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

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A combined bisque and glaze fire

The participants of the ceramics workshop are working toward a Raku firing at the end of June. I made sure to put on a bisque firing of all their work 2 weeks beforehand, so that they will have one class in which to do their glazing before the Raku.

I find opening the kiln after a bisque is just as exciting as opening after a glaze firing, but in more of a relieved way as you discover that yes everything is in one piece and nothing exploded or fell over. There were quite a few “sculpted” pieces in this firing so there was some concern that not everything would survive, so I was delighted to see that everything made it.

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Another reason to celebrate was due to the success of an experiment I tried – that is to combine the bisque firing with a glaze firing. I knew that we didn’t have enough work to completely fill the kiln, so I first loaded a shelf of very flat or short pieces of glazed work at the bottom of the kiln. They didn’t take up much height in the kiln so I knew there would be room for the pieces to be bisqued.

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After loading the kiln, I programmed it to run a bisque firing, which basically translates as a long SLOW raising of temperature, but to continue upwards the extra 120 degrees Celsius needed to reach the low firing glaze temperatures. It was a complete success! On top of that, the glazed pieces look AMAZING as usual hahaha!

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Now that I know this kiln firing program works, in the future if there is not quite enough work for either type of firing I can (carefully) stack the kiln for both types of firing together. It will just take a bit of extra planning to get it right.

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James Hayes

Before and after glazing

I always love to unpack a glaze firing! Seeing the culmination of many weeks of work is quite satisfying, the work of course is always BEAUTIFUL, and for comparison I take before and after photos. So here are the latest firing photos:

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The difference from flat, pale colours to vibrant and glossy is amazing! The students really have to trust that the colours will turn out as they plan.

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I am particularly pleased with the seashell tile above as the student had to work with many different glazes to achieve the combination of colours she wanted.

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It is always worth taking a closer look at the finished effects, and I always make sure to quiz the students on what combinations of glazes they used, and encourage them to make note of the successful ones that they will want to replicate in the future.

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This shelf has some nice Xmas themed plates

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I can see already that this person may want to re-glaze the green on the holly leaves. The great thing about this process is that it isn’t just once off, you can always try glazing and firing again – within limits of course as some glazes do react badly to repeated re-firing.

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The circular piece above right has coloured glass melted into different sections, with a hole at one end so that it can hang on the wall. The rectangular piece above left has little squares that were individually painted to create the checkered field of colours – talk about patience and steady hands!

All the plates with the yellow tulips are part of a set. Each one is first drawn onto the plate and then the areas are carefully painted in with the correct glaze.

A close up of some very successful textures.

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These 3 bowls used combinations of very runny glazes to great affect. As always the students and I had a debriefing in class to help them understand which glaze combinations worked best and why.

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James Hayes

Another St Patrick’s Day win for Signal!

Delighted to announce that Signal Arts Centre has won the award in the 2019 St Patrick’s Day Parade category ‘Best Arts & Entertainment’. It took lots of planning and hard work by the Signal staff and Board members and was worth every minute of effort.

We had loads of fun marching on the day as you can tell from the photos. Our theme this year was chess.

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All this couldn’t be possible without the hard work of Kaisa Ypya, Anna O’Rourke, Ruth Feeley and Greg Murray for the costume design.

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People from “Trans Greystones” and from the local Bray community marched with us as well, many of them students in various classes run by Signal, to ensure we had all the pieces on the chess board. Loads of happy little black and white pawns!

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Also thanks to Greg Mulvaney for the use of his truck to make the float and for driving it too! It gave us a place to display all the artwork made by the various classes specifically for the parade.

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It was a long day but at the end of it we were all in high spirits and sure that we had won our category, which it turned out we did! Congratulations to everyone involved!

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James Hayes

2019 – New year, new pottery

After the Xmas holidays the participants on the adult ceramics workshops have started the new year with new ideas. One popular item is the humble soap dish.

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Of course once one was made everyone had a go! So great to see variations on a theme.

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People also had a look at making boxes, and all the things that boxes can be made into. Here a participant is making a butter dish.

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A little knick-knack box and an open tray.

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A tea-light house and a larger butter dish.

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Some more soap dishes, this time made by cutting a rough oval, then cutting and folding the edges up.

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Participants are also making time to practice on the wheel.

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A heavily textured slab vase

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and a “Swiss cheese” slab tea light holder!

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It’s been a few weeks of work now, so the kiln is full with dried work ready for bisque firing. I’ll unload it on Thursday and then everyone can get stuck in to glazing. If nothing else everyone on this workshop learns a little patience, as any piece started takes at least a month (and more likely 2 or 3) to complete, what with drying time, firing, glazing, and firing again.

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Can’t wait to unload the kiln!

James Hayes

Christmas Fair @ Signal! 11-24 Dec

The Christmas Fair is up and running for the next two weeks at Signal Arts Centre! Follow the happy (and freshly repainted) Santa sign in to find wonderful hand crafted items for sale from local craft merchants and artists.

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It was a very busy day on Sunday taking in and cataloging all the craft items for sale in the fair, and now they are all out on display. Big items for that someone special and plenty of small items for all those stocking stuffers and Secret Santas!

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A quick walk around the fair revealed plenty of hand made Christmas Tree decorations and hand made chocolates! There is a lovely smell in the gallery from all the candles and hand made soaps.

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Of course I am personally delighted to see the wide range of beautiful ceramics for sale this year. Everything from hand painted tiles for kitchen and bathroom, to vases and bowls and platters.

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There are lots of hand knitted items, including decorations, tea cozies, hats and scaves.

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There are also hand made stuffed toys and felted characters, and even decorations woven from willow!

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I have produced for the fair a number of small plates in a wide range of colours with plants leaves imprinted in the middle. These plates can be used for holding a tea spoon and tea bag, for putting down your wooden spoon after stirring the pot on the stove, for presenting olives and capers, or a dipping sauce, or simply as a pretty bit of bling on the hall table.

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There is a great selection of hand made soaps, body scrubs and lip balms for that someone on your Christmas list who appreciates what we always called “smellies”.

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There are even hand detailed sets of drawers.

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With the huge selection of items on sale there is bound to be something just right for your Christmas list. With the fair running right up to and including the 24th, you can start now and getting your shopping done early, or pop in to pick up that last minute gem on Christmas Eve if that is how you roll!

James Hayes

Preparing for Christmas

In the run up to Christmas the ceramics workshop participants are becoming even more prolific than usual! In the past few weeks the kiln has been busy, and it will continue for the next few weeks as the participants glaze work and people from  outside Signal hire the kiln to fire work for Xmas Craft fairs. Here is a load of work ready for bisque firing…

… including some seasonal reindeer figures!