Raku is an ancient Japanese rapid firing technique that was initially used to decorate ceramics used in traditional Japanese tea ceremonies. The western world has now adapted this technique to incorporate the addition of placing the red hot ware into combustibles creating reduction to create the distinctive crackle effect and sometimes beautiful flashes of copper in the finished piece.
Once cooled, a layer of black soot must be removed using wire wool. For me this is the most exciting part, as its when the soot is removed the beautiful Raku effects beneath are discovered.
No two pieces ever turn out the same!
After hand building the individual piece using stoneware clay.
I then 'Bisque' fire it in my electric kiln.
This firing takes approximately 5 hours.
I then glaze the piece using specialist Raku glazes.
About 5-6 pieces are placed on kiln shelves inside the outdoor Raku kiln.
A gas torch is then used to rapidly fire the ceramic to 1000C.
This takes approximately one hour. Using the gas torch is a very noisy process!
Lifting Kiln Lid
Once the lid of the kiln is removed, the now glowing hot ceramic is then removed using black smiths tongs.
Fire retardant clothing and heat protective apron and welders gloves are required for this processes, along with a breathing mask, as the fumes are toxic.
The ceramic is now placed in a metal container containing various constables
that set alight.
Some artists like to experiment with various conbustables such as news paper, leaves and hay.
However in ten years of Raku firing I have found wood shavings to work the best.
Closing the lid on the container rapidly reduces the oxygen within and creates a reduction process that causes the crackle effect within the ceramic and glaze.
This often weakens the ware and breakages are sadly common.
Taking the Plunge
After allowing the Ceramic to smoke and cool for approximately 20 minuets, I then remove it from the container using metal tongs and welders gloves.
I then plunge each piece into water. This helps to set the effects on the glaze and also to create thermal shock that adds to the crackle effect.
Wire Wool Scrub
Each piece is now covered in a thick film of black soot.
This needs to be scrubbed off using wire wool to expose the Raku effects beneath.
This can be a tedious job, however it is also the most exciting, especially if the piece has crackled well.
The Finished Piece
The Raku effects are very unique, each firing is different so no two pieces are ever identical.
Any un-glazed parts are blackened by the smoke.
Sometimes flashes of copper can be seen along with beautiful blue,green and orange tones.
I still feel excitement and anticipation with every Raku firing and love to experiment with mixing my own Raku glaze colours.