After a wicked hot May, we’ve had a few perfect days this June. I took the opportunity to fire up the Raku kiln and finish off some pottery that’s been waiting far too long!
the Raku kiln is sitting on top of some soft brick to protect the grass
Assisted by my faithful puppy Kato we settled in for an afternoon in the shade.
Since it’s early June there is lots of birdie action to watch. I got pics of a Redbelly woodpecker and a Downy Woodpecker hitting the suet cake. Judging by the wad of suet they were carrying away I’d say they were feeding babies.
There was a pair of Bluebirds checking out one of my ceramic houses.
And this little ceramic owl seems a bit nervous about jumping into the fire!
some finished Raku ware
I taught a Raku class recently and as usual I learned a lot. But first I had to refurbish my Raku kiln. I’ve had this kiln since the mid 80’s? and the last time I used it I burned too much gas. So I ordered a new kiln blanket, and relined the original kiln right on top of the old liner. The blanket is made of spun kaolin fibers and create a fabulous heat barrier in a tiny space.
the blanket can be cut to size with scissors
After piecing together some scraps on the bottom of the kiln and using high temperature wire to secure the seam it was time to apply heat!
It was a beautiful morning when I set up the kiln. I used some soft brick stacked two high to hold the kiln shelf. In Raku firing the pieces are usually fired one at a time so the shelf is pretty small. A round shaped kiln is also a plus as it directs the flame around the piece keeping the temperature more even. A small gas tank is attached and we are ready to fire!
As students arrive and glaze their pieces we get a rhythm going, preheating the next pot on top of the kiln helps to move things along as the piece is already hot when I restart the kiln. Each firing takes 15- 30 min.
Some of the finished ware.
Some of my finished ware available in my store.
What to do when the snow flies? Fire a kiln! I’ve been playing with glass again and I found a new rabbit hole to explore. I’ve entered a few of these pieces into juried shows. I’ll let you know if I get in anywhere. Some of them are so new I’m not sure if they’re done so they still reside on my work table.
CHASM view 1 note the falling water
CHASM view 2
things are moving along…
Keeping warm and carrying on.
Well I was planning to write this post as My New Medusa, but the kiln goddess decided to take me down a peg. After many years of experience and many hard learned lessons I apparently needed a refresher course in the perils of firing damp pottery, the importance of providing air holes to places that need them and taking the time that is needed to dry out an item that took two weeks to make.
Indeed my outdoor walls are festooned with Green Men that died in the glaze kiln. I like to think those aren’t my fault but seriously, is there any one else in the room? perhaps the cat sleeping under the chair? Perhaps.
However blowing a piece up in a bisque fire is ALWAYS a function of water inside the piece that is trapped when the outer skin is dryer and the resulting steam can’t escape. But it does escape in a most spectacular way.
In my defense it rained for about two weeks straight. I’m kind of surprised more things didn’t blow!
Glazing is one of the most nerve wracking and at the same time the most satisfying aspect of making pottery. The transformation from a dull dusty finish to the shiny colors of finished pieces is nothing short of amazing. Before we glaze the pottery must be bisque fired. This turns the clay to stone and allows easier handling and better absorption of the glaze into the pores of the ware. It’s important to glaze soon after the bisque fire to avoid a build up of dust and grease that can inhibit the glaze from staying put during the next firing.In the bisque fire the green ware can be stacked and stuffed in pretty tightly. I put enough items in this bisque fire to do two glaze firings.After the firing everything is unstacked and laid out on the table. I use a white and a dark brown stoneware for handbuilding. The white cylinders hold up the shelves and must be a little taller than everything else on the shelf.So, we have lots of glazing ahead but first we must wax our bottoms! Glaze melts and if it is left on the bottom of a pot and placed on a shelf and fired it will turn from art to artifact before you can say “another kiln shelf ruined!!”.Speaking of things getting ruined, any place that wax is, glaze will not stick. We must be careful not to put waxy fingerprints or drips on places that want glaze. The only remedy for sloppy waxing is a refire in the next bisque to burn it off. So with one hand for the pot and one for the wax we press on.I usually start with the accent glazes in multi colored items. These accents can be covered by a dip in another glaze, or I might cover it with wax to make it stand out more. I do many many test tiles with different glaze combinations to see what works and then I WRITE IT ALL DOWN!! It is so important to keep records of firings, glazes, how applied, how thick etc. It really cuts down on the clinkers!
Things start to get more organized as we glaze. I am currently having fun with a line of glazes, Stroke&Coat by Mayco. They come in a rainbow of colors, won’t run or react to each other, can be mixed or laid one color over another. I also use them to sponge onto some of my big bucket glazes.These Victorian house bird feeders had accent glazes painted on to shutters, doors etc then wax on the color, then dipped in my half filled 5 gallon bucket of “white enamel”. I use a sponge to dab off any white glaze that sticks to the wax while it is still wet.These turtles have been dipped in “lemon yellow” glaze, the one on the left has a layer of stroke & Coat orange underneath. After wiping the bottom of their feet they are loaded in the kiln. Everything gets on last once over with a wet sponge to remove any specks of glaze on the bottom.We then load the glaze kiln, where nothing can touch, and must be about a 1/4 inch away because as the firing progresses everything will get larger, and then shrink to a smaller size than when we started. Hello Alice, we are in wonderland now.After 8-10 hours in a hot kiln and another 12 hours cooling off…..Magic has happened!All that was dull and dusty is now shiny, bright and new again!I like to play around with possible combinations, the roof and porch are not attached so they are interchangeable. The leaves in front are awaiting a copper wire to transform them into Woodsprites.Having a cat wandering through makes life so much more excitingA formal picture and a posting online completes the cycle, time to clean off the table and begin again!
looking into a hot Raku Kiln
My first blog entry, ever. No pressure, what should I cover first.
How about Raku pottery and my Demo firing at the July Final Friday in Nelsonville Ohio. If you were there thanks for checking out my web site and I hope you won the raffle!!! I’m writing this the day before as I fire some of the pieces I made, today. There won’t be time Friday evening to do all the pots I made from the 50 lb box of Raku clay that I got from the Nelsonville Emporium last month. So far I have only broken one piece probably because it was too tall for the smoking chamber and I hit it with the lid when it was molten hot and in a fragile state. Well time has flown, the Raku firing was a great success! The weather was perfect, I had a great spot right next to the fountain. I didn’t blow up any pots and people were properly amazed to see a glowing orange pot being lifted out of the kiln & placed in sawdust where flames ensued. The Raku Raffle was won by Mike. He chose a blank pot, applied glaze by dipping into a 5 gallon bucket then shaking off the excess. He also loaded the pot into the kiln, then lifted out the hot pot and placed it in the smoke chamber. The results were fabulous with beautiful lustre colors.
Raku Kiln set up by the fountain
pulling out a red hot piece of pottery
washing off the ashes
things get really dramatic when the sun goes down
Here are some of the ware that was fired that evening.