Handbuilding Video: A Yixing Teapot Master Creates an Exquisite Handbuilt Teapot

Master Yixing teapot maker Zhou Gui Zhen uses a knife to determine the proper placement of the spout on a teapot. I am super impressed when I see handbuilt work that is so symmetrical and perfect that it looks wheel thrown or slip cast, especially when no molds or forms were used in the handbuilding process. So I was blown away when I saw today's video (which was filmed and submitted by potter Stephen Robison). In the video, Zhou Gui Zhen, who has been designated a National Living Treasure in China, demonstrates the construction of the body of a teapot from slabs using a traditional Yixing technique. Yixing (pronounced "yee shing") is a pottery center near Shanghai, China. The term also refers to the reddish brown stoneware teapots that have been made there since the 16th century. Yixing teapots are traditionally made from free-formed slabs, as Zhou demonstrates, or with press-molded pieces. Zhou's craftsmanship is truly poetry in motion.

Next week, Zhu Jiang Long will demonstrate how to refine the lid of one of a teapots so that it fits perfectly. He also puts the finishing touches on the knob - Jennifer Harnetty, editor.


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To learn more about Stephen Robison, visit his blog at http://stiffyguss.blogspot.com/


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  • Gerhard T.

    Great video. If you are looking for original Yixing or Zisha teapots in Europe: We are exhibiting (and selling) high quality teapots (and other tea accessories) in our Chinese teahouse in Neu-Isenburg near Frankfurt/Main in Germnany: http://www.chadao.de or shop.chadao.de. Welcome to a tea tasting ceremony.

  • The demonstration is fine but the mixing process of the clay was not included in the video

  • I just want to say awesome>>>>….:)

  • magical!gives me hope to attempt round shapes using slabs…bow down to the clay godess..

  • …splendid…and think what humans hands can do…??? Thank you for shering ..fantastic!!!and insiring!!!.

  • Barbara S.

    This was terrific! I, too, am going to watch it again and again, I’m sure. My wonderful husband traveled to China 2 years ago and by pure chance saw a teapot he thought I would love and brought it home to me. It was a Yixing teapot and I loved it. He and I both thought it must have been molded but upon further exploration realized that it was indeed hand built. After reading about Yixing pots, I was fascinated and very curious about how it was made. Thank you so much for this video. As always, these videos are real treasures for potters to get to see!

  • Bettye B.

    That was truly amazing. I am going to watch it over and over again.

  • Awesome, thank you for share this beauty. I want to see the next video!

  • Mafalda C.

    What a joy for the eye! Thank you for this jewel!

  • Mesmerizing!!! Would love to be able to do that! Wish there were more hours in my days.

  • Alice D.

    This is one video that I will watch over and over again. Beautiful.

  • Yoshimi K.

    Wow, how she can possiblly to make it even thickness and beautiful quality without wheel or roller…years of experiences. Cannot copy all but can use how to make spaut, maybe easider than making it on wheel.

  • Karen E K.

    Very cool. Didn’t know if I would ever have an opportunity to actually see these wonderful pots made.

  • Thank you! So delightful to see how it can be done all by hand. What a master, she makes it look easy but alas, it takes many years of concise work to achieve.

  • Subscriber T.

    This is a beautiful demonstration of pure craftsmanship (craftswomanship!).
    I only ever hand build – I would love to have access to yixing clay!!!!

  • I have been hoarding my pound of Yi Xing clay given to me at a teapot workshop by Ah Leon quite a few years ago at Anderson Ranch Now I am inspired to finally use it though I hardly expect to emulate this living treasure.

  • Allison T.

    hooray for hand builders!!! this potter and this video just show how wonderful handbuilding can be. 😀

  • Rebecca M.

    The table was mentioned as a heavy wooden table in the video. I know from personal use that unvarnished, smooth hard-wood surfaces are nice to work on. Free of varnish, the clay isn’t as inclined to stick to the table’s slightly porous surface.

  • Melanie R.

    Pure beauty of transforming a piece of clay…the connection she possess to create such a piece. Thank you for sharing simply amazing!

  • Nicholas Q.

    does anyone know what the top layer of her table is made of?

  • that was heaven on earth.. thanks for sharing this with all of us that love the earth on our hands.. looking forward to the next video..

  • Shelley M.

    I learned so much from this video! Her hands move so smoothly and surely. You know that she must have made about a thousand of these! Can’t wait to see her do the lid. Thanks!

  • Laura L.

    When one sees that the work seems so easy, it is because the worker is a Master. The piece seems to grow from her hands, as a prolongation of her spirit. There is much of Zhen in the process. Thanks for sharing!

  • Susie F.

    I love the lady,the music, techniques and tools. OMG! I am gonna take an electric saw to a couple of my wooden clay rolling pins tomorrow morning, whip out the sand paper and custom make a couple of those slab tools. Really wonderful video. Thanks for sharing!

  • Stunning! Awesome! Fabulous artist – she even has musical rhythm in the pounding process. Can’t wait for the next video. This one has it all – artist, narrator and music. Many thanks for sharing.

  • Robyn M.

    the simplicity is amazing…..a piece of her soul goes into every pot….cant wait to see the next video….am inspired to make some this way….also to show my studants this method….what clay was she using…..

