Making Wabi Sabi Pottery in Chiang Mai
I was excited to come and spend a little more time exploring my creative side while here in Chiang Mai as there are hundreds of creatives in the old town, many of which are willing to share either their time, space or skills.
I planned to go ceramic shopping in Chiang Mai and send some back to New Zealand so I could have some lovely pieces for when I get home (whenever and wherever that will be).
I have recently been introduced to the Wabi-Sabi philosophy/aesthetic. It is a Japanese term, a worldview centred on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. This aesthetic is often described as one of beauty that is “incomplete, impermanent, and imperfect.” Some say a single object can spark your appreciation for Wabi Sabi. A characteristic of the wabi-sabi aesthetic may include roughness, asymmetry and you find appreciation in the beauty of a natural (or unnatural)object. It’s looking at something that might at first look ugly and seeing the imperfections as the beauty. I will write more about this topic but for now, I’ll just show you what object made me love it because it was so damn ugly.
We were wandering through the Saturday Night Market when I saw the most beautiful ugly cup I have ever seen. They only had a handful for sale and I decided to get it for a small steal of 100TB ($4 NZ). I got Tom to carefully select his favourite too. 6 hours shopping in a market and these cups were all we had to show for it.
Sunday Market came which is much larger than the previous much to Tom’s disappointment as after dragging him around for 6 hours the night before he couldn’t think of anything worse.
I came across a stall called Tha-wan Pottery with 3 shelves of beautiful ceramics that I could not put down. Each piece was so unique and beautifully handcrafted. The lovely guy at the stall’s name was Nu, the lead craftsman of Tha-wan Pottery. He didn’t speak too much English so I took his card, hoping we could get in touch or I could see some more of his work.
I started to research the best pottery classes in Chiang Mai and found some 1, 3 or 10-day courses quite close to the city at a place called InClay. They seemed to be doing really well and had good Tripadvisor reviews but I couldn’t stop thinking about the style of the pieces at the Sunday stall. So I messaged Nu’s pottery Facebook page asking if I could come and see the studio and maybe have a play around with some clay if I paid for materials. He replied almost straight away and said I could come later that week but the actual studio was 20 or so kilometres south of Chiang Mai Old Town where we were staying. I said yes and we set up our first clay date.
D A Y O N E
We rented a big scooter as google maps said we would be going on the motorway to get to the studio, some 40 minutes of driving to the San Pa Tong District.
At this point I didn’t really know what we were in for, I just thought that I was going to pay to use some clay and hopefully pick up some tricks from the artist I got to meet. So we arrived with open minds but still slightly nervous.
We got there and were welcomed by Nu and his family.
We spent the first day playing around on the wheel doing something called “totem” where you continuously use the same piece of clay to create multiple cups or bowls without ever removing the clay from the wheel. My first one was awful but in my defence, it was very Wabi Sabi. It didn’t bother me and Nu found it hilarious.
On my first day we did:
- Totum clay throwing
- I learnt how to create a crackle effect that looks like stretch marks using Sodium Silicate.
- We created some cups from hand without using the wheel (mine didn’t quite make the full pottery journey RIP)
Nu’s mother runs an ice cream stall in the afternoons so we were super spoilt with fresh coconut ice cream and fresh fruit.
Before we went home we drove to the other half of the studio where the kiln and glaze is. Had a tour, had an amazing lunch which we were not expecting then headed home covered in clay, full to the brim with delicious food and feeling VERY crafty.
D A Y T W O
Our second claydate was over a week later, it had to be postponed because we had gone up to Pai for 5 days where I was admitted to hospital -_- so needed a few days to recover.
Nu and I didn’t use the wheel this day just did lots of sculpting by hand. I tried to make some moon shaped hanging planters and we experimented with different etching designs, made an improved spoon, as my first was very impractical… We had a good play around and to my surprise, actually made some things I was proud of!
We brought some dragonfruit and sticky rice crackers, we wanted to contribute as we were so spoiled the previous time, they still outdid us and Nu’s mum had more dragonfruit and mango sticky rice, a massive plate of jackfruit (slowly becoming my favourite fruit) and she made an AMAZING noodle soup for us.
After a wonderful afternoon of listening to country music and a lot of banter via google translate. We drove home excited for our third and last time with them where we would glaze and colour the pieces I actually liked.
D A Y T H R E E
I was a bit sad driving there knowing it was our last time this trip spending the day with Nu and his wonderful family but excited because we would be glazing all my pieces!
We headed straight to the other half of the studio and I spent the first 10 minutes sitting admiring my biscuit pieces that had made it through alive.
I remembered literally nothing about glazing from the last time I had done pottery so I was super lucky to have Nu teach me some of his funky techniques.
I had noooo idea what they would turn out like and mine looked pretty miserable. It was almost like a lucky dip with the glazes and because I didn’t know what any of colours looked like after firing them. So I just played around, Nu didn’t make me feel pressured for them to be perfect so I didn’t mind.
This is me literally washing it off because I messed up so bad…
And that was it! We said our goodbyes and planned to meet at the night market that weekend.
It was a wonderful experience and I learnt so much in those 3 days of pottery; many new clay techniques, to be patient while being creative and to find the beauty in something imperfect even as the creator which can be hard as often we are our harshest critics.
Most importantly though, I learnt that even if you don’t speak the same language as another person. This does NOT mean you can’t make friends, make jokes or make ugly mugs together. Quite the opposite actually.
Here are some of the pieces I picked up from the market that following weekend.