Wednesday, May 2, 2012

YiXing clay in the middle of Europe

As many potters I know, I also base my ceramic work on local materials. Getting to know the nature around you is very important as well as quite interesting part of potters live. But when Peter Stanik, owner of small tea/yixing business, offered me chunk of Zi Ni clay to try I couldn´t refused. The clay was send by YiXing potter Lui Ming Zhu. He added short note and the information that they fire it in between 1050- 1150°C was the most important one. Well, temperature in our kiln varies from 1220 to 1380°C. It means that we can make clear clay glaze from that Zi Ni! But many low-fire clays can survive in coldest parts of our kiln, near chimney, so let's try it anyway...
Clay has very unusual hue of brown color, with hint of purple. It is without sand or another larger, rough particles in it. On first touch you can feel its plasticity. I got around 1,3kg of clay and I was decided to try to create some teapots from it. But first, I had to make some tests and see how it will work in or kiln. I made several small cones and laid out them around kiln chamber. I put some of them to hot places, some to colder and some even to chimney.
 Yes, although over-fired, almost all cones have survived. Those near chimney look very promising. So now I could start to work on first Czech Yixing teapot...
120 grams of Zhu Ni clay...

For 100ml teapot I usually need around 120g of clay. Plus I need some clay for lids and spouts. It means that if everything will go well I can make seven teapots. For the first shot I decided to go for trio. I have to say, this kind of clay is pleasure to work with. It is very smooth, plastic and strong. I haven´t expected such malleable material; it is great, at least for small forms. Here you can see several pictures from the process.

We usually do our first, bisque firing, in electric kiln and mostly to around 1000°C. From my experience, it is crucial for such high iron, low fire clays to be bisque fired in oxidation or neutral atmosphere. If such pot, made from iron rich, low-fire clay, is fired in stronger reduction without first firing it in oxidation you will find it bubbled or collapsed much sooner. That is why I have "bisqued" those three teapots even though I was not going to glaze them. 
On the right side you can see all three teapots fired to 1000°C...
After firing...
As you see I let those teapots in bare-clay rendition. All three can hold around 120ml and walls are pretty thin. There are some points on each of them, which I see now as imperfections. But I was going for natural and my-own look and feeling. From this point of view I am more then happy.

Footprints of the fire...

Attentive readers of my blog already know that one of them has become part of my Gem Collection. Second one stay with me, as part of my young sheng tea sessions. And the third one went as a gift to Peter Stanik's hands as my thanks for the opportunity to try this wonderful clay. At the end, you can take a look at Lui Ming Zhu's work from this clay here.

2011 Xi Zi Hao Ding Jia Lao Zhai Xiao Beeng Cha...long, long name for those leaves in my new teapot
Thank you for reading...


  1. Petr, this is wonderful! In my opinion, all three of your teapots came out very beautifully.
    I'm very glad that we have Peter Stanik around here; if not for him, this unique experiment would hardly happen.
    I've got one of Liu Ming Zhu's teapots from Peter about a year and half ago and am using it for Yancha - an exquisite piece of teaware.

  2. This kind of pairing project is so cool! Maybe you should do more of this :-D
    Just to clarify, this is purple clay, right?

  3. These are gorgeous! As I was reading through the post I could hardly wait to beg to claim one for myself here in the comments, but alas :) No doubt they all have good homes!

  4. Michal - I was glad to “find” Peter Stanik too. And this clay experiment is just one of many reasons why...

    Gingo- Do you mean like to try famous tea-clays from all around the world? Hm, that sounds tempting :)

    I am not expert on YiXing but it was given to me as Zhu Ni- light purple...maybe you can help us here reading Chinese description here This should be the same clay...

    Bev- As there will be another round; maybe you will have a chance. But who knows if the fire is going to be compassionate it again? :)


  5. Very nice experiment and great result, thanks for sharing !

  6. Hi Petr,
    The paper, and your clay for that matter, looks like 紫泥 zi ni - purple clay.
    Zhu ni is quite different and is known for being vitrified at a low temperature, behaves more like porcelain.
    Is red-orange and has poor resistance to thermal shock, as you can see..

  7. Hi Brandon,

    Thanks for your inside and clarification. It was probably just "lost in translation" and I am going to fix it right ahead.

  8. Hmmmmm :) This looks really nice. Will you do more of these yixing clay pots?

    By the way, would be the 1000 degrees fired pots be useful? They have similar color as some older yixing teapots, so I wonder if these were fired at lower temperatures than today's pots...

  9. Very interesting! Judging from my untrained (I know very little about pottery) the final products are fired at higher temps than what I think we normally see in Yixing wares - they seem to have that sheen to it. I'd guess they're also a little more brittle? I have a few pots that went through yaobian and they take on that darkish colour - perhaps vitrifying a little in the process?

  10. Jakub- this clay wouldn't be useful at 1000°C, it is still too porouse. But I belive that between 1050-1100°C it can work. But there are many clays used in YiXing and some of them can be probably fired around 1000...

    MarshaIN- Yes, I fired them in the cold part of the kiln but it is still up to 1200°C. And If my info is right then it is usually fired to around 1150°C max. As it is more vitrify it is also harder, which also means more brittle. The darkish color comes not only with higher temperature but also with strong reduction- color of iron in the clay is changed. I have been using one of them for younger shengs several times and so far it works great. As I do not have any original (made from the same clay) is hard to judge which kind of firing is better (I mean which gives better tea)

    About clays I found this interesting sign

    but I am not sure if all data are relevant. For example Zhu Ni to 1700°C? probably mistake...

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  12. Hi All,
    Yes the clay from different ares makes the brew different than the other as the taste of brewed liquor will vary from the other.

  13. Yeah the webpage says purple clay (zi ni).

    And yeah I mean pairing projects on all kinds of clays. Maybe you can have a show and a picture collection of them!

  14. Beautiful Petr, I'm a potter too and a great fan of your ceramics which I discovered in Caj Chai Shop. Are you coming to Barcelona again? C:

    1. Dear Eli, thanks for the support. We would be happy to spent some more time in Spain, wonderfull coutry! But any plans yet...

      I went thruth your albums and there are some very nice pieces. Keep going!

      Happy day to Spain


  15. omlovam se, budu psat cesky. yixing konvicky jsou krome specialni hliny charakteristicke i vyrobnim postupem. prikladam video. mate s nim nejake zkusenosti?

  16. Čeština rozhodně nevadí:) Stavění kounviček z "volné ruky" jsem nezkoušel. Je to zcela jiná technika. Já jsem pouze odskoušel hlínu v technologii kterou bežně používáme. Pravda je že během času se i techniky i hlíny pro yixing konvičky vyvíjejí. Někdy je to obohacení nekdy ztráta. Dříve se pálilo dřevem, to se již nedělá. Původní hlína je (dle mých informací) vytěžena či téměř nedostupná. Některé konvičky se točí na kruhu či dokonce formují do sádrových forem. Je těško říci co je ještě Yixing co již napodobenina se stejným jménem...Já jsem nikdy neměl ambice tvořit yixing konvičky. Vždy to jsou "novak" konvičky:) Povětšinou z Českých hlín, někdy z hlín nečeských...