Raku firing

The first raku firing of the summer took place this past Sunday, June 30th. It was a lovely day, I am glad I set up the gazebo as otherwise we would all have been sunburned! The adult ceramics classes have been preparing pots for the past month, and I ensured that they were bisque fired so the participants could glaze them in advance.

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It may not look it but the raku process is SO exciting! The pots are taken out of the kiln while they are glowing hot, and then the magic happens. Combustibles such as feathers, hair and sugar can be applied to the surface where they burst into flame, leaving black marks in the glaze. Spritzing the hot pot with water encourages cracks in the glaze, and then the pots are put into the “smoker”.

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The smoker is a metal bin filled with shredded paper (or sawdust or other combustibles). When the hot pots are placed in the smoker they set the paper alight and a lid is quickly put on to keep in the smoke, which blackens any parts of the pots that are not glazed. This also creates a “reduction” atmosphere which means the combustion is using up all the oxygen, which can lead to very brightly coloured glazes.

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After a break for lunch we then dipped the still hot pots into cold water, which brings the glaze colours to life! Raku is a VERY unpredictable process and I am very pleased with the overall results of this firing.

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The real pleasure with raku pots is discovered with repeated and close inspection. Here are some close up photographs of various textures. The first one below is the result of burning hair.

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The black spots on the pot below are the result of throwing sugar onto the pot, which instantly caramelizes.

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These tiny black lines below, almost like oriental characters, are small cracks in the interior glaze that reveal the black smoke on the bottom of the pot.

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This swirl of black against the red glaze below is the result of a burning feather.

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Lorraine Whelan, one of the participants, has also written about her experience of the raku firing (with pictures!) which you can find on her blog at Culture, Craft & Cooking!

James Hayes