When you first learned how to throw on the wheel, did your teacher tell you not to use the throwing ribs on the inside of your thrown forms? If I remember correctly, my teacher did in my beginning throwing class in the US. I remember being taught to look at the outside of the forms when you are throwing cylinders because you are forming from the outside (based on the idea that by paying attention to the outside shape, you will reduce the need for trimming later). Alternately, I was taught to look at the inside of the form when throwing bowls as you’re forming the inside curve and trim the outside to match the inside shape later.
When I returned to Japan, I learned there, that you’re always shaping forms from the inside when you’re throwing on the wheel. I asked my colleague, who was also my throwing teacher in Japan, why this is the case. What I learned was that the underlying philosophy for Japanese throwing seems to come from the ways of the tea ceremony.
Tea and Throwing
The universe in your palms: you often hear this expression describing teabowls in Japan. Teabowls are meant to be held with both hands, and inside the bowls you find certain keshiki (views, scenery, and landscapes). The inner form of a bowl reflects your palms holding the vessel, and it also reveals itself to the outside. Therefore, Japanese potters must make the inside of vessels with the utmost care.
Nobashigote is a type of Japanese wooden throwing rib that functions like your inside hand when throwing and stretches and cleans the clay on the inside of the form. Nobashi literally means stretching. Nobashigote ribs come in two major types: a round rib, also called marugote (figure 1) and a teardrop-shaped, multi-purpose rib (figure 2). Within these two groups there are many different shapes, thicknesses, and curves.
They may appear similar to kimegote ribs (see PMI November/December 2014, pgs. 10–11). The difference is in the way they’re used. With both ribs, you start the same, by first pulling the clay up a couple of times on the wheel to make the preliminary form (figure 3). With kimegote ribs, the rib functions like a mold or a profile tool. The rib is fixed in place with your inside hand during the process, while your outside hand traces the curve of the rib from the bottom to the top of the form, stretching and pulling the clay up at the same time. With nobashigote, the rib moves with your inside hand, substituting for your inside throwing hand. The form of the vessel is determined by the orientation and vertical or horizontal angle of the rib as it’s held against the clay. If you hold the rib vertically, (closer to the X axis), you will have a taller bowl (figures 4 and 5), and if you lay the rib horizontally (closer to the Y axis), you will have a shallower bowl with greater diameter (figure 6). Notice that the quality and the form of the bowls are different when using two different ribs (see figures 1 and 2) even though they were held at similar angles while throwing.
You may enjoy trying out the many different nobashigote ribs to find the quality of the forms that you prefer the most.
Naomi Tsukamoto runs a ceramic and flower studio with her florist husband in Hadano, Japan. This article was written with the help of her colleagues at Takara Clay Studio, a community-based pottery school in Kamakura, Japan. You can see the video demonstration of the above tools on their website at takaranokama.com/raku.html.