We were very happy to talk with Mr. Chen Feng-Ji this week. A promising young sculptor working in the medium of porcelain, Mr. Chen has devoted the last decade to improving his craft, first under an apprenticeship and then as a contract sculptor. Since 2016 he has been running his own studio, producing sculptures and tea ware for the Chinese market, and since 2019, for the international market.
MudandLeaves: What made you decide to work in the medium of porcelain? How did you get into the industry?
Mr. Chen: I was an art student in High School. After graduating, I went to Quanzhou Arts and Crafts Vocational College. I majored in sculpture. After three years, I graduated and became an apprentice to sculpture master Qiu Shuang Jiong for three years in Dehua. After my apprenticeship I went on to work under contract for various clients designing sculpture moulds. In 2016 I opened my own studio.
MudandLeaves: How big is your studio?
Mr. Chen: Quite small, around 200 square meters with three people working for me. Among these three, they will do the pouring into the mould and polishing. One of them is a skilled porcelain painter, he does all the painting. Sculpting, designing the mould, firing, I do all these myself.
MudandLeaves: Are there many studios this size in Dehua?
Mr. Chen: No, not that many, because the major industry in Dehua is still large factories making export mass-production dinnerware, teaware, and inexpensive seasonal porcelain sculptures. 70% of the GDP in Dehua comes from porcelain exports [of this kind]. As for other studios, they are larger than mine and run by established masters. Small studios like mine, that are responsible for the entire production process from beginning to end, are very rare. Even I don’t know of many studios like mine in Dehua.
MudandLeaves: Can you describe the production process from start to finish (from idea to completed product)?
Mr. Chen: It’s a shame to say, but I never draft a design. I just think about what I want to do, then begin sculpting it. Then I will refine the details. For the details I always like uplifting positive energy in my pieces. I will use that sculpture to make the mould. The porcelain clay is then poured into the mould. After it has dried, we remove the mould, and polish the porcelain sculpture. Then it is glazed and fired.
MudandLeaves: Does it require much skill to polish porcelain?
Mr. Chen: Yes! People have to be trained and have to be experienced in the right technique. Too much force can lead to damage that shows up only after firing, too little force and the porcelain is still rough.
MudandLeaves: At what temperature do you fire your pieces?
Mr. Chen: Usually a piece will need to be fired at 1300C continuously for eight hours.
MudandLeaves: Is there a difference between Dehua porcelain and porcelain made elsewhere?
Mr. Chen: Yes there is. What makes Dehua porcelain valuable is Dehua porcelain sculpture. Dehua’s Buddhist sculptures are famous and have hundreds of years of history.
MudandLeaves: Where do you find inspiration?
Mr. Chen: Everywhere. Sometimes I get inspiration online, I need to keep up with what people are interested in.
MudandLeaves: How often do you make new pieces?
Mr. Chen: It depends. If I have inspiration, I will make a few at one time. If I don’t have any inspiration it may be months before I design a new product. All of the designs are original.