WINGSPAN Magazine (ANA Airlines) / September 2018 / "Return to the Porcelain Capital"

Below is a link to an article written by Mayumi Ishii about Jingdezhen and the Pottery Workshop. Published in the in-flight September 2018 issue of WINGSPAN magazine, the article titled, “Return to the Porcelain Capital,” speaks as much to the history of Jingdezhen as it does to the modern day. Andy and I, along with our amazing staff were able to host Mayumi and to share with her perspectives of Jingdezhen and it’s community. Mayumi having first visited Jingdezhen 15 years prior, of course also shared with us as many interesting memories and insights. She was a pleasure to have with us and it is very exciting to be able to share this article ….. also it is probably the last and only time I will ever see my name in an inflight magazine.

ABOVE: Screenshot of the ANA website page

ABOVE: Screenshot of the ANA website page


Jingdezhen PWS Design Studio entrance

The Pottery Workshop DESIGN STUDIO (2008-13), established by Takeshi Yasuda and Caroline Cheng in 2008, was strategically built as a resource for artists and designers of all levels to be able to design and produce very specific projects in the world famous porcelain city of Jingdezhen, China.  This same year, I had just finished my graduate studies and was hired to manage the Design Studio (now called Yi Design). 


Jingdezhen, considered to be the “Capital of Porcelain,” has been leading the world in porcelain production since the beginning of the Song Dynasty.  Today, the city continues to thrive on the ceramic industry, which over time has become an interesting synthesis of old and new, industry and artisan. From both an historical and professional standpoint, it is a unique place steeped in tradition, techniques, resources and most importantly, possibility.   Below are images of a large pot being made at one of the many small workshops that can be found around Jingdezhen. 

Slip-Casting production

During my tenure at the Design Studio, our goal was to provide the facilities, resources and professional services that allowed clients from around the world to have unique and specific designs made in Jingdezhen, in both high quality and limited quantities. Unlike larger manufacturers, we were able to work with clients on individual, one of a kind pieces as well as larger quantities of no set limit.  With an international staff, fluent in both English and Chinese, we put priority on the importance of communication with our clients. 

Projects were typically separated into two parts, (1) prototyping and (2) production.  When making prototypes, a start-up fee was paid that covered all costs of the set-up and initialization of a project (i.e. model making, molds, glaze, firing, troubleshooting, etc).  As samples and prototypes were completed, they were shipped to the client for inspection and confirmation.   Once all necessary alterations and adjustments had been made to the design and it was ready for production, we asked that half of the production fee be paid, the remaining half to be paid upon the client’s receipt and inspection of the wares.

Trimming handles for mugs

PRICING: The costs of a project was determined by many factors. Project details such as finishes and or glazes, number of firings, product size and complexity of forms, are a few of the many things that were considered when pricing a project for a client. The start-up fee of any project would generally range between five and eight-thousand RMB per project.  The production fees would have a much greater range of price, as they were much more specifically affected and assessed by quantities and the details of production.  

SCHEDULE/TIMELINE:  Typically, a project would take three to four months to complete, from beginning to end.   Prototyping generally took six to ten weeks to both make and confirm, and the production of a project could take anywhere from four to twelve weeks to complete. Just as there are many factors that determine the costs of a project, there are also many factors that determine it's schedule.  

Clients we worked with included but were not limited to: Cloud-9, Han Feng Designs, the Neue Galerie, Paul Mathieu, Sabrina Fung Fine Arts, Alan Chan Design Co., and Eva Menz.  Below are select commissions that I contracted, organized and oversaw the production of during my time in the Design Studio (June 2008 - June 2011).  

Pressure-Casting wall tiles

The production of porcelain diamond lamp shades for the VIP Room of the Dutch Pavilion at the 2010 Shanghai World Expo.  Designs by Cloud-9 / Karin An Rijlaarsdam 

Lost Heaven Home (Shanghai / 2009)

With this project, I worked directly with Armelle Nguyen Than and Lidia Serpa to create vases, salad bowls and tea-sets for the Lost Heaven Home boutique, an addition to the Lost Heaven restaurants in Shanghai, China.  (Designs by Armelle Nguyen Than & Lidia Serpa)

The VIP Room of the Dutch Pavilion - 2010 Shanghai World Expo

For this commission, I worked directly with Karin An Rijlaarsdam, the founder of Cloud-9, to make over 500 gold relief porcelain tiles, porcelain diamond lights, and a larger than life gold-lustered porcelain bell.  These items were all used in the interior design of the VIP Room of the Dutch Pavilion for the 2010 Shanghai World Expo, China.  (Designs by Karin An Rijlaarsdam)

The Peninsula Hotel - Shanghai, China

In 2010, Sabrina Fung Fine Arts (SFFA) of Hong Kong, hired the PWS Design Studio to work with them to create unique ceramic objects to be installed in the interiors of the Peninsula Hotel that was being built in Shanghai, China.  All of the designs were based on a combination of an Art Deco and traditional Chinese theme.   


