Raku Saturday!

Raku this weekend was at the mercy of the weather. However the fire gods smiled on us Saturday morning as the rain cleared for a few hours! (Two little fire gods below!)

I had two different kinds of hand built items ready for the firing. The majority of pieces had been bisque fired and glazed with raku glazes. However I made a pair of tall narrow vases that were glazed as greenware and then bisque fired. This was because we had an extra night at SB’s studio before the firing and not enough time to bisque fire and glaze separately. The glaze on the greenware moved a lot in the bisque firing which was disappointing but I was still eager to see how they would emerge after the raku firing.

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The firing took place at SBs studio – two separate kilns to get through the volume of raku items as well as a single metal bin for a 24hr smoking.

The pieces were loaded into the kiln and fired for around 30-60 mins depending on the rate of heat. SB has decades of ceramics experience to draw from and she was able to decide when the pieces were ready.

Items were removed from the kiln using long metal tongs and placed into a variety of metal vessels including bins, billys, wheelbarrows and boxes! These were already half filled with sawdust and once the white-hot pots were placed in the sawdust, more was thrown on top of them as well as paper and other organic matter. Once the flames were covered a lid, or pre-prepared tin foil lids, was placed on top and on top of that, wet newspaper was laid.

After about 30mins or so, we removed items from the sawdust and washed them down. It was amazing to see the colours emerge from the burnt sawdust and the variation in glaze effect created by the placement in the kiln, the placement in the sawdust, the reduction and the combustable materials.

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I’m really happy with the results of the raku! I tried to get as much contrast as possible in my pieces, using both the glaze and the black of the raku.

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The two smaller vases at the front, the white orb and triangular vase, are both available  to buy on my Etsy page!

I would definitely love to do more raku! Although it takes a fair bit of equipment, something I’d need to invest in or borrow. One technique I think I will try is the smoking. Other artists created a couple of items, burnished them and had them bisque fired. These were then placed in a large garden incinerator, surrounded by sawdust, other combustibles, palm leaves and rosemary and then a few chemicals such as copper oxide and sodium chloride were sprinkled in. This was then set on fire and left to smoke over 24 hours. I haven’t seen the results, but I am aware that you can create amazing effects using this technique. All I’d need to get is a garden incinerator and a big bag of sawdust! A lot of the other things I have already. So – perhaps this is a project for the rest of the summer while SB’s studio is closed?

I’ve been busy on social media keeping my Instagram and Etsy shop updated creating a new Facebook page!

As ever, it’s great to hear from you so please feel free to comment or offer tips or advice!

Love

PS xx

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Coiling (& Raku preparation)!

Apologies for the long delay in posts, life has gotten extremely busy. Working full time and taking care of a family doesn’t leave much time for anything else. Access to SB’s studio has been on and off as well due to similar circumstances. However the last week or so has seen some pottery action!

We are doing a raku firing in about a week, which meant making a couple of pieces early enough to have them bisque fired, glazed and dry enough in good time!

I have grown in confidence in my slab building however coiling is probably my weakest skill. Therefore I decided to take the opportunity to try and get better at coiling whilst preparing some items for a raku firing – two birds; one stone!

I don’t know about you, but I struggle to keep a coherent shape when coiling. Perhaps I’m working with the clay too wet? Should I be waiting until the clay is drier before coiling? The pot seems to sag and lose shape. Getting the sides smooth inside and out is tricky too. Perhaps my coils are too thin as well.. Any tips or advice would be great!

I read in Clay Craft about using a former to begin the piece and then to coil on top of this. This was more successful, but still not easy!

Nonetheless I created a few items – a coiled bottle, two coiled bowls using a former for the base and then an orb using two pieces shaped using the former. I shaped one of the bowls into a triangular shape just to mix things up a bit!

