Pottery, Alchemy…

Last Friday I went to my pottery class as usual. I made a couple of pots as usual (actually  not as usual because I’m getting better at wheel throwing so these two were almost identical). But the main action of the morning was the Raku Firing we were doing with pots we’d prepared earlier.

Raku is a technique in which you fire a pot and then, once it’s really hot, you put it in some sawdust (or other organic stuff) the best part of it is you never know what might come out. I chose to do a couple of my pots with a resist and glaze – you put the resist on, glaze over it and then scratch a pattern on it. When the pot is fired…well, we’ll come to that.

There is nothing I like better than being outside with a fire – in this case a kiln – in big boots and old clothes. With the added bonus of a rather blacksmithy leather apron and fireproof gloves I was absolutely in my element.

Ali, our teacher was in charge of the kiln. She had my things in there firing from early on. We had a peek inside “but don’t breathe in!”  to see how things were cooking – you’re looking for the glaze to become glass, at about 1000degrees I recall. Very hot then. Once they were that hot the lid came off the kiln and we took the pots out using giant tongs. This was like some incredibly dangerous summer fete game of skill (not the only one of the day) as you pick up a very hot, wierdly shaped or very small pot from three feet away at the other end of the tongs. Well, we managed not to break anything!

The pots then went into the sawdust, some were left to cool a little before they went in, to smoulder away while we had tea and cake (there is always tea and cake halfway through this class, one of the many reasons I love it). 

Once the pots had done a-smouldering (ah, woodsmoke!) they had to be taken out of the bin of sawdust. So begins dangerous summer fete game number two – the firey bran tub! The pots came out of there – some actually full of flaming sawdust –  and into a bucket of water, which bubbled away in a pleasingly cauldronlike way. 

My resist pots then started to make cracking noises and the glaze fell off like an eggshell, this was like magic! I hadn’t really been prepared for it and I may have done a small scream. The falling off of the glaze revealed these two pots – here pictured after a clean up and beeswaxing. I am so pleased with them:

The other three pots I had fired were made of white porcelain paper clay. I glazed them blue and white (the best colours, all the great pottery traditions know this). They came out looking amazing, if a bit dirty, and the white porcelian went black. All the pots show the ‘crackling’ pattern that raku is famous for. It’s such a fascinating technique:

It was an absolutely excellent morning. I wondered if this was how the alchemists felt; they never did manage to make lead into gold but how much fun did they have trying? Setting things on fire, standing round bubbling cauldrons and retorts, seeing what happened. Perhaps they secretly knew they couldn’t turn lead into gold, but said they might one day, so when their Mums called them in for tea they had an excuse to just keep tinkering away at their fires and kilns…

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