Included in this post are select images and archives of a show that I co-curated as well as links to shows in which I participated with the artist collective, Culture Laboratory Collective.   As stated on it's website, "the Culture Laboratory Collective (est. 2009) comprises a diverse group of artists working loosely around the question of social cohesion within the context of aesthetic fragmentation.  While focusing collectively on a synthetically established social identity the work presented paradoxically strives to break free of group-think aesthetics in favor of the individual voice, the point of dissonance opposing the attempt at collaborative cohesion.  Retaining a focus on craft and the object, Culture Laboratory Collective operates as an ongoing investigation in media interchangeability and aesthetic fluidity." 

I have always been honored to be included with such an amazing group of talented artists, thinkers and makers.  Participating in each exhibition has always provided opportunities and conversations that have ultimately led to new concepts, ideas and works that I would have otherwise not created.   Below are archives of select exhibitions and resulting artworks. 


The exhibit challenges conceptual and cultural translation while pinpointing identity through the objects we propose for creation by another culture.

Culture Laboratory commissioned Chinese painter, Xiao Ma, to use the traditional “Qing Hua” painting, or blue & white painting process, to translate images onto porcelain tiles. Xiao Ma worked closely with me to capture the essence all the images supplied by its 12 members. These works were made in Jingdezhen, Jiang Xi province, China, the most famous city of Chinese ceramic/porcelain art and production. Qing Hua is one of the well-known art styles of Jingdezhen porcelain. Using Cobalt for blue coloration the style applies the mineral on the raw ceramic ware in varying densities of washes. Once the painting is finished, the tile is sprayed with a transparent glaze. Finally, the tiles are fired to approximately 1315 °C, making the image on the tile permanent.

The exhibition entangles intention, translation, and the potential for communication into a series of finely crafted objects. These objects are a testament of a commodity driven blending of cultures between China the United States. However, this venture is disconnected to the traditional relationship of mass-produced objects made in China and brought to the U.S.A. Culture Lab is making one-of-a-kind, hand-crafted objects in an effort to counter the effects of the global corporate language of supply and demand, and instead emphasize communication between individuals. With me living and working in Jingdezhen, there was a practical and sincere communication that resulted in unique and dynamic products. For the majority of the Culture Lab group, this was the first time the individuals used another artist to execute the manifestation and creation of the concepts presented. This is yet another manufactured   conceptual disconnect that allows for greater diversity in the exhibit, and the element of surprise at the outcome. The exhibit was first shown in China and later exhibited in the US.

Jingdezhen Painter: Xiao Ma 小马

Project Coordinator / Translator: Yu Jia Jia (Maggie)

Curator: Dryden Wells

Co-Curator: Ian F. Thomas

DISNEY BATHROOM TILES - commission archive

In the Summer of 2014, I was approached by a colleague as to whether I would be interested in a commission to make approximately 650 handmade ceramic accenting bathroom tiles for the new Disney World that recently opened in Shanghai.  The entire processes of prototyping and production took over a year and four months and much more time and energy than originally any commission normally does.  But, all of the hard work and long hours were forgotten recently when I was surprised by some installation photos sent to me by friend's in Shanghai who happened to stumble into the particular part of the park, "SOAR," where the tiles where placed (hopefully the other bathroom patrons were not creeped out by my friend, YiFei, taking pictures :-)  

From my understanding, part of the agreement for Disney to open a theme park in China required them use a majority of domestic Chinese vendors for this production.  This basically means that most, if not all of the tiles, carpet, window shades, etc. that Disney had already established to be produced by other factories throughout the world, now had to be re-prototyped, tested and produced by Chinese companies and factories specifically for this park.  This is where I come in.  While the "falcon" tiles I ended up making had originally been handmade in the USA for other Disney parks, the Chinese contractors hired by Disney had to find a company in China to as closely as possible,  remake this same design.   

