Kurinuki pottery is pottery made by inserting a dowel into a solid block of clay and hollowing it out to create a vessel. The kurinuki technique is loads of fun to play with because it is so different from the usual wheel throwing or handbuilding techniques potters are used to.
In today’s post, an excerpt from the July/August 2020 issue of Pottery Making Illustrated, Eva Champagne shares how she makes a lovely vase using the kurinuki technique. –Jennifer Poellot Harnetty, editor.
Solid Block of Clay
For the kurinuki technique, begin with a solid block of clay. Since I cut the form to shape the exterior, the block must be larger than the intended final form. Next, drive a dowel or stick (1) into the block to get the interior space started (2, 3), leaving plenty of thickness at the bottom to allow for cutting and shaping of the foot.
Next, press various tools and objects onto the block to provide texture (4). The clay needs to be firm enough to hold its shape, but with enough give to take on impressions. I’m forever on the lookout for texture sources such as coral, sea fans, woodblocks, and plants. I also make my own bisque-fired clay stamps and rollers (5). Paddling is a good way to create surface interest, as well. And because I follow up with slicing clay away from the block, often only a remnant of the impressed texture remains when I’m finished. Afterward, the block should be left uncovered to firm up a little bit, enough so that the texture will resist being marred during handling.
Shape the Form
Slicing creates facets as well as developing the overall shape. I use a wire tool, a fettling knife, and a cheese cutter. I start by cutting clay away from the bottom of the pot (6–8) for a raised foot, as shown, and then turn the block over and work on the body of the pot. I keep in mind how the form’s edges and planes will catch soda, because I fire these pieces in a soda kiln. You may likewise be thinking ahead to a wood-kiln atmosphere, or to a particular glaze and how it will break or flow over the vessel’s topography. For me, it’s important to avoid overthinking or planning at this stage. I like to have the general form and visual weight of the shape in mind, but be ready to follow leads from the clay itself; the way a cut tears off may create a line or gesture that suggests the next cut (9). Presence of mind, enjoyment, adaptability, and trust in the process are key.
Once the exterior is cut and shaped, leave the vessel uncovered again until the exterior can be handled without leaving finger impressions. It’s important to me that the cuts retain their sharpness and freshness.
Hollow Out the Vessel
Next, hollow out the form more fully by scooping clay from the foot (10) and interior with a loop tool. The thickness of the walls depends on your aesthetic preference, but it’s important they be as even as you can manage. If your piece is especially tall and narrow, it can be challenging or near impossible to scoop the clay from the center to create more interior space. You may instead need to cut the form in half lengthwise with a wire tool, then hollow out each of the two halves using a loop tool (11). It will take some care to retain the integrity of the walls while hollowing and reattaching. Score both sides and add slip to join the form back together. I’ve found it’s best when I can camouflage the seam with some paddling or other texture after reassembling (12).