Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Raku Firing Day

Today was the final and most exciting class in my Raku Sampler Course at Shadbolt Center for the Arts.  It was a long day, filled with lots of excitement, flames, smoke, dangerous chemicals, and amazing results.  The fun thing about raku is that the results are almost immediate, although I do need to still clean up some of my pieces a bit more, and will also track down beeswax to wax many of the pieces, which I believe will enhance the colors and shine, and also hold the colors better than if I don't wax them.

Since everyone in the class signed a waiver for a Shadbolt photographer to take their photos, I don't think they'd object to my posting some photos from class today.  But first, some of the beautiful results :
Finished pottery pieces from a raku firing - horsehair raku, naked raku, saggar raku.
Many of these are horsehair raku, a few of them from the saggar firing, and also from the naked raku firing.
Finished pottery from a raku course - obvara or breaddough or yeast raku.
These are from the obvara (sourdough) firing.  They are pulled out hot from the kiln, dipped in a fermenting yeast mixture, and then quickly dipped into water.
Obvara raku in action.
The temperature of the piece as well as the time between dipping in the yeast mixture and the water, seemed to determine the colors which formed.  It was all a big experiment, but as we took turns, we learned a bit about the timing.

Finished pottery from obvara raku firing.
This piece at front is one of my obvara pieces, which turned out a little on the dark side.  There is texture on the sides of the pot from crackling with sodium silicate, but the obvara didn't follow that texture, it created its own visual texture.  This one I dipped in while very hot, so the color turned very dark before I could cool it in the water bucket.  A little darker than I had planned, but I still like the effect.  The pieces which were left to cool longer before dipping, as well as the ones which were coated with terra sig before bisque firing, had a lighter color (see the pieces behind).

As I mentioned, there was lots of heat and fire.  Here are the raku kiln just being opened...
Red hot pottery ceramic pieces in the raku kiln.
...and hot pieces being removed with the tongs :
Removing the hot raku pottery from the raku kiln, using tongs.

I was happy to leave this very hot work to Linda, Tony and Jay, who were doing a wonderful job pulling out the pieces and delivering them to their respective destinations.  Usually it was into combustibles.  This is a "naked" raku being set into a metal bucket lined with newspaper and sawdust, a bit more paper added on top, allowed to flare up in flames, and then covered for 5 minutes to smoulder :
Naked raku process - placing the pottery in a can with combustibles.
... and this is a glazed raku piece, which is set into a "nest" of newspaper, filled with sawdust, and then covered with a metal can lined with newspaper shreds.
Raku firing - covering the pottery pieces in sawdust and paper and a can.
About 5 minutes into the process, Linda told us we'd need to "burp" them.  I think it would be better named "torch" them, because the cans were tipped up, and the flames were allowed (or helped along with the torch) to flare up again, before setting the cans back into the sand base.
Burping or reigniting the raku fired pieces.
The smell was wonderful.  A lot of us thought it smelled like burning marshmallows on the campfire.

The horsehair raku was the part I was most looking forward to, and it didn't disappoint.  Again, timing was everything.  Hairs applied while the pot was too hot, seemed to just vaporize and smoke, leaving a large smoky area.  The hairs applied while at the optimal temperature, curled and attached themselves to the pot, creating a distinct black squiggly line.  The hairs applied when too cool, didn't stick at all.  And from too hot to too cold was maybe a minute or two.

Horsehair raku pottery.
Here is one of my horsehair vessels which turned out well.  It features some feathers (they look great, although I'll find out how much of the detail will remain when I rub off the charred traces of carbon, and reveal the pattern below), the dots created from sugar crystals, horse hair, and I added some human hair (my own, and that of my family members, since I cut their hair :-) ).  The human hair was extremely fine in comparison to the horse hair, so again, I'll see what patterns remain.

The naked raku turned out better than I had expected.  When we pulled the charred pieces out of the metal buckets, and hosed them down with cold water, the "sacrificial slip" was not too hard to scrape off with a credit card (I used an old CD).  Here is mine, getting washed down :
Washing down the naked raku pottery pieces.
...and mostly washed off :
A beautiful naked raku pottery pot.
When Fredi saw it, she asked if I would be willing to lend this piece for another student exhibit, but then she decided to pick my sculpture (my lady) instead, and picked a naked raku piece from another student.

The saggar firing was not as exciting, since we packed the items last week, and then Linda had them fired and ready for us to unpack this week.
Pots coming out of the saggar raku firing.
The unpacking was fun, and there were some amazing results.  My favourite is that one on the very bottom left, those dramatic lines were from the copper strand in a pulled apart copper scrubbing pad.
Beautiful pots from the saggar raku pottery firing.
My two pieces turned out very nicely.  Not dramatically amazing, but I'm still very happy with them.
Beautiful saggar fired raku pottery.
I also wrapped mine with the copper strand, but mine didn't turn out as dramatic.   It may have been where it was placed in the kiln, or perhaps something which I did or didn't pack in my saggar (although when I compared notes, we probably packed many of the same materials).

My biggest surprise and also disappointment was around my sculpture, the lady in a beautiful dress.  I was prepared that something would happen to her, that she would lose an arm or something during handling, or in reaction to the rapid temperature changes.  The good news is that Tony was able to amazingly carry her with tongs into the combustion area, and also from there to the hose-down area, and she was completely undamaged.

The disappointing part is that I glazed her dress in a bright red glaze (which I also used for some pendants, and they turned out with an amazing bright red), but she ended up a very unspectacular gold colour.  Tony says it's a sign that she didn't get enough reduction, perhaps because the can was quite large, so a lot of air around her, or perhaps since there was a hole in the can, so a small stream of smoke billowed out, even though we had tried to block it with some rocks, and then placed a lid over it.  Oh well.  She is still chosen for the student exhibit, although I somewhat wish she wasn't.  I keep thinking she's my Lady in Red Who is Not Red.  But she did turn out well, I have to admit.  Her dress, even though not Red, has a beautiful shine and a bit of iridescence to it.
Raku fired pottery sculpture with glaze and unglazed areas.

Raku fired pottery sculpture with glazed and unglazed areas.
Overall, it was a wonderful adventure, and I have lots of wonderful pieces which I would not have if I hadn't taken this raku course, so it was also a tremendous success.

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