As with any project, there are always things to be learned.  In particular with this project we were given a very small size variance threshold of 1mm in length and 0.5 mm in width for each tile.  If you have not worked with clay before, this is an extremely small window of variance when hand making anything!  Clay shrinks approximately 6-8% during the drying process and another 5-7% during the firing process for a total of 11-15% when finished. Unfortunately, there can be many variables during the process, such as bags of clay having different water contents, warping during the drying, etc., that can make hitting the size requirement very difficult.  Because I used a press-mold to make each tile (to try to keep a hand-made look and regularity),  I realized that if I make the mold slightly larger than what I need, when the tiles are finished drying, I can use a dye to hand-trim each tile exact to what it should before firing.  By doing this, I did add an extra step, but I was also able to have much more control of the sizing.     

Another part of the project that was particularly difficult was first, making the glazes that matched the pantone colors we were given, and second, remaking each glaze without any discernible difference from the confirmed colors.   Most simply put, glazes are made with chemistry.  Glazes after being fired are glass on the top of vitrified ceramic.  When trying to make a particular glaze, there are inherent concerns and variables like, clay color, firing temperature, glaze application, glaze opacity, etc., all that can make matching or pinpointing certain characteristics very difficult.   Fortunately, we learned a lot during this process and were successful in our methods.  

Below are images of the making process.  Unfortunately, there are many parts of this commission that I do not have pictures of, including photos of my amazing friend and assistant, Yin PeiPei, who hand glazed all of the tiles.  Without him, I do not think I would have been able to complete this project.  



In 2015, along with several other local ceramic artists, I was interviewed by Shanghai Culture Magazine in regards to my understanding and response to "Shanghainese Ceramics."   Unfortunately, I do not have the English translation of each question, but I have included my responses for the article below.  I translated the questions I was given online with Bing Translator.  Be sure to click on the images below to see a larger version.  


海派陶专题采访提纲 / "Shanghai style pottery" - Interview Outline  


1、我们都知道,“海派”指具有上海文化内涵的表现形式,例如文学、餐饮等等,但每个人似乎都有自己的看法和理解,请问您如何理解“海派”这个概念?/ As we all know, "Shanghai" refers to the expression of the cultural connotations of Shanghainese, such as literature, catering and so on, but everyone seems to have their own views and understanding, how do you understand the concept of "Shanghai"?

Literature, food, fashion, design, etc. are all important words I would use when describing Shanghai, but like any city, it is much more than can be described with words.   There is a culture in Shanghai unique unto itself that is made up of all these things; however, it is the juxtaposition between a sophisticated, classical city and an epicenter of modernity, design and fashion that I find to be most intriguing about Shanghai.   I continue to be amazed by the ways that the city has intertwined the abundance of art deco architecture and classical buildings, the old lane houses , and tree lined streets, with the new technologies in mass transit, massive LED lit buildings, and the newest fashions in the industries.  And while yes, Shanghai is a sprawling metropolis, there are many times that I find myself enjoying the  

2、每当谈到中国各地陶瓷艺术发展的时候,总会不约而同地谈其特点及发展脉络,您认为“海派”陶艺包含哪些内容和特点?/ Whenever we talk about the development of ceramic art in China, we always talk about its characteristics and development, what content and characteristics do you think "Shanghai" pottery contains?

Unfortunately, I am unaware of any traditions or developments of "Shanghai Pottery."  It has been a great place to work for the network and business opportunities it presents, and yes, I do know several Ceramic artists working in Shanghai, but there does not seem to be any connecting theme and or characteristic unique to Shanghai and or the artists working in it.  Shanghai Ceramic Artists do have a major advantage over artists working in other areas, and that is one of proximity in regards to audiences and places to exhibit. Bu,t whether working in a small village or in a major city like Shanghai, I believe that the artists working in Shanghai, like the artists working in the small village, create work that is personal and unique to them.  

3、“海派陶艺”与景德镇、宜兴、龙泉、德化等传统陶瓷产区的最大区别在哪?上海具有哪些明显的优势,不足又在哪里?/ What is the biggest difference between "Shanghai style pottery" and Jingdezhen, Yixing, Longquan, Dehua and other traditional ceramic producing areas? What are the obvious advantages of Shanghai, and where is the shortage?

Again, I am unaware of any traditions or developments unique to "Shanghai Pottery."  To try and compare it to the cities / traditions identified (i.e. Jingdezhen, Yixing, Longquan, Dehua) is an absurd notion.  So, I suppose the both the strength and weakness of "Shanghai Pottery" would be that there is no identifiable tradition.   

