This semester, my Ceramics instructor challenged us to make a set of small bowls that fit together around a center, chalice-shaped bowl, all resting on a plate. It really was a challenge! It took almost the whole ten classes to make, with a lot of mess-ups. My instructor said, “It’s all about the process.” When we’d had a particularly frustrating throwing day, the other students and I would remind each other to slow down and concentrate.
Hon, doesn’t “It’s all about the process” apply to so many things? That’s why I love my wise instructor and the patience Pottery teaches.
This summer, I took a Raku class taught by master ceramicist, excellent teacher, and all-around wonderful guy, Peter Syak. Not only did the hours fly by, the women I took the class with were great company. I was inspired by them, and by the talented students I take ceramics class with year-round. We learn from each other.
Pottery has given me a way to turn off stress, even if it’s just for a few hours a week. And I don’t mind getting my hands dirty.
Since I took this class last summer and know how beautiful the glazes are, this spring I threw a bunch of clay pots with Raku clay at the Visual Arts Center of New Jersey.
Do you know what we potters call ourselves? ADDICTED! I’m pretty sure someone in our class wears a T-shirt that reads, “I’m a POT-head.”
To find out more about the Raku process, click on these links:
There’s an extremely hot kiln, orange-glowing earthenware, combustible sawdust and straw and surprise results. The process is illustrated in my two previous posts, Red Hot Raku and Raku Reaction.
Peter Syak, our amazing instructor, mixes his own glazes. He knows how much exposure to air–or not, how much sawdust to add–or not, and how long to keep pots covered–or not, is required to get the amount of crackling, luster and intense color desired. Still, oxygen, heat, or a pause in placement of buckets all contribute to the outcome.
The earthenware’s temperature drops as it sits under the metal buckets. The reaction process stops when each piece is quenched in a trashcan filled with water. Soot is scrubbed off, pieces are cleaned, and we “ooh and ahh” at the results.
Have you heard of Horse-Hair Raku? I hadn’t either. Instead of placing a red-hot pot in a reduction chamber (ie. metal buckets with combustible material), its decorated by touching horse hairs to the the 1800 degree clay surface. The hair ignites, creating dark grey lines and smudges. Similarly, sugar sprinkled on the burning surface reacts with the clay. Take a look!
Hon, have you every tried raku? What did you create?
In my previous post, Red Hot Raku (Raku Workshop, Part 1), the kiln was king. You can bet we listened carefully when our amazing instructor, Peter Syak, guided us through the reduction process! Even so, when we were on “bucket brigade” and handled our pieces just transferred from the kiln, the heat seeped right through our extra-thick, fire-retardent gloves. I had to rip the gloves off and fan my fingers!
Guess what happens when ANYTHING touches a surface that’s 1800 degrees F? It bursts into flames!
Here are some pictures of the process. Hon, stand back from the fire…unless you’re on “bucket brigade.”
Our earthenware is set in the sawdust bed and covered with metal buckets filled part-way with straw.
“Aluminum containers act as reduction tubes. Reduction is a decrease in oxidation number. Closing the can reduces the oxygen content after the combustible materials such as sawdust catch fire and forces the reaction to pull oxygen from the glazes and clay minerals. Luster gets its color from deprivation of oxygen. The reaction between the oxygen and clay minerals affects the color of the clay and the metal elements of the glaze.” (Wikipedia)
You know how I love to “play with clay“? This summer I learned something new. I learned Raku!
I just finished a wonderful workshop given by master ceramicist, Peter Syak. He instructed more and less experienced (umm, that would be me) students how to create vases, plates, boxes and sculptures, and how to fire them in a raku kiln.
According to Wikipedia, Raku originated in Japan and is “thick-walled, rough, lead-glazed earthenware.” Raku means “enjoyment, comfort and ease.” The workshop was definitely enjoyable, but as for comfort, I smelled like a smokestack at the end of the day. As for ease, I’m not so sure. If it weren’t for Peter’s engineering-background and careful attention to detail and safety, we might have glowed orange like our pots after baking in 1800 degrees Fahrenheit!
Over four weeks, we hand-built with raku clay and painted with glaze. Peter bisque-fired our greenware.
I couldn’t wait to take part in a raku firing. Hon, hope you enjoy the pictures as much as I enjoyed the process!
A propane tank feeds gas into the kiln. Our pieces are already inside, baking as the Pyrometer tells us when the temperature has reached about 1600 degrees F.
It’s time for Show-n-Tell and I’m sharing my latest ceramics. Have I mentioned why I love pottery? Because every step of the process takes so much concentration that I think of nothing else while I’m working. Also, any bowl with a cracked bottom can be used…as a planter!