Last weekend I had a very rare (in fact racking my brains, I think it is fair to say 'unique') day away from my shadow - aka my 2 year old daughter.
Luckily for me, this one day workshop was not long enough to allow us to make our own pots. Instead there were crates of beautifully made, perfect little biscuitware pots and vases for us to pick and make our mark on.
The art of Raku is thousands of years old. It is an ancient Japanese technique whereby you remove the pot from the kiln while it is still glowing hot (over 1,000 degrees), and place it in a container of combustible material such as straw or wood shavings. Once these have caught light, the container is closed, creating a reduction atmosphere. The fire then searches for oxygen, and draws it from the clay and glaze and has extraordinary effects on the metals inside the glaze. The pot is then removed and plunged into water to cool it and fix the pattern. The result is fantastic lustrous, metallic sheens from the glazes and a crackle effect both from the glaze and the thermal shock.
Anyway, enough of the science - or at least my limited grasp of it. The point is, as long as you are relaxed about the process, and prepared to experiment, you really need no skill or knowledge to produce fantastic results. I'm not saying that true raku experts aren't skilled - it takes years and years of practice and understanding to produce a perfectly controlled raku piece. But to me, the fun is in the 'wait and see what happens' approach. It is a dramatic process and a truly unusual way to spend a Saturday afternoon.
Here are some pots I produced on the day.
I love the turquoise and copper on these. My daughter said 'Oooh, they are like peacocks!' and I think that's a perfect description of the colours. I also love this one which has come out much more textured, almost reptilian in feel. You wouldn't believe this one was made using exactly the same colour glaze as the ones above.
Finally we had a bit of a play around with some other decoration techniques. This final one was made by removing the unglazed pot from the kiln, and then while still hot, feathers were laid on leaving the burnt imprint behind and a ghostly feather effect. The same technique can be done with other organic matter, such as horsehair. The effect may be stunning, but the smell while you are doing it is most definitely not! Think singed fingernails on a candle...
You need no specialist knowledge or equipment to attend these sessions. They cost £45 for the day (10am til 5pm) plus you pay around £3 per pot you use. All the other equipment and materials are provided. You just need to take a packed lunch, and maybe a pinny to protect your clothes.
As raku is an outdoor affair, if you want to book there are unlikely to be many more this year. M & K Raku generally run once a month, and the next one is 23rd October. Join their facebook page for more information. I've already re-booked!
If you are not local, a google search for raku workshops should find you one nearby. Have fun!
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