N.021: Pottery Can Be Addictive

Gianfranco Chicco
The Craftman Newsletter
9 min readMay 2, 2020

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Hi! Have you noticed how many people started making bread, knitting, and gardening during the enforced lockdown? In my case, I’ve been improving my pasta making skills (I’m quite proud of these ravioli with ricotta, porcini, and black truffle), and knocking up sponge cakes in the rice cooker.

I think that we’ve turned to making things with our hands to compensate the numbness created by the major change to our daily routines, but also to get out of our heads and more into our bodies. Thinking with our whole body allows us to develop tacit knowledge, that which is difficult to transmit through words and requires first-hand experience to be acquired. The unexpected benefit of it all might be that we will learn to appreciate the effort that goes into things that we give for granted, like a well made loaf of sourdough or a properly poured flat white.

Pottery is another such activity that develops through tacit knowledge. It also creates a direct connection with nature and its elements, and develops our ability to focus. After all, you can’t hold your phone while shaping clay with your hands.

This double issue is entirely dedicated to pottery. I hope you enjoy it, and please don’t feel you have to rush through it. The next newsletter will come out on June 1st.

As usual, please reply or tweet to share your thougths and feedback.

Stay safe,

Mizuyo Yamashita at her studio in East London. Photo by Gianfranco Chicco.

Mizuyo Yamashita

Last year I took a pottery course with Mizuyo Yamashita, a London based Japanese ceramicist. I wanted to get my hands dirty as part of my research into craftsmanship.

In the early 2000’s, after studying interior design in Japan, Mizuyo was spending time in London perfecting her English when she came across a pot by Grayson Perry at the Saatchi Gallery. She felt overwhelmed by the strong message emanating from that vessel, which made her want to find out more about what went into making them. After taking a part time pottery course, she discovered that pottery could be incredibly addictive.

One thing led to the next, and after a period of apprenticeship, she sublet a studio space to make her own stuff without too much training. Later came her fist invitation to exhibit at a local crafts fair, giving her exposure to an audience. The products were well received, shops wanted them, and early features in magazines (this was 2003–2004, pre-Instagram) generated orders from around the world. While it was becoming a proper business, Mizuyo couldn’t fully commit to it emotionally because her Visa situation meant that could have to leave the UK at any given time. But in 2008 she took the plunge, and fully embraced pottery. By then she already had 6–7 years of experience and making pots was all she could think about.

Most makers initially struggle with finding their own style. For Mizuyo-sensei, the struggle was reflected in the huge gap she perceived between what she had in mind, and what she was capable of. As soon as she started to feel in control over the clay on the wheel, her character began to flow through her fingers and into the vessels. The tension generated by the awareness of that gap was what propelled her forward.

“Trying to fill that gap is your identity. After that, I stopped worrying about my style or my design.”

Her work is an act of balancing between what she wants to make and what the market wants. “When it comes to making, whatever the work is, I think I learn something from it. Especially if it’s a challenging commission. I get better at things.”

What I loved about the pottery lessons with Mizuyo were the informal conversations that happened while making things, often veering into deep topics, like the concept of Taru Wo Shiru, to know what is enough, that I discussed in a previous newsletter. During this interview, I asked her about what’s enough for her: “If I can make what I like, and people like what I make, and this exchange is equal, then that for me is enough.”

Growing up in Japan, Mizuyo developed a strong awareness of nature and the seasons. Her studio overlooking the Regent’s Canal in East London is on the top floor of a building with undisturbed vistas of the surroundings. Through the huge windows you can see the sky, and the weather changing. In pottery, you need to be aware of the atmosphere, temperature, and humidity. You have to listen to these elements, and to the character of each different clay you’re working with. “These things, I just feel them, it’s not about logic thinking.”

During the course, Mizuyo would constantly reminded us not to waste any material, and to recycle all the scraps and pieces that we weren’t happy with. In Japan there’s the concept of mottainai, a sense of regret over wasting things. Clay leftovers can be turned into something new if you recycle them. If instead you throw them away, it’s missed potential. But for her it’s more than that, it’s about respect. “When you cannot bring out the full potential of certain things, either people or materials, that’s mottainai. If I make a terrible bowl out of clay, that’s also waste. And that’s why we have to get better at what we do. I try my best not to waste it.”

We often wish for our paths to be free of struggle and complications, but for Mizuyo struggle can be enjoyable as well.

“The more I do, the more I feel I understand about the world. The learning experience is the fun part for me. Sometimes these discoveries are very small, but fundamental.”


Florian Gadsby at his studio in London. Photo by Gianfranco Chicco.

Florian Gadsby

I first came across the work of Florian Gadsby on Instagram in 2017. The clean design and muted colours of his cups and bowls spoke to me the same way that Brian Eno’s music does. I didn’t think too much about it until I tried to buy one of his products, which would go on sale the following Sunday evening. When I visited the online store just minutes after the indicated time, everything was sold out.

Florian got into pottery at a very young age. He attended a Steiner School in London, which emphasised the holistic development of a student’s abilities through intellectual, artistic, and practical skills. His earliest memory regarding ceramics is that of being in kindergarten, digging up and firing clay. But his real infatuation with the medium came at 16 or 17 years old, when he started throwing on a potter’s wheel.

