Building a Yixing-Clay-Tea-Pot
This Autumn, artist Pan Yuen was kind enough to show how he builds an Yixing tea pot body, completely by hand. Watch as he turns a brick of clay into a beautifully formed pot at his small studio over about 20 minutes, using only simple tools and his own years of experience. In the backgroung, a Kung Fu action movie plays while he works.
This is only the one step in a longer multi-day process – creating and finishing the lid, sculpting and joining the handle and spout, and generally perfecting every aspect of the pot, inside and out. Once everything is complete, the Pan Yang will fire the pot in his carefully controlled electric kiln.
Potters spend years learning and mastering traditional tea pot forms, first as students and then as young artists in their own right. Only after years of experience will an artist create their own unique designs and shapes, and eventually share these with students of their own.
From start to finish, it took about a half an hour for Pan Yuen to hand form the body of this Yixing clay tea pot.
He begins with a section of unformed clay, carefully shaping and flattening into the correct size and thickness. He smooths the clay before measuring and trimming.
Pan Yang uses a simple clay form to temporarily hold the clay at the correct diameter, then uses a straight edge and a blade to cut the clay at an angle where the two edges overlap. He trims and preps the edges to ensure a good fit.
Pan Yuen uses his artist chops to stamp one side of the clay. Once finished, this seal will remain on the interior wall of the tea pot. He places his seal here to emphasize the fact that his pot is built completely by hand, without the assistance of molds, presses, or machines. Using his fingers, Pan Yuen joins the edges of the clay together, then carefully smooths the joining. He creates a small indentation in the clay, marking the point where he will later attach the handle.
Here’s where things start to take form! After prepping the clay, he uses a simple wooden paddle to gently strike the clay while he turns the form and supports the clay wall with his free hand. Before your eyes, the body of the pot begins to take shape.
After taking care to make sure the pot is centered on his wheel, he carefully cuts a perfectly circular opening into the top. Pan Yuen measures the opening, then uses wooden calipers to trim a perfect circle of clay. He then prepares clay slip, which he applies carefully to the edge of the pots’ circular opening.
With great skill, Pan Yuen expertly tucks the circle of clay into the opening at the top of the pot. Amazingly – the fit is perfect, and the two pieces are now joined together! He makes it all look so easy, but the skill takes years of practice and a steady hand. He carefully smooths out the joining, and uses his paddle to tap the top into place.
Now, he can remove the circular form and flip the pot over. After prepping the clay again, he uses his paddle to strike and form the clay. You can see the body of the pot truly taking shape!Over the next few days, he’ll be able to smooth the exterior walls, punch the filter holes for the spout, sculpt the spout and handle, and everything else needed to finish this completely hand made yixing tea pot!
After a week of effort and craftmenship, a gorgeous yixing teapot is ready to brew out the top quality tea to be served.