Last September I was invited to spend the weekend in Wales at the Good Life Experience, and it truly changed my life! I wrote a post about it here, but one of the most magical experiences I had over the whole weekend was raku firing, something that had been on my bucket list for years since learning about it at university. In light of The Great Pottery Throwdown being back on TV, I wanted to share my raku experience (prepare yourself for some over the top grinning!)
The workshop was run by a group of local potters, and there were several hand thrown pots to choose from. I chose to work on a little pot with a foot and some gouged markings. Raku is a somewhat unpredictable method of glazing and firing, so the emphasis was on working instinctively, not overthinking the process and letting the glazes act naturally – just the way I love to work with materials, letting their qualities and characteristics determine the outcome of the end product.
I began by dipping the pot diagonally into the white glaze, then filled it and poured it back out to coat the inside with glaze.
Then it was onto dripping the glaze and copper oxides. The pale blue becomes a rich turquoise with hints of copper depending on the firing, and the brown becomes a bright green. I wanted a vaguely painterly finish that followed the gouged marks in the pot, but I struggled with the definitely right-handed ladle and ended up embracing a much more haphazard finish.
Once we were happy with the glazing, the bottoms of the pots were cleaned so any glaze that may have got onto them didn’t stick to the kiln and cause the pots to crack. They were them placed into the raku kiln and heated to a completely terrifying 1000 degrees centigrade which took about 20 minutes. The workshop I took part in happened in the early evening, but they continued well into the night and we went back to watch the firing process happening in the dark which was quite incredible!
Once heated to the magic 1000 degrees, the pots were very carefully removed and immediately placed into troughs of sawdust which ignite as soon as they come into contact with the scorching pot. More sawdust was thrown on top, and the troughs quickly sealed. It’s this process which causes the glazes to crackle and the unglazed parts of the pot to become black thanks to the carbon residue from the burning sawdust.
When the pots come out, they were quickly plunged into cold water to cool them before we set about cleaning off the carbon left behind on the glazed parts, revealing the finished pot and seeing how coppery the oxides had become!
I was pleased to see some of the turquoise areas of mine had become a pleasingly bright copper around the edges. I decided to leave a little of the black residue on mine as I quite liked the contrast it gave.
It was the best fun, and I’ll treasure this little pot forever! At the moment it’s hidden away (out of reach of the cat) which is a bit of a shame, but I’m not really sure what I should use it for. I don’t really want to plant something in it as the inside is so pretty, and it’s not food safe. Maybe I’ll have it out on display somewhere to remind me of that magical day in September! If you’d like to read more about our weekend at the festival you can find it here.