Other alternative firing techniques
Raku is one of the most performative of the ceramic firing mediums. It is unpredictable, precarious and terrific FUN!
When most potters in the West think of raku firing, they think of what should technically be referred to as “American” or “Western” raku: a process in which work is removed from the kiln at bright red heat and subjected to post-firing reduction (or smoking) by being placed in containers of combustible materials, which blackens raw clay and causes crazing in the glaze surface. This Western raku firing process has a huge draw for many potters because of its excitement and unpredictability.
Ceramics arts daily 2016
On a very soggy July evening in 2016, a group of hardy potters joined me for a firing of their raku pieces made over the previous few months.
Following a rigorous safety briefing, the fabulous top hat kiln was lit and the first set of pots heated quickly up to 800 degrees C.
Naked raku: The process of firing unglazed pots, usually with either slip resist or for the addition of horsehair, feathers or oxides following the firing.
The following firing was boosted to 1010 degrees C to enable the glazes to mature. By this time we were all pretty wet and a bit cold. Not to be deterred we complete a further three or four firings that evening. Aided by hot coffee, nibbles and friendly art chat and accompanied by lots of ‘ohhhhhs’ and ‘ahhhhhhs’ and an occasional ‘awe’ when a pot protested and cracked due the thermal shock we subjected it to.
Photo Credits: Amanda Roberts
Thermal shock is always a problem with raku. The speedy heating and cooling of wares puts the ceramic material under immense pressure. We can combat this by preheating the pots in the electric kiln beforehand and by our choice of clay, but still accidents occur. Rakuware will also never be functional for holding water or food due to the low firing temperatures and unglazed surfaces. This said, the stunning results of a raku firing more than compensate for it’s drawbacks. Fabulous metalic surfaces and beautiful effects which can’t be achieved by any other means.
Results….following a great deal of washing and drying: