Li Renping has come a long way-from an apprentice to an established artist, thanks to Nixing pottery that he lives and breathes.
Li Renping wipes the sweat from his forehead as he walks in from the sweltering interior of the Nixing Pottery Museum in early July.
Tucked away in a quiet corner of Qinzhou, Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, the museum that Li and his friends set up in 2007 features the history, culture and production of Nixing pottery that has a history dating back more than 1,300 years.
The pottery uses two types of local clay that are mixed to a certain ratio, which ensures a hard and compact texture combined with a smooth-looking surface.
Wearing a casual outfit and a pair of brown plastic sandals, the 72-year-old has an unadorned earthy quality that doesn't do justice to the many honors piled on him over the years, including a national applied arts master and an inheritor of national intangible culture.
Li was evidently more in his element when he sat down and talked to China Daily about Nixing pottery, an art form he has committed more than four decades of his life to developing.
One of the charms of Nixing pottery is that the colors emerge during the firing process without any additional pigment, he explains.
"You can see many colors in transition, from a black-green to bronze and then to a purplish red," Li says.
The pottery has no toxins, doesn't require glazing like porcelain and retains its natural small pores that can allow the air to permeate while still holding water.
"You could use it as a flowerpot and it wouldn't smell for years," Li adds.
A love of painting and sculpting predisposed Li to learn the art of Nixing pottery-making back in the 1970s.
"The clay is ideal for precision sculpting," Li says. "You can sculpt the tiniest characters and such delicate patterns that require a magnifying glass to appreciate."
As a boy, Li used to swim across a river to see experienced artisans making their pottery, and he would play with the clay and try to follow suit.
He started working at a local Nixing pottery plant in 1973, where he managed to master all pottery modeling and decoration methods within the space of a year.
The training was supposed to take three years to complete.
"I loved pottery so much that I put a lot of extra effort into it," Li says.
It didn't take long before Li made his way up to become a workshop director.
In 1981, opportunity knocked on Li's door, helping him to grow from being an employee in a pottery plant to an artist later in life.
His hardworking attitude and knowledge of exquisite Nixing pottery techniques then impressed visiting experts from the Central Academy of Art and Design, the predecessor of Tsinghua University's Academy of Arts and Design.
The Beijing institution took him in and systematically taught him about the art of pottery.
Li didn't waste a minute during his stay at the academy and completed the four-year curriculum in two years.
"Working at the plant made me better understand the theories behind pottery and how to put them into practice," Li says.