4、“海派”诞生于上海这个大都市,融汇了中外各门类的文化元素,例如上海本土的石库门文化、外滩租界的西方建筑文化等,您认为这些文化元素对海派陶艺的创作有哪些影响?"Shanghai" was born in Shanghai, the metropolis, a combination of Chinese and foreign cultural elements of various categories, such as the local stone library culture in Shanghai, Waitan concession of the western architectural culture, etc., what impact do you think these cultural elements have had or have on the creation of Shanghai pottery?

I think the above are all important parts of what make Shanghai, "Shanghai."  I also believe it would be difficult for any artist working here to avoid the elements of what make up Shanghai, I suppose to live here and do so would be impossible.  Having the mix of East and West does create an interesting dynamic that I imagine is just as influential to the Chinese Ceramic artists living and working here as it is to be, a foreigner living in Shanghai.      

5、在您的陶瓷艺术创作中,上海这些文化现象和“海派”艺术家中,哪些对您影响最大?/ In your ceramic art creation, what Shanghai cultural phenomena and "Shanghai" artists have had the most effect on you?

By far, the thing or idea that has impacted me most, is simply, the appreciation for the daily object.  Perhaps the most convenient way to observe this value system can be done when drinking tea with others.  It is during this that I feel people tend to slow down and observe and appreciate the subtleties of not only the tea itself, but also the tools used to serve it and the environment in which they sit.  These experiences have caused me to also slow down and rethink the importance of the objects used in daily life.  As I continue to develop and make new works in Shanghai, I believe I have tried to simplify the objects.  Color, form, pattern, etc. are all parts of the process and finished piece that I continue to make an effort to simplify.  I believe part of the reason for this is because of the continued contemplation of the daily object and the conversations I have with other artists here, but also perhaps in response to the sensory overload that is Shanghai.

6、同其他艺术门类一样,陶瓷始终是处在传承与创新的过程之中。您认为,“海派陶艺”继承的是什么样的文化传统?又是如何将这些地域文化融入创新之中?/ Like other art categories, ceramics is always in the process of inheritance and innovation. In your opinion, what kind of cultural tradition has "Shanghai style pottery" inherited? How can these regional cultures be integrated into innovation?

Like a lot of industries in Shanghai, the ceramics being made here is a synthesis of traditional and modern.  However, in regards to process and materials, many clay artists in Shanghai have either experience working in and or an understanding of the traditional techniques and materials used in the cities such as Jingdezhen, Yixing, Longquan and Dehua.  With this knowledge and experience, these same artists can apply it to the creation of their ideas.  It is important to understand that while the artist's ideas do most certainly inform their materials and process, the materials and process definitely reciprocate in how they influence and inform the artist's ideas.  


7、您对当代海派陶瓷艺术有什么样的期待?同时希望通过哪些方式来促进海派陶瓷艺术的发展?/ What kind of expectation do you have for contemporary Shanghai ceramic art? At the same time, hope that through which ways do you hope to promote the development of Shanghai's ceramic art?

I would like to see more growth in the Shanghai ceramic arts community: more exhibitions, more shared studios, more lectures and workshops, visiting artist's, etc.  For being one of the largest, fastest cities in the world, it's clay community is not particularly large and or cohesive.  I believe the potential for the ceramic arts in Shanghai is vast and I would like to see it's continued development.  Increased involvement in any of the above areas would only help nurture the community. 

TENDER TOUCH - commission archive

I was first approached by Ling Z. (pictured above left), in early 2014 about an idea she wanted me to help her to realize in ceramics.  A designer working in Shanghai and having studied in the UK, Ling was interested in creating a prototype of tableware that would provide those who can not see, an opportunity to interact and experience the wares in a way that would communicate color. The forms, intentionally simple, used braille as a visual design element but more importantly as a way to communicate to the person holding it, the color of the piece.  

Because of such a specific and simple design and because the ceramic process has so many variables that can result in an undesirable product, we had to create several pieces to get the final works just right.  It was all well worth it, as I enjoyed working with Ling and seeing the success of the finished works.  Below are images of the catalog along with installation shots of the finished pieces that were shown in November / December 2014 in Shanghai in a solo exhibition of Ling's.


ONE EYE CAT interview

In the Spring of 2014, I was interviewed by a friend and previous student, YingTing Chen.  A designer based in Shanghai, her website is dedicated to the people and places of inspiration she finds around the city and world.  A very curious and excited observer, it was a pleasure to spend time in the studio with YingTing, discussing process and the pleasures of working with our hands.  Here is a link to the interview posting on her blog, One Eye Cat.