  • This lady is amazing!
    Thanks so much for sharing this,
    can’t wait ’til next week!

  • Sandi F.

    How do folk find words for that ? I can’t ……Watching that is like visual music….Magic!

  • Carole S.

    Thank you so much for this wonderful Christmas gift!

    I purchased a mallet like this at NCECA in Pittsburgh. Chances are they will show up in Philly this coming March. It is great for compressing and strengthing clay slabs.

  • Shane P.

    It is wonderful to see these techniques again. I traveled to Yixing in 2005 to see it first hand, and to see a true master work is amazing. To answer several peoples’ questions: the hammer, and I believe most of the tools used here are available online, try http://www.chineseclayart.com It is very humid there, but I’ve tried the techniques here in Colorado (quite dry)with limited sucess which I would attribute to both lack of expreience and the clay I was using (not yixing). The yixing clay is particularly suited to handbuilding and is the primary reason the artists can get away with what we might consider bad technique! If you are ever able to get your hands into some, you will find it very nice to work with.

  • Beautiful to watch! Will this be demo be available to purchase on DVD?

  • I am just a beginning potter but this truely inspired me. Can’t wait for the second part and can’t hardly wait for class next week! Thank you for sharing.

  • Lindsay R.

    That was great! Anyone know where you can buy a wooden mallet like hers?

  • Vicki G.

    Amazing video, thank you. This must be a humid climate. I live in a very dry climate and wonder if this could be done in low humidity as the clay drys so quickly here.

  • Wonderful. This is very enjoyable and well put together video.
    Thank you for sharing.

  • i dont know what to say ,lol ,she is just amazing , even better than wheel!!!!!!!!

  • Brenda C K.

    Absolutely fabulous. Her craftsmanship shows. Can’t wait to see the process of the lid.
    Thank you for this video.

  • Gillian M.

    Now I don’t have to go to China to watch one of these fabulous teapots being made! I too loved the simplicity of the knife (or a chopstick) placed across the top to align the spout and handle.

  • Simone A.

    Thank you for sharing this fab video, inspired to head to the studio and atempt to make one!

  • É incrivel como ela faz tudo com uma precisão imprecionante, tudo se encaixa com as medidas certas e o mais extraordinario, uma limpeza que eu nunca vi, ela nem suja as mãos, estou realmente encantada.
    Gostaria de ter só um pouquinho dessa habilidade.

  • Karen M.

    Thank you very much for this great video! I can hardly wait for the next one!;-D

  • Jenette G.

    Ive made many teapots but never with out throwing the body on the wheel. This is great, and I intend to try to hand-build my next pot.

  • Incredible–I’ve wanted for a long time to see how one of these teapots was made, so thank you, thank you for posting this! My first thought was, would she use a wheel if she had one? I mean, why make a round, symmetrical pot by hand? But watching this video, I suspect that handbuilding is truly the best method for producing this form.

    She swells the sides by pounding in the top and bottom edges and then, when the form is enclosed, she blows up the body like a balloon by blowing into a small hole–you can see it from time to time if you look. Only I wonder why she didn’t close up the hole once she had blown up the teapot body? It seems like that would make it easier to work on–but she’s probably so good that she doesn’t need to bother. I suspect the clay is fairly stiff.

    Notice she used a form of the broomstick method (shown here in an earlier video) to create the spout.

    I really enjoyed this video and am looking forward eagerly to the next one. 🙂

  • Karey K.

    Pure magic! Thank you for making this available to view.

  • This woman is truly someone who has mastered her craft. I watched the video with wide eyes and mouth agape. I have made a resolution to own one of these beautiful teapots.

  • Heather R.

    Am on the edge of my seat waiting for part 2 –
    Thank you for providing this amazing resource!

  • Great demonstration of hand-building a traditional tea pot. I am looking forward to part two. Thank you for bring this to us.

  • Penny W.

    There’s nothing more beautiful than a master using techniques perfected from experience. I want one of those knives!

  • Edward B.

    This has to be the best thing I have seen done with clay! It flies in the face of all the rules. The product is so sophisticated a whole tradition could (has been) built around it. Remarkable! Can’t wait for the lid and the opening of the pot!

  • Randall M.

    Great tip about using the knife to get the spout height correct. Also, notice no scoring, just slip.

  • Jennifer H.

    Just to clarify: Zhou is, in fact, a woman. I believe Anita was confused because I mentioned Zhu Jiang Long, a man, who will be in next week’s video. – editor.

  • Anita C.

    I love how he calls him “she” throughout the video

  • Donna E.

    I didn’t want it to end. Makes me want to run to my studio.

  • Susan G.

    Beautiful handwork on a traditional form–thank you for sharing. It is interesting to me as an ever-neophyte that she only puts slip on one side of the joint and does not appear to cross-hatch surfaces. Is this just a beginner’s technique (cross hatching and slipping both sides)?

  • Tracy W.

    I would like to see how they make the gallery for the lid and how they swell the sides.

  • Amazing. I can’t wait to see the lid.

  • Wow! Stunning how it’s all done without a wheel…amazing.

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