Besides the exceptional structure and mineral composition of Yixing clay, the most unique characteristic about the Yixing teapot is the traditional coiling technique of “forging the body” that is used to make a Yixing teapot. Unlike the common “earth clay” which comes in the form of “mud,” the raw Yixing clay comes in the form of rock, and it only appears to be like “mud” after many steps of preparing and refining. For this very reason the true Yixing clay cannot be turned on a pottery wheel. The modeling methods of Yixing clay pottery, since the Zhengde period in Ming Dynasty, have been becoming more and more perfect, owing to generations of Yixing artists’ exploration and improvement as well as the progress of science and technology.
The true Yixing clay can only be manipulated in the following three ways: half-hand building, full-hand building and casting&molding. There are various detailed methods which may be summarized into: hand forming, injecting mud forming, applying base forming and printing, etc.. They are an ancient craft, includes beating pot body and inlaying pot body.
Slab building and half-mold pressing are two major methods. They produce Yixing teapots with intact original Yixing clay characteristics. Of the two approaches, building a pot from a slab, the most traditional way of doing it, is the most highly regarded in teapot making, in terms of both the craft and the market demand.
While the concept of slab building in ceramics is deceptively simple, making a fine Yixing pot takes great skills. The artist has to maintain clay consistency and finishes. Any blemishes will not be covered, with glazes or roughness in treatment in the name of spontaneousness. Do note that the parts have to fit and work together with balance, smoothness and uniformity. Clay shrinks quite dramatically (usually 12 ~ 20%, depending on the formula and firing).The kind of precision these artists can achieve manually simply for a pot with aligned spout and handle and a fitting lid is in itself amazing, let alone elegance and precision in form and styling. Most practicing artists have begun working with clay since teenage, some even younger.
Hand-build Yixing teapots are made by the traditional coiling technique of “forging the body,” which was invented by Shi Dabin from the Ming dynasty according to the Zisha history:
1. After raw Zisha clay was being prepared into curbed “mud,” the artist begins to beat and forge the “Zisha mud” with a wooden bat.
2. After the forging process, the “Zisha mud” is rolled into a thin and long strip, and cut into the sizes needed and then pinched together to form the basic shape of the body of a vessel.
3. Subsequently the artist continues to beat and forge the “body” with the wooded paddle until the “body” is precisely formed into the desired shape.
4. Beating Yixing teapot body forming: First cut the ready clay into pieces in a certain length, width and thickness. Then beat them into clay slices and strips according to the vessel being made. Make scratches on the clay to show the width and whirl the mouth, bottom and body pieces. Stick the body pieces in the center of the revolving plate, and put the clay piece around the body pieces to form a clay tube. Then the left hand inside the round tube, use the right hand, with a thin wood beater, to beat it into desired shape.
5. The next step is to build the various parts of the teapots individually.
6. Then the finished “body” and the parts are assembled together, and carefully adjusted and polished before firing.