Autumnal Raku Firing

Before the summer break I encouraged the ceramics workshop participants to create new pieces for a raku firing in the Autumn. The workshops recommenced in September, with the raku firing planned for October.


This gave me the time needed to rebuild the kiln. First step, collect an empty oil drum for the outer shell of the kiln.


I cut off the top of the oil drum to create a removable lid. I dismantled the old kiln, which was coming apart anyway and was as a result very inefficient, and reused the ceramic fibre in the new kiln.


Ceramic buttons and nichrome wire to hold the insulating fibre in place.


Once everything was in place, including handles to make it easier to move, I then cut the holes through the ceramic fibre in the lid and at the base where the gas blower goes in.


As people had a tendency to pile any old garbage on top of the old kiln, I made sure to make a cover for the kiln. I hope this works.


On the appointed day at the appointed hour I had the back yard set up for our firing, complete with a gazebo in case the weather turned bad on us. As the day progressed and the weather stayed glorious we eventually took down the gazebo and worked under a clear blue sky.


Since it would take a few hours for the firing we also planned a pot luck lunch, which was varied and delicious and makes the event a very social one.


Ready to start, with an assistant in place to lift the lid on the “smoker”, which is a metal can filled with shredded paper and sawdust.

The ceramic pieces are loaded into the kiln and quickly (45 – 60 minutes) heated to a glowing red heat. At this point they are lifted out of the kiln while hot and subjected to various burning processes in order to create the unique raku effects.

This involves burning objects such as feather and hair on the hot glaze to create black patterns…

… you can also throw sugar at the hot glaze to create random burnt spots!

The still hot pots are lifted into the smoker, where the action of the burning paper and sawdust further highlights in black any interesting surface textures and gets into any cracks in the glaze.

Waiting for the smoker to cool, approx 10 – 15 minutes.

The still hot pots are dipped in water to cool. This stage itself can change the glaze surface dramatically, sometimes creating a shining metallic effect. It is all totally unpredictable and I emphasize to the participants again and again that they must embrace this lack of control and give over to the process-driven results. It is very exciting and freeing.

Some of the beautiful lines created by burning hair!

I am very pleased with all the beautiful pieces created on the day, each one very different from the next both in initial design and in the final outcomes.


It was a fantastic day and I know the participants are already looking forward to the next opportunity to try this unique and ancient process again, hopefully in the spring.

James Hayes


Preparing for Culture Night

Lots of community groups are involved in the upcoming Culture Night for Signal Arts, including Seomra Youth Centre, Little Bray Family Resource & Development Centre (After School Club), Carmona Services, Festina Lente, Bray Lakers, Girls Friday Art, Sunbeam House Services, Sunbeam Bray (Doom Thunder), Sunbeam Eolas, and Dun Laoghaire Rehab Care.  We have chosen a theme and started creating. Can you guess what the theme is?


Culture Night takes place Friday 21th September, 3pm – 9pm. We will be hosting activities  and performances all day from 3pm to 9pm at the Centre.

James Hayes

Hanging the Signal Open

Today the staff at Signal are tackling hanging a gargantuan exhibition, the Signal Open. There are over (not final count) 120 submitted pieces to be hung, and the quality of the artwork is just outstanding, one WOW piece after another.

The 6th Annual Signal Open Exhibition takes place at the Signal Arts Centre from Tuesday 7th – Sunday 19th August 2018. The ‘Best in Show’ winner will be awarded €1,000 and will be announced at the Exhibition Opening on Friday 10th August from 7-9pm.

James Hayes

Playing with glazes

Summer is well and truly upon us, loving this sunshine am I right? The current sessions of the adult ceramics classes are all drawing to a close for a 2 month summer break and it is so good to see all the glazed pieces, artworks really, coming out of the kiln these past few weeks.

In the image below you can see not only some very pretty little pots made on the wheel but also some painted tiles, a fabulous use of the limited colour palette of the glazes.


In the image below one of the students made a very large serving platter and then glazed it twice. The first glazing was very bright contrasting colours which looked very jarring together, and then the student pulled it all together in the second glazing by going over it all with a semi-transparent blue glaze. Lovely!


This image below really shows off the diversity of tile work that is coming out of these classes – sgraffito (upper left, middle left), mishima (upper right), glaze painting (middle center, middle right, and lower left), and melted glass (lower right).


Another student is experimenting (below) with textures and splashes on flat forms.


One of our very popular discoveries, illustrated below, is that some glazes in combination create lovely flowing colours. They do run quite a bit however, so more testing of this recipe is required to get it so that we can ensure they don’t run right down to the kiln shelf! Beautiful colours.


James Hayes


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.

James Hayes


St Patrick’s Day WIN!

I am very pleased to announce that Signal Arts has won an award for the St Patrick’s Day 2018 parade in our category of “Art & Entertainment”.

After many hours of hard work by the various Signal staff artists the St Patrick’s Day float was ready for assembly on the day. During a very early start the rather unassuming pieces all came together to form a whole…


The other main ingredient for the parade was the costumes!


We made our way up to the appointed holding area at the appointed time and then waited and waited in the shivering cold for the parade to begin.


We were eager to begin as performing in the parade helped us to warm up again – did I mention it was cold that day? We did have loads of fun …


The children particularly enjoyed our Viking roars and often wanted to hit our shields or roar with us!



We really got into the spirit despite the cold (yes, it was cold) and it really helped make the day a fun experience.


Signal Arts will be receiving its award at a ceremony in the Bray Town Hall the evening of March 27th, an award that will be proudly on display in the gallery alongside other awards Signal has collected over the years. Well done everyone!

James Hayes


Signal Arts Centre is closed while the status red weather warning is in effect. I hope you are all safe and sound, and warmly bundled up at home.


The wind is picking up, the temperature is dropping, and the footpaths are treacherous!


It is picturesque none the less seeing “blankets” and “pillows” of snow around the place. I personally will be relieved when it is gone.


A little teaser of our St Patrick’s Day float, safely stowed away on the back stage.


Since I had walked down to Signal before we got the news of the closure,  I went ahead with my plan to put on a bisque firing for the adult ceramics class.


I have a bit of time to work on the blog as I have to wait until the kiln gets up to temp before I put in the bung, probably by about 3pm.


A rare sight of Bray seafront with ice and snow. Here’s looking forward to spring proper!

James Hayes – p.s. I added share on social media links and a like feature to the blog earlier in the week. In testing we had difficulty with adding comments, so that is next on the to do list. Give it a go and let us know what you think of the blog 🙂