“What’s possible and what’s not is decided only by yourself. In other words, if you think it’s possible, it’s possible, if you think it’s not, it’s not. “Nobody has done it” doesn’t mean it’s impossible. I think I have managed to create something not many have done, it’s not because I am more skilled or talented than others, it’s because I didn’t think it was impossible.”
“If people who look at my work somehow feel happy, feel their spirit lifted, I am happy. That’s what I want.” Narumi Ii is an incredible Japanese artist who is taking the term “self-taught” to a whole new level. Her incredible mastery of both the nerikomi and water-etching techniques are proof that dedication and passion are among the most important tools in any artists’ toolbox. With amazing colors and incredibly intricate design details, Ii’s work is sweeping the industry as she tackles and masters some of the most difficult techniques of the ceramics artform. More importantly, her truly visionary work has become an inspiration for other artists looking to grow in their own artistic journey; “If other artists look at my work and think wow, I never thought this could be done with clay, then it means I have managed lifting an imaginary wall in their mind, then that’s great. After all, limitations in life are mostly created by yourself”.
Ii is a completely self-taught artist, who happened upon ceramics in a chance lunch meeting with a friend; “Art has been always part of my life. I have done lots of different modalities of art since my childhood, but mostly 2D stuff except for fashion. I happened to have lunch with my friend in 2016 and she casually mentioned her friend is learning pottery and enjoying it. I thought, well, pottery, that sounds interesting. That’s how I started. I had no experience with clay before that. The first time I touched clay, it felt very natural and familiar. Clay has been with me ever since”. Ii explained that she hasn’t had the chance to learn from different mentors, but it’s clear that her “trial-and-error” learning process has served her well; “I am an autodidact, I haven’t had a mentor to give me challenges. It’s been only through my own trials and errors. Every single step of my complicated Nerikomi and water etching processes have presented me enough challenges and difficulties which have created the “love and hate relationship” with ceramics. Some people have told me I have the “patience of Buddha” looking at my work and process, but my husband knows so well that that’s not the case!” Through her own learning process, Ii has come to understand that “failure” can’t be a part of her vocabulary – she takes every part of her creative processes in stride and instead uses those “failures” as learning moments; “Getting rid of “attachment” is the key to enjoy what I do, there is no “failure” in anything you do, everything is a learning moment and part of growth, so I don’t get upset nor sad about things not going how I wanted or expected. This realization through work in ceramics made other aspects of my life so much different and enjoyable. Many artists have inspired me, but at the same time, looking at so many different and amazing works of others sometimes unsettled and confused me as well, to be honest. I have come to the conclusion that creating what I like and what comes to me using what I have mentally, spiritually, and physically is the best way to keep myself engaged and inspired”.
In both her nerikomi and water etching techniques, Ii has found that much of her inspiration comes from the water and different seascapes; “Usually, inspirations just come. Having said that, most of my work is influenced by water scenes and sceneries often including fish. Maybe because I am a Pisces, maybe because I used to be a swimmer, maybe because I live on the water (river) and look at it everyday. Water and movements are what defines my work, stories are told always accompanied with hope, wish, compassion, and love”. Nerikomi is a traditional Japanese technique that translates to “kneading into”. As Ii explained, “Slabs of different colored clay are stacked, rolled, folded into logs and those logs (just like candy canes) are sliced and arranged into a slab to form a vessel”. Ii uses her own self mixed porcelain in 20-200 different colors to create her pieces; she explained that the design process can take weeks and the entire creation of a single piece typically takes months. She explained that mastering this technique has been the biggest challenge during her artistic career, and said that, “Nerikomi is a very challenging technique. It is slab work and you are trying to keep the pattern without messing up, so forming a vessel is always a big challenge. Lots of times, I cannot even use slip to stick parts and joints. Also as you can imagine, all those thousands of joints between different colored clay can easily crack. Porcelain adds more issues, such as warping. A “love and hate” relationship emerges here. I have come up with my own methods and ways to make the process as secure as possible, but it is still a very challenging work and never guaranteed. After months of working on a piece, you would be so scared of the firing result, but I have come to the point that I am no longer too attached with a piece, if it doesn’t work out, it’s ok. I will do better next time”. Her water etching technique is a new endeavor that Ii started in 2019. She explained that this is done, “by applying shellac resist on green ware surfaces then wiping away the clay with a wet sponge where no resist is applied. Shellac is then burnt off during the bisque firing”. Ii uses this technique to create incredible textures and 3D effects, and has created her own teaching manual for others to learn this intricate technique.
Despite her incredible success within this industry, Ii is still fairly new to the ceramics world, but she says that the success and following she’s been able to create has been one of the greatest parts of her ceramics journey; “I am still new to this world, so I haven’t made many contributions to it yet. Within a few years, I have 8000+ followers on my Instagram account which is a surprise for me. I have received so many wonderful and encouraging messages and comments there, have sold almost all of my work I put out for sale despite the high prices, and every single buyer has been very pleased with their purchase which I am very grateful of and happy about. I have also created a digital manual for multiple layered water etching techniques this year and it has been accepted well. I have received photos of what people created after learning from my manual, which has been a great experience”. Her experience as a self-taught artist has been full of incredible twists, turns, and learning moments, and she hopes it is an inspiration to other artists so they expand their ideas about what “impossible” really means; “What’s possible and what’s not is decided only by yourself. In other words, if you think it’s possible, it’s possible, if you think it’s not, it’s not. “Nobody has done it” doesn’t mean it’s impossible. I think I have managed to create something not many have done, it’s not because I am more skilled or talented than others, it’s because I didn’t think it was impossible. I had clay, stains, my hands, and time, all I needed was my own trust in myself”.
Educational/Personal Growth Opportunity
“What’s possible and what’s not is decided only by yourself. In other words, if you think it’s possible, it’s possible, if you think it’s not, it’s not. “Nobody has done it” doesn’t mean it’s impossible. I think I have managed to create something not many have done, it’s not because I am more skilled or talented than others, it’s because I didn’t think it was impossible. I had clay, stains, my hands, and time, all I needed was my own trust in myself. If other artists look at my work and think wow, I never thought this could be done with clay, then it means I have managed lifting an imaginary wall in their mind, then that’s great. After all, limitations in life are mostly created by yourself.”
“Creativity is a divine thing. Without creativity, we cannot exist. Everything needs creativity. Even in the least expected activity, creativity is involved, such as “playing with your dog” or “exercising at the gym”. Creativity shouldn’t be considered something special which only “talented” people possess and it can easily be discouraged through “education” by making it something you have to try so hard to “theorize”, acquire and conjure. Every single child has an amazing creativity without being taught, only “enjoyment” makes it grow and expand. Without “joy” and “real purpose”, creativity loses its purpose of existence. “What aspects and activities in your life involved creativity?” is the question I want children to think, so that they realize creativity is everywhere and in everything they do everyday, and everyone already possesses it, only thing they can do is to enjoy using it.”