Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Yeah, That Was Me

...firing a raku on the hottest night of the year.
At least I hope it will turn out that was the hottest night! I kind of feel cheated: May and June are two of the three nicest months in Maine - the third being September - with temperate days and cool nights. This year, and last year, we had 45° and rain right up until we were catapulted into the 90s. Temps in the 90s are not supposed to happen in Maine! Or at least not for more than a few days each summer, in late July or early August. It plays hob - HOB, I TELL YOU - with the gardening season. I'm hoping things will mellow out in the next few days.

Nevertheless, the raku must go on! Well - technically that's not true, I've cancelled raku for all kinds of reasons, often weather-related, once mostly because I was just not feeling it.

It was sweltering, but we got some amazing results. I had all beginners! But they listened well and followed instructions, and we got some of the nicest copper lustre results I've seen in a while. The students have since taken theirs home, but mine are still at Portland Pottery, for people to check out. .

If you are thinking about doing a raku firing or taking a workshop, let me share a couple of things with you to make it a better experience:
The first couple are safety related:

  1. Wear cotton clothing! It's hard for cotton to catch fire. Not impossible, but a stray ember is unlikely to light it. Polyester, nylon, rayon? All bad choices.
  2. Wear closed-toed shoes! You may be called upon to stomp out flames. You want to be able to answer the call without harming your tootsies.
  3. If your hair reaches your shoulders, tie it back.
  4. If you are manning a post-firing reduction chamber, once the chamber is closed, don't open it for any reason for at least about 6-10 minutes. If you deprive the flame brielfy of oxygen and then suddenly allow an influx, you can get what's called a backdraft, which sounds kind of tame but is in fact a ball of flame, with you in the middle of it. You won't like it. 
These next apply more to workshop situations than private firings. In a small, one-person kiln, some things are easier than in the large kiln, so these suggestions don't apply in those cases. If you are firing your own kiln, handlling your own tongs, put in any size pieces you want, for example! These are more like workshop etiquette:

  1. Don't bring teeny tiny things. No beads, no buttons, no earrings. I once had a workshop participant bring like 30 1-inch pots. It wasn't her fault, nobody told her! But it was a misery getting those out of the kiln before they cooled too much too get any nice metallic colors, without getting burned. (Mostly my hands. The fireman's jacket protects the rest of me, but the gloves can only do so much as I reach repeatedly into the glowing kiln. So, yeah. Don't do that. 
  2. Don't bring anything you wouldn't want to lift with three foot tongs and drop into a pile of wood chips right next to other clay pieces. No huge things, nothing delicate or with long fragile appendages. Raku is hard on pieces, both the thermal shock & just the thumping around that's going to happen putting them in the reduction chambers and into the water. 
  3. Make sure you have used a claybody that is appropriate for raku. There's a pretty broad range of bodies that will work, and some that aren't great but will probably work for some pieces. The best ones are groggy stoneware, or porcelain, or bodies made for raku. 
  4. As noted above, raku is a risky process for the ware. Sometimes stuff breaks. Don't do it if losing a piece is going to break your heart. 
I'll post some photos of the ware and a fabulous raku glaze recipe here next week.

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