2RAKURAKU HISTORYRaku Pottery was developed in Japan in the early 1500’s as the Ceremonial Tea Ware of the Zen BuddhistMasters. The word Raku signifies enjoyment of freedom. It was preferred by the Masters because of itshumility, tasteful unpretentiousness, simple naturalness, and its deliberate avoidance of luxury...all veryimportant to the Zen philosophy.Seldom watertight, Raku is actually a very poor choice for a casseroleor a flower vase; it is pottery without utility or function. It is a low-firedware with lead based glazes, and will only hold water for a short periodof time. Raku must be approached with a different criterion in mind,like a painting or a symphony.According to the Zen Masters, its elusive, subtle, yet vigorous beautyis Raku's only worth. It is valued because it is believed that the Spirit ofthe Maker is embodied in the form and revealed at the foot, which istraditionally left naked (unglazed). It is believed that if we are alert toourselves, in contemplating the Raku form, we will recognize in it our own Spirit and Meaning.The style of pottery was popularized in the 1950s in North America when American artist Paul Soldner adapted the process creating beautifully and uniquely colored items that were collected and used in homes as art pieces.The ancient art of Raku pottery has been used in Japan for centuries. These lovely pottery pieces were used in traditional Japanese tea ceremonies. Invented by a 16th century tile maker named Chojiro, these hand molded tea bowls were fired and glazed forming the rustic yet elegant look that has been passed down for 15 generations.
3RAKU PROCESSRaku Pottery is earth derived...the firing process is unique and daring, and in the eyes of the Zen Masters,the process truly reflects the most fundamental rhythm of enlightened life.A once-fired (bisque), unglazed pot is first coated with glaze and placed into kiln. The kiln is then heatedto about 1,800º F at a fast rate. It is this first tremendous heat shock which often causes a pot to explode orto develop large "body cracks" in the clay walls. If the vessel survives this shock, almost immediatemetamorphosis begins. The entire vessel glows like red-hot coal, and the glaze melts into a sheet of liquidglass.At this point, the pot must endure a second shock as the potter uses tongs to remove the glowing mass fromthe inferno. As the cools air outside the kiln hits the glowing vessel, the severe temperature changeproduces the cracks in the glaze. These cracks are highly prized as characteristic of traditional Raku Pottery-- they are the "proof-marks" of the earthenware's having survived this dramatic trial by fire.Upon leaving the kiln, the glowing pot is placed directly into an airtight container ("reduction chamber")filled with leaves, sawdust, or the like, which turns the naked clay foot black and highlights the valuablecracks in the glaze.As if all this were not enough, the vessel (often still over 1,000º F) may then be plunged into cold water tohalt the process.And so the cycle of earth, fire, air and water is complete. Raku is a daring process, and a great many potsdo explode during some phase of the firing. Those that survive the ordeal -- the test of fire -- are blessed.A portion of the Raku history provided by the Lavey Pottery Studio
4Types of clayClay body (noun) refers to the actual clay mixture that is used in forming objects. It might only have one specific type of clay in it, but it is more likely to consist of a mixture of different types of clay. examples: porcelain, stoneware, soda clay, B-Clay – high fire clay bodies, cone 10 is fired to 2335 degrees.terra cotta, and raku are low fire clay bodies - Please put raku scraps in the low fire recycle garbage can. Raku is fired to 1800 degreesWe must use a clay body that will withstand rapid heating and cooling. That is why we use a raku clay body, a low fire clay body.When we make conventional pottery, we know that once the piece is glazed and put in the kiln the creative part is finished, except of course for a skillful firing. Raku firing, however, extends our creative involvement as far into the process as we care to go. Our eyes are always on the piece, judging, determining, deciding, and altering. We end the firing when we see fit, without the aid of cones or other temperature-measuring devices. We alone determine the next steps. In addition, the rules or conventions in raku change as your expectations change. Raku is usually more than a one person event, so you must have helpers to facilitate the firing.~ Steven Branfman – Raku, A Practical Approach, 2nd Edition ~
5Greenware (noun) is the term given to clay objects when they have been shaped but have not yet been bisque fired, which converts them from clay to ceramic. Greenware may be in any of the stages of drying: wet, damp, soft leather-hard, leather-hard, stiff leather-hard, dry, and bone dry.Examples:Greenware is very fragile, and must be very carefully loaded into the kiln for its first firing.BISQUE FIRINGThe first firing of clay is called bisque firing. The resulting pottery is called bisque ware.Bisque firing serves the purpose of giving the pot considerably more strength than it has when it is simply dried clay (greenware). This allows the potter to handle the pot more readily without fear of breaking it.Bisque firing still leaves the pot porous enough that it can pick up glaze from a suspension of blaze material in water.Different potters bisque fire to different temperatures (or cones), but a typical firing would be from 1700 to 1800 degrees Fahrenheit.
6GlazingRaku has some glaze effects that are somewhat typical. These include metallic glazes, luster glazes, and other glazes that are effected by the reduction atmosphere in the combustion chamber. Married with the smoked aspect of the ware, raku pottery is often easily distinguished from other types of pottery.One of the other interesting aspects is the change a single glaze can show across the surface of a pot. For example, a glaze colored with copper can move from blue to red to a metallic copper sheen. These changes occur due to the change in atmosphere in localized areas.Popular raku glazes at The Ceramics Center include: raku magic, white crackle, dolphin blue, Kelsey's pear and turquoise crackle.Wax can also be used to block out areas that you want black. I waxed off the leaf shapes and the top of the pot on the right. I put the pear glaze over it and made sure to wipe the glaze off of the wax before firing.
7Firing in the raku kiln The “trash can” kiln is very popular because This is the new permanent raku kilnat The Ceramics CenterThe “trash can” kiln is very popular becauseit is inexpensive and can be transported easily.The kilns are fueled by propane.
8The kiln gives off tremendous heat as you can see The kiln gives off tremendous heat as you can see. We must protect our eyes when looking into the kiln to check the stages of the glaze melting. Wear shoes to protect your feet when firing - no sandals please.
9ReductionReduction (adjective) refers to a kiln atmosphere which does not have enough oxygen in it to completely consume the fuel as it burns. Due to this deficiency, the flame pulls oxygen molecules out of the clay bodies and glazes, changing their character. Reduction can be also be used to describe clay bodies and glazes that are especially developed for reducing atmospheres.
10Shapes that work best in raku! Vertical potsPieces that have curvesAn orb shapeWe will not fire tiles or flat objects in raku.
11The raku process still amazes me The raku process still amazes me! When I am creating, I keep in mind what areas I want to leave black. Try to design your piece with an area that will incorporate black from the reduction process.Happy creating!