Tuesday, May 20, 2008


Robert Genn, a Canadian painter, emails out a newsletter twice a week on subjects related to art. I especially enjoyed the one I received today so I am posting it here in its entirety.

"Shibui is a broad term that can mean irregularity of form, openness to nature, roughness of texture, and the naturalness of daily life. Also known as Shibusa, it refers as well to the Japanese "Seven aspects of being," which are simplicity, implicitness, modesty, silence, naturalness, roughness and normalcy. It's seen in raku pottery, architecture, folk crafts, haiku, gardens and painting. Shibui is worth thinking about no matter where you are or what your art.

Fact is, perfection is boring. Shibui allows viewer participation in the artist's art. It's particularly valuable in an age of highly finished and sophisticated machine-manufactured products. Shibui comes naturally, shows the hand of the maker, and triumphs gesture and the vagaries of process. While there are hundreds of ways to bring shibui into your life, if you think you might include the idea in your painting, here are seven:

Use the whole brush--right down to the ferrule.
Have more than one colour on the brush at one time.
Hold the brush well up on the handle.
Work freshly and let intuition be your guide.
Feel the energy and direction of your subject.
Be not uptight, but relaxed.
Quit when you've connected and while the going is good.

In a way, the making of raku pottery is a good metaphor. In the fiery arms of the kiln god, work takes on a form of its own. Think of yourself as a kiln rather than a labouring artisan. Under the smoking straw of passion, work shapes itself and becomes its own statement. Shibui is all about trust--trust in your materials, trust in your instincts, trust in yourself, trust in the kiln. Shibui transforms frantic work into calm joy and subdues the creator with relative contentment. As well, viewers get a strong feeling they are looking at art.

In shibui, sheer ease is a virtue. Hours fly by as the creator becomes lost in process and the gentle curiosity of outcome. You never know what you're going to pull out of that kiln.

Best regards,


PS: "Austere, subdued and restrained are some of the English words that come closest. Etymologically, shibui means 'astringent,' and is used to describe a profound, unassuming and quiet feeling." (Bernard Leach, "A Potter's Book" 1940)"

You can subscribe to Robert's newsletters by visiting his web site:


Michael Kline said...

I have always loved this concept and worked for years to "will" it into my process. I think that by forgetting I have allowed it into each step of the making process. But only after reading the newsletter did I remember reading about shibui as a student. It reminded me of an earlier attraction to eastern philosophy and eastern pottery. Thanks.

Sister Creek Potter said...

Michael, Thanks for the note. I traced back to your blog and am happy to have found it. I can't imagine being able to scallop the rim of a plate as you demonstrate there! Amazing--and charming. As are your designs on your pieces. Nice to get to know your work. Gay

Ron said...

Gay, I really enjoyed this too. I desire to have that relaxed feeling in my pots. (and now in my drawings) I think I am beginning to take myself less seriously in some ways and embrace the ways of making that come natural to me or at least abandon those that do not.

wirerabbit said...

Hey Gay:

Around here it's more like buishi...but it's pronounced a bit different.

I do love reading the keys.

Hope you're keeping your hand in clay. I've not touched it in months--kitchen remodel still going on. Hope to have all 10 fingers when it's done.

All my best,


Sister Creek Potter said...

Taylor, how nice to hear from you. I've been a bit distracted from the wheel too. But surely that will change soon. Love to see you soon. Gay