Last December I signed up for a raku course with John Evans – and last weekend the date finally came around.
We managed to work through a range of techniques about 25 firings in 3.5 days so it was pretty full on. I loved it and it’s left me itching to get my hands on a raku kiln again – not so easy when your studio is on the 7th floor!
Anyway, here’s some of what we got up to. I took loads of photos so its a bit of an epic post…
1. building paper saggars around pots with sawdust, salt and various oxides etc
John kindly provided a nicely burnished pot to try this out and it picked up the effects nicely. I added copper wire (which made the black lines) copper sulphate and carbonate (which didnt show up at all) and salt (which gives the peachy tones).
2. Ferric chloride in tinfoil saggars
The ferric solution was horribly corrosive and required full on ppe both for application and then later for opening the little saggars up – I found that quite challenging. When fired it produces orangey/red tones depending on the strength, with crickle patterns imprinted from the foil. I also added a little sprig of wild geranium that then printed its outline on top in carbon.
3. Burnishing and making / applying terra sigillata
No pictures of this, but John had a simple technique for mixing the base slip, leaving it to settle in a pop bottle and then siphoning off the terra sig. It turns out to be easy to apply and produces a nice burnished type of surface without all that polishing. Result! This extra-smooth surface then works better for picking up the details of raku/smoke fired pieces.
4. Naked one step raku
So called because it has no glaze and there is one stage of applying a thick slip to the piece before firing. The pots are then taken out of the kiln in the traditional manner, and then placed in a bucket with burning newspaper with a tight fitting lid on to create a reduction so the exposed areas blacken. We didnt have time to dry the slipped pots properly and had trouble with it all flaking off in the kiln, but we did see hints of the subtle black/grey/white tonalities that could be achieved.
5. Naked two step raku
This uses two layers of resist on top of the burnished/terra sigillata surface, firstly a thin slip and then a glaze. We worked onto these in a range of ways using stencils, sgraffito, slip trailers etc to manage the resists in a range of ways. They were then fired and smoked to produce some great effects, some controlled others less so. Bubbles in the slip led to some black dots, the density of the piece and thermal shock when removed from the kiln led to crackle marks, sgraffito and masking created black lines and areas, whilst trailed glaze created white areas on a black background.
The slip acts a barrier to prevent the glaze fusing with the pot, so once it’s cold it can be removed. Here’s what it looked like before removal, I rather liked it at this stage, but took the plunge and scraped it off to see what was underneath…
I enjoyed both the process and the results of this technique and the experience left me itching to have another go with pots rather than test tiles. The blacks seem to particularly appeal to me – this was one of my favourites, caused by pulling off parts of the terra sig with crepe masking tape before the firing and smoking.
6. Horsehair and feathers
On the final morning we fired up the test tiles without any protection and then applied the hair & feathers etc to the hot tiles as they came out of the kiln. A bit nerve-wracking to start with as you approach a 700 degree tile with your bare fingers gingerly offering up a delicate feather but we soon got stuck in and produced an amazing range of results. I love the graphic quality of the lines produced by the burning hair. The dots here are produced from sugar sprinkled on at the same time.
All told it was a lot to digest. I loved the naked raku and hair work and would definitely jump at the chance to try the techniques again now that I now roughly what to expect and can prepare accordingly. Now I just have to find that chance. Anyone know of any London potters who might be prepared to share a raku kiln from time to time???
John was a great tutor and gradually got us to try out all the aspects of the process whilst making sure we were aware of any safety issues, so that helped to build the confidence to give it another go.I was also impressed by his counter-weighted ‘top hat’ kilns, where the bulk of the kiln lifts off a flat base leaving the pots easy to access – and all the heat safely contained within the ‘crown’ of the hat – much better than having to reach into a red hot top loader!