It was a cool, blustery day by the Bay. I was told “What better time to fire up the raku kiln and see what we can create?!” Sounded like a great way to keep warm, learn something and have some fun. I had never tried my hand at raku but this was going to be the day.
A little background….In Japan, the raku process involves firing a piece to pottery to red-hot and then cooling it in the open air. In the West, the ware is also fired to red-hot but is then sealed under a metal container with combustible material which creates smoke that blackens the clay and crazes the glazes. The latter can be quite exciting because it is extremely unpredictable. You just don’t know what you are going to get until you peak under the metal cover and brush your piece clean of the smoke and embers.
I decided to try the technique with a rustic bottle that I had formed by joining and altering three wheel-thrown cylinders. I covered the bottle with a white glaze that was intended to crackle when fired. I used some copper cobalt glaze to hopefully get metallic accents in a few strategic places….if the raku worked as planned.
Along with a few other people’s items, my bottle went into the raku kiln and we turned up the gas to heat things up to 1900 degrees Fahrenheit. It took about 90 minutes to get that hot. Then we took the lid off the kiln and, using long metal tongs, I lifted the pieces out of the kiln and onto a bed of sand. Another person sprinkled sawdust on each piece to create fire while a third person put the metal covers over each piece to create a reduction environment. Then we walked away.
After an hour had passed, we came back and uncovered our wares. I was thrilled to find my bottle had turned out pretty close to what I had envisioned in my mind’s eye. How exciting!
I am told ‘raku’ means enjoyment in Japanese. I can’t validate this as my mastery of Japanese is limited to about ten words, but I can say that my first foray into raku pottery was an enjoyment. I’ll definitely try it again the next time opportunity presents itself in the form of access to a raku kiln. (We don’t have one at CatTail Studio Arts…yet.)
In the meantime, I’ll just have to enjoy the fruits of my labor and the memory of the fun time we had keeping warm one blustery day by the Bay.