With their muted colours, organic shapes, and distinctive texture and finish, Yanting Tian’s ceramic cups and bowls are far from your standard tableware. The ceramic’s unique look is due to its special ash glaze, handmade from naturally found sea driftwood, a process Tian learned firsthand from his father, internationally renowned wood-firing master Chengtai Tian.
The craft of ash glazes, meaning ceramic glazes made exclusively from the ash of various woods or straw, has been around for more than 2,000 years, and is considered superior to the many varieties of ready-made ash glazes on the market, which contain chemical additives.
Tian’s making of his driftwood ash begins with finding the right types of driftwood and then burning them down to an ash—the process takes several days to get a sufficient amount of ash—and sieving. The ash is rinsed at least nine times to wash out its alkali contents, until no trace of grease remains, and is then allowed to dry.
To make the glaze, the ash is combined with water and a small amount of pottery clay to create a viscous texture that will adhere to the clay surface. Various types of wood ash and clay produce different surface finishes when fired under high temperatures, and as the two come together, the resulting colours and patterns are unpredictable yet mesmerizing, a one-of-a-kind beauty revealed as if by magic in a melding of the earth and ocean.