Bat Systems & The Muse

I have learned so much from the online pottery community. There is just no way to know what piece of information might make an impact or make some concept click. So I’m throwing my perspective out into the lake and hopefully it will help someone, in some way.

This post is about Bats!

First off… A bat 🦇 “Why would I want one, don’t they carry rabies? And if so why would I want a whole system based around a mouse with wings?”

A bat, is a board made of MDF (medium density fiberboard), injection molded plastic, plaster, Masonite and possibly other materials or mixture of materials. Usually they are round or square, sometimes textured, sometimes not, and are made to go on top of your pottery wheel via bat pins.

These bats allow you to remove your pots after throwing without picking them up and possibly distorting your piece or leaving fingerprints or marks.

There are all kinds of tricks and tools around removing your pottery from the wheel.

Your hands, if you can get the hang of it, can lightly grip the bottom of the pot, equally at 3 or 4 points and lifted off. If done right this leaves minimal markings, usually in the place where you would trim anyways.

There are flat shovel-like tools that slide under to support the base of the pot while it is lifted.

Some people use a large putty knife and water. While this does distort the pot initially, it is equally distorted in the opposite direction upon placing the pot on the drying board.

I learned and threw on a kick wheel for the first year or so. There are no pins unless I wanted to drill through the small 7 inch wide x 1/4 inch steel plate that serves as the wheel head. I had a ton of problems removing my janky pots from the wheel. I tried all kinds of tricks and ruined a few pots and I learned about bats.

If you’ve looked around on any of the message boards you no doubt have seen post after post about which brand or material is best. Really, in the end, it doesn’t matter. That is what is great about pottery, clay and ceramics; you can find your own way. No doubt there are as many different ways to ________ as there are potters who ______.

Since getting my Shimpo Whisper VL I have been getting away with having only five of the 10” MDF bats for years. They worked out pretty ok and kept me from warping or destroying thinly thrown bowls and cups while I continued to learn.

Really, five is a good number. A prime number at that, but it just doesn’t cut it when you want to do more than just the occasional thing when the muse decides she wants to show up. It’s rare that she even shows up, much less hangs out long enough for you to throw more than five pots. So at that rate 5 is perfect.

I know now that you should be producing ALL THE TIME, as much as possible, given your priorities in life. When the Muse does come, together, you will be able to make more and better. I don’t wait any longer, she is so fickle and capricious, but I suppose that is part of her charm.

I purchased the Wonder Bat System and another 6 of the inserts. I’ve used them for a few days and have to say that right away I’m loving it. The insert being 6” wide and fitting in the center cutout works great. There is no feeling of a gap or bump in throwing when your hand moves across the boundaries.

I can’t speak for longevity yet, but I do have a friend who uses them and has for years without issue.

This is the size of the inserts compared to the 10″ MDF bats.

If the price is a turn off there are a ton of other options including DIY. However I find the price to be extremely reasonable given the amount of use I expect to  get out of the entire system and if storage is hard to come by in your studio, like it is in mine, it’s hard to beat.

Also, Jeff Campana has came up with an excellent alternative  to the WonderBat System. It is the same initial concept except using tiles instead of the proprietary MDF type material.  He also shares a ton of fantastic information on everything ceramics.



Wabi Sabi, Straw Dogs & Footrings

Courtesy of Joseph Luke Fireborn

I was answering a post concerning Footrings & Kodai on Yunomi from a potter friend on Instagram who goes by JosephFireborn. Even with the lack of formatting in the reply posts I gave it my best shot. When I was finished it gave me a warning about the post being blocked by an algorithm to protect the community 🤔

In it I made the point about the aesthetic of the foot needing to match the rest of the pot. It’s not the most important part but it IS important when the potter is creating a beautiful and pleasing cup. (Sneakerheads might disagree with this concept in general)

An intricately shaped and elegantly adorned pot sitting on top of a sterile foot, or the opposite, where a blank vessel rests upon a masterpiece of a foot, for my taste it usually doesn’t make sense. There are always exceptions of course.

