wonderful and informative reply! This is full of great information and useful suggestions. You are a great rep for Mayco, Lisa. Thank you!

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