Thursday 22 April 2010

Raku Firing

I had an excellent three days last week making raku pots – and despite the gloves, mask and goggles, I did manage to take some photographs in the end! Here are some of them.

Above are some of my bisque ware in the process of being glazed. At this stage the glazes are all pastel shades and give very little clues as to how they will come out! Once the pots are glazed they sit on top of the kiln for a while to dry out (damp pots will tend to explode in the kiln).

Above is the raku kiln being packed with pots. Tongs are used here because we've already fired once in this photo (we had a relay going!) so the inside of the kiln is very hot (even though it looks cold).

The kiln is fired using propane from this gas cylinder you can see above: the tube goes from this fitting to the burner (which you can see in the photo below) which fires straight into the back of the kiln through the hole.

Above is a photo looking inside the kiln through the peep hole on the front door of the kiln. As you can see it's pretty hot in there! From a cold start it takes about an-hour-and-a-half to get to temperature, but in a 'raku relay' (firing one kiln after another) it takes about half-an-hour or forty minutes between kilns. The lovely orange colour in the photo shows the kiln is up to temperature, which is about 1000 degrees C. I meant to take a photo of the kiln door opening to show all the hot pots inside but I forgot: far too engrossed in getting the work out!

Above you can see one of my raku coasters being taken straight out of the hot kiln and put into drums of sawdust. The glaze here is still molten and looks different from the bisque state: but it also has to cool yet - so it still doesn't give any clues as to how it will look!

Sawdust is put into the barrels to smother each pot as soon as it comes out of the kiln. We had lots of photogenic flames during two days firing but this tiny little bit was all I caught on camera! Again, too busy trying to put the flames out! Anyway, the pots sit in the sawdust now for about half an hour to cool off and then the tongs are used to dig them out - like lucky dip!

Here are some of my pots fresh from the barrels. As you can see they're covered in carbon and burnt sawdust. They get a quick dunk in a bucket of water just to cool them down enough to touch - and then it's time to scrub them clean using steel wool.

And here above is a photo of the very same pots after about twenty minutes scrubbing!

And finally a photo of some champagne to celebrate the end of a successful and enjoyable three days raku!

Monday 12 April 2010

Raku Preparations

Well it’s April, the weather is dry and warm and that can only mean one thing – it’s time for raku! I’ll be glazing on Thursday and then hopefully firing on Friday and Saturday. So far the weather reports suggest it will stay dry and won’t be too windy (wind is much worse than rain when you have fire and sawdust everywhere!) – so with any luck we’ll have perfect conditions.

In the meantime I have a busy week ahead making preparations. I’ve already sorted out my buttons, pendants and other little odds and ends which you can see in the photo above. They don’t look much at the moment – bisque ware is always the least inspiring stage in ceramics. These are made from stoneware with a little bit of grog added. I’ve given them a quick sandpaper just to smooth off any sharp edges, then I’ve wiped them back to make sure they’re free of dust. Then I’ve brushed a small amount of wax resist into the holes on the buttons and pendants to discourage the glaze from getting too clogged inside. This should help speed up the glazing process.

I also have a selection of small bowls, some coasters, some jars with lids, some incense holders and maybe a plaque or two to prepare. These also need a quick sanding and a wiping over with a damp sponge before I start glazing. In all I think I’ve got about 70 pieces of bisque for the kiln. Hopefully I’ll have a good survival rate and maybe a few successes too! Who knows? But it should be fun anyway.

If I get a chance to take photos for blogging I’ll try – but it’s hard to use a camera while wearing thick gloves, a pair of goggles and a face mask…!

Monday 5 April 2010

Small Landscape Painting

Yesterday I spent the afternoon painting this small 5 x 5 inch box canvas. That’s about 12.5cm squared in new money. I’ve got a few of these mini canvases lying around and thought it was time to use some of them. At first I wondered if I was going to have trouble painting on such a small scale: I’ve done a few this size before and found it difficult making a composition work in such a confined space. It can also feel like a very cramped way of painting. But since I don’t really have a properly formed idea for anything larger at the moment, I also thought it’d be a nice way of doing some painting without feeling the pressure of having to ‘fill the page’.

The inspiration for this scene came from a bike ride I had a couple of weeks ago on the banks of the River Medina. This is a simplified scene of the opposite bank viewed across the water at about 9am in the morning – so it had a wintery morning feel. There was a patch of lovely green lawns opposite and the colour of them seemed to pick out the wintery, purple foliage. I’m not sure what the title is yet. A Winter’s Morning Across the River…? Although that title seems bigger than the actual picture itself!

Anyway, I enjoyed painting this one: it all seemed to work this time without too much difficulty and I’m pleased with the result (although I may have to tweak a few bits). I used seven different paints in total: Raw Umber, Ultramarine, Yellow Ochre, Hookers Green, Cobalt Blue, Titanium White and just a dash of Black Ivory for a bit of depth. And that was it – all started and finished in one day. It’s good to have days like that.