Alden Boon

Ceramication Founder Rayn Leow Talks the Art and Science of Pottery Making, Coming Out and Privilege



It’s one thing to feel ennui and crave the pursuit of true satisfaction, it’s another to relinquish job security altogether. What catalysed your decision?

One of my best friends, Sarah, whom I had known since I was fourteen, died at the age of thirty. She had cancer, which developed while she was carrying her first child. At the expense of her own life, she chose to delay treatment and carry her son to term. The doctor had to take her son out when he was just a seven-month-old preemie to try and save her with chemotherapy. But it was too late: the cancer had already metastasised. Seeing her on her deathbed was tough and painful. I was already into my third year of service, which met the minimum term of engagement. That was a rude awakening to stop wasting my life away.

Right after I left the army, I took a sabbatical and went to explore pottery routes in different countries, such as Taipei’s National Palace Museum where the Forbidden City collection is housed; Yingge Old Street, which is Taiwan’s pottery capital; Mashiko Museum of Ceramic Art in Haga District, Japan; and Raku Museum in Kyoto.

However, I didn’t plunge into the pottery business when my sabbatical ended. I went to work at my father’s construction business, where I was tasked with creating or amending two-dimensional construction drawings. It was during this time that I picked up the Computer Aided Design (CAD) software. Through experimenting with the three-dimensional (3D) aspect of the software, I discovered a neural-to-digital translation tool that could dually be used to express my artistic vision. It took me about four years to pick up the skill.

Construction drawings and pottery making are vastly different. How did you apply your 3D CAD skill for the latter?

There are four main parts to my pottery-making process: designing, forming, glazing and firing. Designing includes the conception of the object itself — its function, proportions and aesthetics — which then gives shape to the mould of said object. Using 3D CAD software to design the mould gives me an advantage. Whereas a traditional mould-maker would have to depend on trial and error, I’m able to use the software to adjust and see the different angles of the mould. I don’t work in the dark and I can visualise the product. This is especially important, because I must be cognizant of the undercuts, which will hinder the smooth removal of the greenware. I like to call this a rendering of concepts into visible lines, shapes and shades: a neural-to-digital translation. The digital software brings to life ideas that hitherto are just electrical impulses inside my head.

The next step is a digital-to-physical translation – where I use a 3D printer to materialise the model. This is where the rest of the process reverts to traditional hand methods.

Rayn Leow Ceramication Singapore Entrepreneurship Coming Out Gay Singapore Pottery Porcelain
To overcome undercuts, Rayn creates two- to six-piece moulds and clamps them together using a belt. When the clay has set, he gently pries the mould pieces apart to reveal the greenware.
Rayn Leow Ceramication Singapore Entrepreneurship Coming Out Gay Singapore Pottery Porcelain
Rayn Leow Ceramication Singapore Entrepreneurship Coming Out Gay Singapore Pottery Porcelain
A 3D print ready to be processed and made into mould.
Rayn Leow Ceramication Singapore Entrepreneurship Coming Out Gay Singapore Pottery Porcelain
Rayn leverages on the latest CAD and 3D printing technologies to imprint his company’s logo in his mould, which is etched into the bottom of each pottery piece. Such intricate detailing is impossible to achieve manually, thus giving his pieces a distinction.
Rayn Leow Ceramication Singapore Entrepreneurship Coming Out Gay Singapore Pottery Porcelain

The next step is forming.

There are numerous ways to form pottery. The most iconic one is wheel-throwing, which is popularised by the romantic scene in the movie ‘Ghost’. You can also hand-build, coil, ram-press and powder-press, amongst others. The method I have chosen is slip-casting. The two main components of slip-casting are slip and mould. Slip is a clay body with a high water content; it flows freely and can take any shape. The clay body I use is a porcelaneous type made up of kaolin clay, silica and flux. Flux is a mineral capable of lowering the melting point of both silica and clay to temperatures that can be obtained consistently and under reasonable time in a pottery kiln.

Rayn Leow Ceramication Singapore Entrepreneurship Coming Out Gay Singapore Pottery Porcelain
Rayn sources different materials from around the world to develop his porcelaneous clay body. The main components are: 1) Clay – New Zealand Halloysite – the whitest and purest clay available; 2) Filler – USA quarts filler; 3) Flux – Canadian Nepheline Syenite.

There is a need to balance all the properties during the mineral selection stage. Too small the size of the clay particle, and the casting will take too long; too big and the fired ware will not be durable. Too little flux and the ware will not be watertight; too much and the ware will sag and distort too much under gravity during firing. The optimum is derived through much testing.

The reason why I transited from wheel-throwing to slip-casting was because I chose to specialise in macro-crystalline glazes. Macro-crystalline glazes are industrially considered to be the most arduous endeavour in studio ceramics. As it takes twenty to thirty tests to achieve my desired colour and crystal density for each glaze, I need to use slip-casting to produce small, identical pieces for me to test and compare the different formulations. Throwing on the wheel is neither efficient nor consistent enough for glaze testing, and I certainly can’t bear to discard any of my precious thrown works.

Also, slip-casting offered me a better way to express my creativity, just as I was getting bored of only being able to make round-axial forms on the wheel. By this time, my experience in CAD software and slip-casting allowed me the freedom to create different shapes such as hexagon, breaking away from the cylindrical primitive.

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Alden Boon
Alden Boon is a Quarter-finalist in PAGE International Screenwriting Awards. When he's not busy writing, he pretends he is Gandalf.