-----> Read part 1 here.-----> Read part 2 here...And off we went! The sounds of wood cuting early in the morning set us all for the fantastic full day of raku firing we have been preparing for a few months now. Tomo and Gijs (bellow), powered with their enthusiasm, got the job really well done and very quickly!
The wood was essntially used on the tradition Raku wood kiln. This kiln is made of special bricks that can resist to high temperatures without cracking. The temperature goes as high as 1000 degrees Celsius and took approximately 12 hours to warm up. William was our first stoker. Look how happy he was!
The pots glazed days before were then ready and dry to be fired. Although the wood kiln is the traditional Japanese method of firing ceramics, given the large amount of pots made and the short time available to fire them, at West Dean we also have to gas kilns. Here you can see our lovely tutor Alison Sandeman introducing Kim and Tomo to how to place the objects inside the kiln for the best results.
Claudi (below, right) is clearly an expert on these dances and was a valuable presence. She has very thorough methods concerning the treatment the pots as soon as they come out of the kiln, glowing and hot!
As soon as the kiln was packed you say your prayers, cross your fingers and close the door. What happens in there is a mystery - you may have an idea of what the result might be but usually what comes out is very very different.Some larger pots needed a rehearsal. This one below took three people to lift from the kiln!
This is the other gas kiln. See the green glowing hot pots? We don't wear these fashionable trousers because we like to; it is just because otherwise we could not stand the heat!
Then it was time to put the rehearsal into practice. The hot piece is here being introduced in sawdust. This produces a lot of smoke and, when the lid is on, the reduction atmosphere changes the colour of the glazes producing the coppery-green-blue shades.
The pots glazed that day needed to be fast dried so that they could be fired later on. Having not done so, the released moisture can cause cracks on the clay and destroy these lovely things... we don't want this, do we?
We opened the kilns several times during the day - I can't even remember how many... and the processes were repeated over and over again. Each time the results were more surprising that the one before. As the day went on, teams of students, staff, guests and friends were gathered together in a kind of automatic enjoyable way.
If sometimes the colours disappear behind the coppery effect, other times the greens show with a metalic sheen. To remove the attached carbon from the sawdust process and to also cool down the pieces, they were sumerged into water and washed.
With the wood kiln constantly being stoked, we continue our series of firings in the gas kilns. the one you see below is surprisingly HOT as sson as it is open. If you don't wear glasses you might consider putting a pair on just to take the objects out. You can almost burn your thoughts if you stay too close for too long!
You should have seen how excited Tomo was at his pot lighting up in flames! He hopped around ready to cover it with the bucket while Claudi threw sawdust on.
What looks at first just another kiln lifting revealed itself to be a panic moment...
The pots fuse together!! Because they are at 1000 degrees Celsius, the glaze is still molten and sticks to everything, especialy molten glaze from other pots! The majority of the pots on this top shelf touched each other and glaze was ripped off and attached to others nearby. It was a nightmare...
But then, a happy moment! A different way of treating the pieces as they come out of the kiln is to put them directly into water. As you can see below, this produces a drastic and very quick reaction, transforming glowing green glazes into bright turquoise.
The smoke produced by the contact with sawdust also made the unglazed clay to go black. The glazes are meant to crackle, have their lines accentuated when the smoke is trapped in them to make a spectacular spider web effect!!
The flower pots below got these amazing colours for two reasons: one being the glaze used (copper oxide rich galze) and the other being the replacement of saw dust by glossy colorful magazine paper. Surprising, hum?
But not all is good news and unfortunes happened. This teapot (you might remember it from the glazing post) did not resist the heat in the wood kiln and cracked in every single place possible. Luckily there is a conservator nearby!
As the day went on and fewer pots were left, the hard-working men and women sat down for a bite: strawberries and molten Nutela were much appreciated. Right, Rachel?
Although a very rewarding experience and mostly enjoyable for everyone, as the sun went away to other affairs, the hard work started to reveal itself on tired smiley faces sitting around the warm wood kiln that was finaly ready for the first firings!
In this kiln, because it is already at the right temperature, the firing takes only 20-30 minutes. The flames swirl through the kiln and hit the glaze to melt it. When the flame is visible on the top of the chimney we know that the temperature inside the chamber is the desired 1000 degrees Celsius. As the sky goes darker and darker the glow and colours of the pots become more intense, as if they had light of their own.
The day comes finally to an end. All the pots had been fired and we sat around tables and kilns and pots to celebrate this day. There was music and food and loads of laughing. Everyone's presence has contributed to a fantastic result to make this day memorable for the years to come. There was even a raku sky.
Photos by Abigail Uhteg