In May the Adult Ceramics Class students had the opportunity to create a unique ceramic piece using the relatively rare and inaccessible raku firing process, an ancient Japanese ceramics technique. The pots to be fired were made during the month leading up to the event, bisqued and glazed the week before in preparation. Facilitator and tutor James Hayes organised a Sunday afternoon event, bringing together students from 3 classes, which culminated in fire and smoke, chat, laughter, good food, and of course raku fired pots!
The process involved in raku firing hands over a large portion of control to the random elements of fire and smoke. To truly appreciate raku pottery the potter (and indeed the collector or aficionado) is looking for the happy accident that produces a pattern or contrast not possible in the traditional highly controlled environment of an electric kiln. Raku pots are for the most part decorative in nature as the resulting pots and finishes are very fragile and not food safe. In Japan the process is used to create cups for the traditional tea ceremony, and the ultimate goal is the pursuit of beauty in imperfection and that the vessel is quite visibly hand made.
The students were given a broad understanding of what to expect and aspire to, and images and videos were pursued as research. The students were encouraged to create simple hand built pots with broad blank surfaces upon which the raku process could work its magic.
The pots were loaded into the purpose built, gas fired raku kiln and very quickly (2 hours) brought up to a glowing red temperature – approximately 1,000 degrees C. The pots are lifted out of the kiln glowing hot, and during a brief few minutes the students applied varies combustible materials to the surface of the glaze. This included feathers, hair and sugar, all of which ignite on contact with the hot ceramic vessel. The pots are then quickly lifted into a “smoker” container, a metal bin with more combustible materials such as paper and wood chips, covered and left to smoke for 10 to 20 minutes.
Overall we were delighted with the results! No 2 pots look alike, as the random nature of the process takes over to create truly distinctive glaze finishes.