“My first throwing teacher — Caroline — was a factory worker, she was used to throwing thousands and thousands of the same thing, so she was very quick. She threw a jug and she was fast and precise, and as soon as I started I was hooked.”

After high school, Florian wanted to learn how to make functional ceramics, but he found that every university he visited was focusing too much on conceptual art, and did little or no throwing at all. Not only that, many of the potters he met while deciding his next steps would remark the hardships of being the profession, how it would take him twenty years to get anywhere, and another twenty to be known. Others, like , were incredibly supportive and pointed him to the Thomas Town ceramics school in Ireland. It offered an intensive, two year course focused on the practical skills needed to become a studio potter. He was accepted as one in twelve out of 150 applicants.

Like in a scene from the movie An Officer and a Gentleman, the school challenged the students to make things in one minute or less, over and over again. They were trained in production-throwing, and there was a lot of critique aimed at pushing them forward.

“I wanted to learn how to be a good maker, and you’re not going to get it unless people are telling you what you’re doing wrong.”

Two weeks after leaving Ireland, he got an apprenticeship job back in London with renowned British studio potter Lisa Hammond. It literally started with a baptism of fire when shortly after joining Hammond the kiln blew up, and Florian had to help dismantling and rebuilding it. A huge amount of his initial work had to be recycled and reclaimed until he got it right. The apprenticeship lasted for two years, followed by a third one working for her.

It was around during his time with Hammond that Florian started using Instagram, at first just to keep friends and family informed on what he was doing. Back then the platform was still relatively small (100 million users compared to the current billion monthly ones), and not many potters were on it. It was not just the right timing though. Since his early days on Instagram, Gadsby would spend maybe thirty minutes at the studio taking pictures and making videos, and two-three hours at night documenting and sharing his process, answering questions, and writing brief essays. What people often don’t see is that he’s been showing up every signle day for the last five years. In those days you couldn’t advertise on the platform to get likes and follows. Today, his profile has more than 280,000 followers. “I think that people that follow me or buy my work are interested in me, not a brand.”

When the time came for him to sell his work, he had already built an audience. But even with that, he didn’t rush into it, and didn’t put anything on sale until reaching seventy thousand followers. When his shop went online for the first time with just 10 objects, they were taken away in maybe a minute. “I got heart palpitations as it was happening.”

Florian has a tendency to take on big challenges head-on. His training in Ireland, apprenticing with Lisa Hammond, and then in 2017 he spent six months in Japan assisting the legendary Ken Matsuzaki in the town of Mashiko (to learn more about Ken, see the video linked at the end of this issue).

The workload in Japan was intense, with six days a week that started at 8 in the morning with several hours spent sweeping floors, and often finishing at midnight. It was very cold during the winter, but the gruelling routine kept him busy and focused. Florian would support the daily activities of Ken and his apprentice of eight years, Doi, while learning new techniques, the use of the kick-wheel, and working with local clays and glazes. At the end of this period he was given a month to make his own work. “People ask me why I’m not making pots like the ones [I did] there. There’s no point of me going to Japan, using their materials, and then imitate badly the work that I see around me. So I really wanted to make my style with their glazes.”

Florian has been making pots since we was at school, and has never had another job. He is 27 years old, and is currently in the first year running his own studio in London.

“I’ve never been in a position in my life where I could make lots of work. Because now I need to make a living, the idea of making hundreds of things is very exciting.”


Travel Shiboridashi and cup by Viter Ceramics. Photo by Gianfranco Chicco.

Viter Ceramics

To close, I wanted to give a shout-out to this small home studio in the Ukraine run by Ivan Hryhorchuk, with the help of his wife Alina, and a little assistant, their bay son Yar. I bought this shiboridashi and cup set (pictured) as my tea travel kit.

If there’s a recurring trend in all the stories in this newsletter, is that pottery can become addictive. Ivan started making ceramics seven years ago after first pinching clay at a friend’s studio. Two months later, he was selling his first batch of pots at a local music festival.

What I like about Viter’s work is that it’s embedded in a lifestyle of tea, connecting people, crafts, and nature. They are functional products that exude humbleness, you can feel that they have been done with care and respect. Ivan gets his inspiration from people, their stories, and their traces throughout history, nature and its endless changes, and an occasional inner state of enlightenment.




  • Ken Matsuzaki: The Intangible Spirit — A short documentary by Goldmark Gallery that gives us a peek into the life and work of the renowned Japanese potter from Mashiko.
  • Google: Morphing Clay by FutureDeluxe — A real-time interactive experience using machine learning to recognise human body movements to create virtual vessels inspired by traditional Chinese ceramics.


  • London based portuguese potter Jose Carvalho is teaching pottery lessons online for adults and children. It includes the delivery of a pottery kit at home.

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Originally published at https://www.gchicco.com on May 2, 2020.



Gianfranco Chicco
The Craftman Newsletter

Curator of The Craftsman Newsletter. Conference director for hire, digital-physical experiences, marketing & storytelling. Japanophile. ✌