The Great British Throwdown has ignited a huge increase in the number of people having a go at pottery, both the thrown kind (made on a wheel) and hand built ceramics (made from a slab of clay). In this issue’s Spotlight, we take a look at the firing process known as Raku, one of the most unpredictable and exciting techniques in pottery.
Like every profession, those at the top of their game make it look easy and here at Fizz we are very lucky to work with some of the most respected ceramic sculptors in the UK including Paul Jenkins and Christine Cummings.
Christine and Paul both use Raku firing in the making of their beautiful animal sculptures. Raku firing is a real hands-on technique with glowing hot ceramics, smoke, flames, and a big helping of unpredictability.
Raku firing has its origins in 16th Century Japan, but a Western version has evolved over the centuries and it is this that most of us in the UK are familiar with. In Paul’s and Christine’s work it is this Raku firing processes that produces the lovely crackle lines on their work.
When using the Raku firing technique, the piece is removed from the kiln when it reaches a bright red heat and is immediately placed in a post-firing “reduction”. This means it is placed in a container of combustible material (often sawdust, leaves or hay) where the oxygen is reduced.
This carbon rich atmosphere produces smoke which then blackens the raw clay and causes “crazing” in the glazed surface.
When cooled the piece is cleaned with abrasive cleaners to remove the carbon before being dried. At this point the crackle lines are revealed and the piece really starts to come alive.
We asked Paul how long it takes to make one of his hares and what the biggest challenge is for him.
“Due to the nature of Raku firing every sculpture is unique and each one, large or small, takes approximately 2 weeks to make. The first firing is a bisque firing (low temperature) and then I apply the glaze and fire for the second time. The final firing is the Raku firing at very high temperatures.
The worst problem is pieces breaking in the Raku firing due to thermal shock. This can be both frustrating and expensive when it has taken two weeks work to arrive at that point but that’s the nature of working with Raku.”
Pottery is a wonderful creative technique that anyone can have a go at, young or old. So, if this has fired your creativity why not try one of the many taster sessions run by potters all over the country. For one in the North Somerset area try http://www.clayability.co.uk/.