SB had created about six or seven glazes for the firing. I dipped items, used tape to keep parts of the clay clean, brushed on glaze and dripped it to create movement! Hopefully this will mean I get a lot of contrast between the colourful glazed areas and the naked clay, which will go black in the firing. Plunging the hot pieces into a bin of sawdust and paper will also affect the colours, so I will consider how to create as much reduction as possible before the big day!

I’m afraid I don’t have a picture of the glazed items, but we’re doing the raku firing on the 22nd July so I’ll take as many photos as possible.

SB’s studio is now closed for the summer but I bought a new bag of clay, so I’m hoping to get back to throwing and building more regularly over the next few weeks – and blogging of course!!

As ever, keep up to date with my comings and goings on Instagram and keep an eye on my etsy page for some lovely things!

P Stratford xx

Pottery Girl: A return to Clay

Morning!

As mentioned in my introductory post, my beloved gave me the gift of a 5 week pottery course for Christmas. The artist running the course was a lovely guy, very knowledgable and had a well stocked studio however what was sold as a ‘course’ was more time spent in his studio. Had I known this I would have prepared some drawings and ideas for things to make, however as it was we turned up (there was roughly 8 of us), were given a quick demonstration of pinch pots and swiftly told to make something.. Something. Some.. Thing. Right. So what did I make? I decided it might be a good opportunity to experiment with textures (in part to buy myself time to think of something I ACTUALLY wanted to make, in part to suggest to the artist that I didn’t know the possibilities of what we could do e.g. the properties or limitations of the clay we were working with – appropriate thickness, size, what this kind of clay was good for..).

And so it was I made this random shape, pulled, scrapped, prodded and poked it. Don’t ask me what it is, I have no idea:

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To be honest, that’s about all we did the first week. The following week (and thereafter) I decided I wanted to make a few creatures for the garden so that my little one can ‘discover’ them as she plays outside. Using pinch pots smushed together, I created a hedgehog (two large pinch pots and a smaller one attached) and a bird (bird used 4 pinch pots). I used a fork to create the hedgehog textured back, but apart from that I can’t tell you what clay we used, what glazes we used or anything else, because I have no idea.

As you can see, my hedgehog developed a huge crack. I later found out this was because I hadn’t put a hole in the bottom of it (although I thought I had, perhaps the hole was too small).

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My ‘blackbird’ (grey bird?) was more successful, however I think the wax eyes are a bit creepy and clearly different shapes. The glaze on the beak was too thick and the wax used to keep it yellow has dripped down making it look like my bird is dribbling.  Poor bird.

Around the third week I think, we were given a chance to throw something on the wheel. We didn’t prepare the clay or even centre it, we simply made a small cylinder. As it happens, mine wobbled and he finished it off for me. He also used mine as an example to demonstrate finishing off the bottom, so all in all, although I say I did it… I really don’t feel like I did. The one thing I did do, and was quite proud of as it was my first time, was pull my own handle! At the moment of glazing, the artist hadn’t washed his hands and so my glaze choices of a green outside and blue rim were given extra brown finger marks which leaked into the glaze.

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In the final week we attempted a raku firing. Now, this was very exciting and we almost didn’t do it as the weather was terrible (windy), but I am glad we did. I’m only sad I didn’t prepare more for the kiln. We were told one item, which I dutifully made (an angled pot) however other attendees didn’t adhere to the advice and so others made birds, cats and fish and all were included. (Can you tell I’m still annoyed, months later?). I was happy with my pot, apart from the crack, although I feel this adds to the piece as it was born from fire and shows signs from this. The glazes we used for raku firing, I don’t know if this applies to all raku glazes, meant that the item would not be suitable for serving food as it was toxic, so the fact that my pot cracked didn’t really bother me at all. I used both a metallic glaze and a white crackly glaze, cross sectioned with wax, however the wax wasn’t  as successful as I had hoped. None the less, this is probably my favourite piece from the whole course. I love how the same glaze has gone bronze / copper like and the effect of the white is beautiful :

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I’m off to go pick up a bag of clay from SB but I’ll return and post some more about the classes with her when I can later today.

PG x