Monday, 21 September 2015

Shuiping 水平

I just finished a lesson in humbleness.

I had an order for a shuiping teapot, a type of teapot you see a lot in China and Taiwan. So common, in fact, that it even turned out I myself unknowingly had one stowed away in my coffers, among other things bought while I lived in Beijing 2000-2005 and since long forgotten.

My forgotten shuiping looks like this:

As you can see, it is round, kind of like a xishi body. The spout sits lower than the lid opening, normally a big no-no. It is not precious or special, but the pour is flawless. The pot's got a large stamp, but sad to say, even after Ph.D. studies in Chinese literature I can't decipher the characters, so not sure if Yixing or not. In the early 00s, there was a tea retail market just inside the second ring road in Beijing, called simply Tea Town 茶城。 That's where I picked this teapot up for very little money. I remember the trip distinctly, and wish I had known more about tea then, because this great place since vanished.

Anyhow, so I was recently facing the task of making a shuiping. The order was for a low, wide mouth shuiping in my iron-rich clay from Wallonia. I work strictly on the wheel, and it was probably a bit of a stretch of the imagination to think I could get away with doing it my way. After some ruminations and trials, I came up with this:

and this:

... both measuring 90 ml. The first is very thin-walled, weighing merely 80 grammes, the second weighs 95 grammes.

For all intents and purposes practically identical, though one spout is slightly thicker at the joined end than the other.

 The spout was my main problem: seems to me, shuiping spouts are normally not wheel-thrown or symmetrically conical. I did throw the spouts on the wheel and cut them even with the lid opening (hence the name, shui ping - literally "water" "level"). Doing it this way you end up with an oval spout opening, where the furthest out wall of the spout looks proportionally wider. Do I make sense here? The point is, you get an unsophisticated looking spout ending. But what can you do, short of hand-rolling or molding your spout... Happy to say, both pots pour cleanly, once you practice the right grip (pinch) on the handle. The handle...well, the handle shape is another story! So unpractical!!

I feel I should explain myself, or say something in my defense... Why make a shuiping when there are so many perfectly good ones on the market? Well, once the idea was floated in my direction, I could not resist the challenge.   And I always learn something along the way, even if the end result is inferior to my dreams.

I have great respect for the traditionally trained craftsmen who turn out perfect shuiping day after day..

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