Courtesy of Sebastian Shuster

I think that that first the potter must grasp the technical, the rules of thumb & experiment, but ultimately what the potter is trying to hone is their intuition. The ability to bring this intuition into reality, to me, is the soul of the potter and the soul of the vessel merging. You know it when you see it but it is not something that can easily be explained or conceptualized.

This is sort of the same with the concept of Wabi-Sabi. If you’ve studied the term, it’s almost the same type of elusive yet ever present concept. (If you haven’t, I can highly recommend Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers*You know at your very core that everything is impermanent. Even the pottery we make may last a thousand years (some of mine, I hope it doesn’t lol) but it is not forever. And in that impermanence is something… Something that we can either be scared of or something that is incredibly beautiful and awe inspiring. When you see it, you are struck with a certain distinct feeling.

Another concept that I wanted to bring into the conversation was the concept of Straw Dogs from the 5th verse of the Tao Te Ching. These objects are revered and then tossed into dirt after the ceremony is completed. Its funny because they are objects and what we create are objects. The point that I was trying to make is that there is a detachment from what we create so that we are free to experiment without grief and find the ways that we are best able to bring our intuition into physical form.

Courtesy of Cory Lum

We all have our favorites: Something perfect and tight, something loose and organic, something in between, something that is an extension of the vessel, something that is separate and creates contrast and shadows. I only know it when I see it and sometimes seeing it is not enough, sometimes what I see visually feels right but the ultimate test is when you hold it. It contributes to a perfect balance, sometimes it is functional (to hold the rim and the foot when drinking something hot, a precursor to our modern handles on coffee mugs), but always it gives me a that good distinct feeling that is beyond right, and lets you know that the maker achieved something a bit magical.

Anyone have any thoughts on foot rings or kodai?

(* the above affiliate link helps me pay for web hosting and to continue bringing relevant and interesting content to the community)

Workshop with Naoki Izumi

Naoki Izumi

Getting back in the groove with life and creating. Fall seems to always be the time where I come alive.

Near the end of August I was feeling brave enough to venture back out into the world and ended up at a workshop put on by Chris Kelly and OCAF featuring Naoki Izumi.

Izumi’s approach to producing art coincides with his awareness of SuHaRi, (often referenced in martial arts). This concept instructs a student to first master the discipline, then to break from the discipline, and finally to transcend the discipline. 

All in all it was a great workshop and I learned a lot from watching him throw these pots and vessels, some of which are no longer needed (Ohaguro – the practice of teeth blackening, and the jars to store the mixture for example) but they retain their value as an object of history and are still made and sold. I think it’s a fantastic ode to heritage of yesterday, to keep making the same vessels but in a more modern form and interpretation.

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I also met Naomi Hashimoto who is the director of the Echizen Ware Industrial Cooperative Association. A fantastic guy who was accompanying Izumi from Japan for this workshop and a few other items of business. I was delighted that he invited me to come and visit whenever I make the trip to Japan.

A little bit about Chris Kelly – The Associate Art Director for Piedmont College and Chair of the Art Department. He spent a year in Japan after college, specifically in Echizen, learning from the potters and the community. And the more I get learn about Chris the more I realize that he’s truly giving back some of what he was privileged to partake in. I try to thank Chris for his contributions every chance I get because if there is something that I am interested in, he usually ends up being the one behind it. So the three of these fellows are friends from that time and we were lucky enough to learn from and to be part of that friendship.

What I took away from the workshop was not so much technical knowledge, (Izumi-San’s technique is loose and beautiful and I hope to one day be 1/2 as good as him) but more the camaraderie and pride of the Echizen potters and how they all do what comes from their hearts and still keep the tradition alive. Keeping Echizen as a pottery village which it has been for 800 years. There is much much more to the story that I hope to write about in the future.

I returned with two DVDs documenting Echizen and the potters of yesterday and today as well as a good feeling that I’m continuing to pursue a path that feels right to me.

Chris Kelly, Naoki Izumi & Naomi Hashimoto