Derek Philip Auis creating open-source software and resources for ceramicists
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About Derek Philip Au
Hi, I'm Derek Au. I'm a ceramicist who was based in the "Porcelain Capital", Jingdezhen, since 2007. Aside from my studio work, I'm also the creator of Glazy, an open-source ceramics database with over 7000 users and containing more than 15,000 glaze and clay recipes. In 2017 I began 72 Hands, a collection of videos documenting ceramics techniques. More recently I have created the Plaster Calculator and "This vessel does not exist."
In late 2017 I was awarded a McKnight Resident Artist Award and invited to participate in the Expatriate Ceramics exhibition at the Northern Clay Center (NCC) in Minneapolis, Minnesota. After my stay at NCC ended in March, I was accepted to Alfred University's prestigious Ceramics program as a Special Student for the 2018-2019 school year. And recently I was extremely honored to be accepted as a Red Lodge Clay Center Resident Artist for 2019-2020. I also work part-time as a remote software developer.
Being experimental in nature with a high loss rate, my studio practice is not profitable. In addition, I'm spending on average 20 hours per week on Glazy and ceramics-related software projects. Besides requiring a lot of time, Glazy and related servers cost over $200 per month. Other projects, from video production and hosting to machine learning using expensive GPU servers, add to that bill. For example, my most recent machine learning project cost $600 in server time.
It's only with your help that I can continue working on these projects.
Much like the open-source movement, our ceramics culture is largely one of sharing and collaboration. Via mailing lists, discussion groups, and personal websites, potters freely share their knowledge. Being largely self-taught, these resources have been extremely important to me.
In particular, ceramics recipes are handed down from one generation of ceramicists to another, much as one might teach grandma's secret chocolate-chip cookie recipe to a daughter or son. However, ceramics recipes "don't travel well"- they are extremely sensitive to changes in materials, mixing, application, and firing.
Glazy's mission is three-fold: To collect, archive and trace a lineage for historical & new ceramics recipes, provide a single framework to understand and compare differences in glaze chemistry, and to establish an open-source codebase for ceramic recipes calculation and storage.
Collection and archiving of recipes is an on-going effort. The original database was seeded with data from Linda Arbuckle's GlazeChem database, John Sankey's glaze database, and Louis Katz's Hyperglaze database. Since then, many other sources have been included, as well as contributions from users.
As a tool for understanding and comparing glaze chemistry, much more work needs to be done. The development of these tools in Glazy is the result of numerous discussions with ceramicists from all over the world. Notably, the primary use of Stull charts is due to Matthew Katz's continuing research and classes.
As niche software, glaze calculation software has often been written by a single developer. Once that developer retires or loses interest, the software is abandoned. During the Winter of 2017 I completely re-wrote the Glazy website and published the entire project as open-source on Github. This allows other developers to contribute, improve and sustain the Glazy code, hopefully eliminating the "single developer" problem. The Glazy project actually exists as a family of open-source repositories all available on my Github page: https://github.com/derekphilipau
From theTiangong Kaiwu (天工開物) encyclopedia compiled by Song Yingxing (宋应星) at the end of the Ming Dynasty comes the oft-cited quote:
"For the total work required to make a single cup, it must pass through 72 hands, and only then can it become a vessel."
72 Hands is an effort to document all types of ceramics techniques. The video style is very simple- a single take of each technique focusing on the artisan's hands. Each video is accompanied by an article with a description of the technique and photos. Videos are shot in high-resolution 4K Ultra-HD resolution which gives a clear view of the technique.
Being based in Jingdezhen, I am first focusing my efforts on documenting porcelain production here. But if there is sufficient interest in & support of the project I would like to document other pottery centers in China and abroad.
The history of ceramics is one of imitation and reproduction.
The apprentice obtains mastery of the craft through repetition, gradually improving their technique. The forger creates replicas and tests them in the marketplace.
The "fake" vessels on this website have been created through a similar process of repetition, examination, and reinforcement. Except in this case, the entire procedure has taken place within machine-learning software.
The Plaster Calculator allows you enter the dimensions of a solid shape, and then calculates the volume of that shape as well as the approximate amount of plaster and water required using common plaster mixing formulas.
How you can help
There is just not enough time in the day to make a living from my studio work while also working on open-source projects, researching new projects, and shooting documentaries. In order to continue working on these projects, it's imperative that I find a way to sustain myself other than through selling my ceramics. Because both Glazy and projects like 72 Hands and the Plaster Calculator are and will remain completely free for everyone, my only source of funding for these projects is Patreon.