This past Sunday afternoon (which was as hot as the hinges of…well, you know) a group of clay artists set up a raku firing demonstration on Shelburne’s waterfront. I mentioned how hot it was because for those of you who don’t know anything about the raku firing process, there is a lot of heat involved. Like, 1750 °F heat! But the results are worth the effort, always surprising and never what you expect, which is half the fun.
Take for instance this series of photos:
Here we see the same little clay pot (created by Lynn Wilson of Sandy Point Pottery) in three stages.
1) Has already been previously fired and ready for the raku glaze.
2) Various colours of raku glazes have been applied.
3) After the raku firing process.
This was a little clay pot that I got to play with. As you can see, the end result is quite different from what it looked like before being fired. Let me walk you through the process with some photos.
First, using propane, the kiln is heated up a bit. I say a bit, but let’s just say that if you touched it, you’d probably need a skin graft. Here we see clay artist, Andrew Newstead, heating up the kiln. Once it reaches a temperature of about 1700 – 1750 °F, the glazed pots are placed in the kiln through a hole in the top with a large pair of iron tongs. As you may guess, this process is dangerous. See the heat coming from the top of the kiln?Cassie Seaboyer, a 3rd-year student at NSCAD (Nova Scotia College of Art and Design) adds another glaze to a piece she created herself.Once the pieces are left in the kiln for a while (anywhere from 10 – 20 minutes), they are lifted out out with the iron tongs and immediately placed in a heatproof bucket or barrel containing a combustible material such as sawdust, wood shavings, dry seaweed, shredded paper, etc. Here Andrew is assisted by pottery artists Alison Stanton (left) and Lynn Wilson (middle). This is where the magic happens. The red-hot piece of pottery catches the combustible material on fire. More of the material is placed inside and on top of the pottery followed by the lid. This cuts off the oxygen supply. The glaze oxidizes creating very interesting and beautiful effects.Once the piece has sat in the oxygen-deprived environment for another 10 – 20 minutes, it is lifted out. At this point, the piece can be left alone to cool. Murray Hagan, co-owner of Art Studio 138, uses a wire brush to sweep off some of the charred material from the pottery. The process can be carried on a step further by shocking the still-hot piece of pottery in a bucket of water. By doing this extra step, the glaze reacts differently producing even more vibrant colours.As with all artwork, you can make many pieces but there will be that one really special piece that has turned out better than imagined possible. One of the favourite pieces produced this day was a piece by Lynn Wilson.And here is Cassie’s finished piece.
Raku is a very unpredictable art. There are so many variables with heat, time, combustible materials and any number of other factors that the results can not be duplicated. Sounds like the perfect kind of art to me.
This was a very successful event. Visitors had the opportunity to paint glazes on a pottery piece with the option to purchase after the raku firing process. Some pieces are available for viewing or to purchase at Art Studio 138. When they hopefully do this event again, stop by and see for yourself the beautiful results of this artistic process. And hopefully it will be a much cooler day.
This was my first time seeing how the art of raku firing is done. If I have missed an important step or incorrectly/poorly explained something, please feel free to include your additions below in the comments. Thank you!