Experiencing analog through the warmth of ceramic art with W/R/F Labs

When we envision TRAVELER’S notebook users sitting down to create in write in their notebook, we also imagine a warm drink by their sides, providing calm or revitalizing energy for the process. We inevitably selected the mug as an inseparable companion to our users’ creative journey with a notebook and pen. This month, we collaborated with W/R/F Lab, a Los-Angeles based Ceramic studio to bring that vision to life, inspired by the colors of the Pacific Coast and where TRAVELER’S COMPANY USA started.

West River Field, or W/R/F Lab, is run by Japanese artist Nobuhito Nisigawara, the name translated his Japanese heritage. He’s an artist, sculptor, and professor of ceramic art. His casual but functional pottery line combines traditional Japanese ceramic techniques with California’s laid-back and simple aesthetic. Each piece is hand-made and shaped with care.

 

About Nobuhito Nishigawara

Nobuhito Nishigawara is born in Nagoya, a city close to well-known ceramic regions such as Seto and Mino, yet he did not pay close attention to them when he was young. At the age of fifteen, he had the opportunity to study abroad in Canada. Throughout high school, art was still the furthest thing from his mind. It wasn’t until he progressed into Junior College that he stumbled across art as a course. Just when he was feeling directionless while students around him are focused on specific skills and goals, he had his first lesson in ceramics. That was when he met his teacher and mentor: Sadashi Inuzuka, a well-known visual and installation artist in Canada.

Nobuhito was greatly inspired by the fact that his teacher can teach something so tactile and visual despite the disability of being sight-impaired. It was then he learned that ceramic art is not just about the visual effect, but the feelings and emotion that go into creating each art piece. After shadowing and learning with Sadashi Inuzuka for several years, Nobuhito eventually became a fine arts sculptor himself, started W/R/F Lab studio, and is currently the Head of Ceramics program at California State University, Fullerton.

 

The warmth of pottery and analog

We asked if Nobuhito uses pen or paper to document or plan out his designs. Instead of using writing tools, Nobuhito throws and shapes clay on the wheel as the first starting point, drafting the final product through motion and tactile clay. Each functional piece was formed under meticulous thought and expression of creativity at his workstation. Just like a writer pours his thoughts onto paper, Nobuhito sketches his design ideas with clay.

“Ceramic is organic. Not just the material, the clay, but attitude and the way we work is very organic”

He walks us through the process of making a hand-thrown mug, a seemingly simple shape that most people mass-manufacture, but at his studio, they are molded individually with care. The mugs are first shaped on the wheel then left to dry overnight in a controlled humidity. The following day, each mug is flipped to trim the bottom and attach the handle, then left to dry overnight again. Once out of the moisture-controlled tent, each mug is left to air-dry for another 5 to 7 days before being undergoing the first firing.

“Everything I make goes through at least two firing in the kiln. The first bake turns the clay into a bisque, in which the chemical reaction ensures the clay is turned into ceramics, so it is no longer brittle. After ten more hours of cooling down, the mugs are hand-dipped into the glazing formula, before entering a second kiln. That process takes 12-15 hours, and two more days of cooling “

Waiting, and patience is a big part of ceramic and pottery. Nobuhito jokingly says that the mug goes through the potter’s hand for brief periods, but the rest is an act of faith and nursing it to completion through drying and firing.

Nobuhito follows the Japanese traditional method of firing in a gas kiln at a higher temperature (approximately 2500 F) through a reductive environment. To prevent oxygen from flowing into the kiln, a small view window must be closed at a specific temperature, depending on how the kiln is filled and other factors. Catching that moment is the trickiest and most exhilarating part of the process, and it all comes down to the expertise of the potter to execute it seamlessly.

“When I open the Kiln door, it feels like Christmas.”

 

Colors inspired by the Pacific Coast

Nobuhito’s studio is based in Southern California, close to the sunny beaches. In this collaboration, Nobuhito created two unique hues of blue that best represent his vision of the Pacific Coast: Calming Waves and Coastal Milky Way.

The calm and soothing light blue is created using mason stains, a mixture of blue pigment into the transparent glaze that coats the mugs equally. The result is a soft and gentle blue that reminds us of walks along the beach, with the waves splashing against our heels.

The inspiring dark blue shade with white speck is created through a process even more exciting. Nobuhito uses raw cobalt in the glaze to create a deep blue through chemical reaction during the firing. The white specks that are splattered across the surface are the result of the mineral’s particle. It represents the sparks of creativity as this mug accompanies you throughout the evening. It also looks like the glittering sparks you see reflected on the surface of the water.

The mug itself is shaped with a wider bottom so that it is not likely to tip over and spill your drink. Nobuhito draws experience from when he wants to set down his mug of coffee on the car seat and prevent spill at the same time.

 

Accentuate your daily routine with a reliable tool

Nobuhito comes from a fine art and sculptor background, yet these functional wares are not intended to carry a big statement. Unlike typical artworks that are designed to communicate with the audience emotionally, Nobuhito created these ceramic wares with a down-to-earth goal. He wants you to not be afraid to use the mugs, to throw them into the dishwasher easily, but at the same time gain enjoyment from the beauty of the mug for the brief moments you use it.

“My goal is creating an object that can elevate your break, even if it’s only ten minutes a day, my job is done”

 

W/R/F Lab hand-thrown mugs are special items that are meant to be integrated into your daily routine, just like TRAVELER’S notebook. You can derive more joy from using it rather than displaying it as a piece of artwork. The more these tools accompany you through your life’s journey, the more you can feel the warmth of familiarity and reliability.

 

Have a nice trip!