Buncheong and Techniques

The word Buncheong is short for bunjang-hoecheong, which is the Korean for decorated celadon. Ko Yu-seop coined this word to denote the type of Korean ceramics that takes on a grayish-green color on the body after glazing and firing, overlaid with white through the application of white-clay slip. It is the variations in decoration according to the white slip technique that characterizes the Buncheong style. As for the clay and the glaze, they are basically a continuation of celadon, but the clay body for Buncheong has a lower iron content than celadon clay, making Buncheong brighter in colour. Variations in the making process from region to region and in different periods were also factors in the diversification of Buncheong as a style.
At the end of the fourteenth century, the quality of Goryeo celadon was decreasing due to its production in large quantities and its commercialization. The transition from the Goryeo dynasty to the Joseon dynasty precipitated some changes in style, and new technical trends became apparent in the production of celadon. Then, improved quality in materials, aesthetics and decoration techniques, brought about a definitive change in Goryeo celadon. Buncheong evolved in this context, and that is why all its elements belong to Goryeo celadon. Although Buncheong is essentially made with the same clay and glazes and decorated with the same techniques, its forms and expressions are still quite distinct from Goryeo celadon. In particular, the method of applying white clay as slip is what separates Buncheong into two broad categories. More precisely, depending on the representation techniques used, Buncheong can be classified into seven types.

The first category, called Sanggam Buncheong, is made by applying intaglio before the clay dries then inlaying with white clay. There are two types in this category: one is simply called the Sanggam type, and the other one is the Inhwa type. Some of the Sanggam (inlaid) type is considered to be in the Joseon style, and is not clearly distinguishable from later Goryeo celadon. The Sanggam type Buncheong from the Joseon period, on the other hand, is inlaid with shapes rather than lines, has new motifs as decoration, and the inlaid area shows the tendency of becoming larger than on Goryeo celadon. Inhwa (‘stamping’, in this case the stamping of floral motifs) Buncheong, is different from the Sanggam type in the way that its intaglios are carved using a different technique. Using a stamp to carve motifs required much less effort than the Sanggam technique in which every single motif had to be carefully carved one by one. Inhwa Buncheong could be produced in large quantities, and therefore it is considered pivotal in the researches on Buncheong ware production of that period. Some Inhwa Buncheong was produced mainly to supply the royal family or the upper class, with its production controlled and supervised directly by a governmental institution, and the potter’s name added to the vessel. Consequently, the quality and shape of inhwa Buncheong was kept uniform throughout the country without having local characteristics, in contrast to the other types of Buncheong.
        The other category, Bunjang Buncheong creates an expressive effect with decorative motifs through the application of white-clay slip on the surface of the body, or applying slip to the whole piece. A kind of reversed Sanggam technique, Bakji (sgraffito) is applying white-clay slip to the entire surface, usually with a brush, then scraping out the clay inside of the intended design. This delivers a contrast between the clay body and the slipped white clay. Bakji Buncheong can be considered to be related with Cizhou ware because of their technical similarity, but it would be more logical to understand it as being naturally conceived through the shape-sanggam technique. Johwa (incised) Buncheong is also called Sunhwa (lined intaglio), because its motifs are incised lines. It was usually applied with Bakji techniques, and was popularly produced in Jeolla Province, the southwestern region of the Korean peninsula, in the late fifteenth century. Cheolhwa (underglaze iron-brown) Buncheong involves brush-painted designs with red clay containing iron, and is also called Gyerongsan Buncheong because it was mainly produced around Gyerong Mountain, close to Gongju City. It was produced from the late fifteenth century to the early sixteenth, with the brush painting technique acquired from the blue-white porcelain that was being largely produced in the region of Gwanju in Gyeonggi Province. But the aesthetics of the painting on Cheolhwa is so different from that of the blue-white porcelain decorated by professional painters at the royal kiln, with an impression closer to modern taste. Guiyal (brushing) Buncheong is decorated only with white-clay slip applied with a ‘guiyal’, which is a big brush-like tool. It is the expression of brush texture which characterizes Guiyal Buncheong. Dumbeong (dipping, plop) is a Korean onomatopoeic word to represent the sound made when something touches a liquid before dropping into it. Dumbeong Buncheong is made with a dipping technique to apply slip to the inside and the outside of the vessel at the same time by holding its bottom and soaking it upside-down in the slip. So, usually the bottom part of many Dumbeong Buncheong stays uncovered with white. In the last phase of the Joseon Buncheong which had been emulating the white of the Joseon white porcelain, Guiyal and Dumbeong Buncheong also were produced mostly in Jeolla Province in the sixteenth century.

Extraits from Dialogue & Becoming : Buncheong, Celadon Adorned (writtenhands, 2011), an introductory book to Buncheong cermaics by Moon Yujin.