Raku – making and firing techniques with Alison Sandeman

Pottery and ceramics

Ref: S5D11918

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About this course

Develop hand building and throwing skills, on the potter's wheel, using Raku clays. Raku work will be biscuit fired ready for glazing and firing using exciting outdoor Raku firing methods. You should anticipate that this course will be physically demanding, active and fun.

Course Description

Discover creative making, using stoneware and Raku clays, and the excitement of the Raku glaze firing. You are able to focus on throwing or hand-building techniques or both as you wish. Ideas are developed combining design and form with the practical aspects of pottery.

Raku is a Japanese technique originally developed for making the tea ceremony wares but adapted in the West for a broader usage. Pots are glazed and decorated outdoors and then fired in a hot kiln to 1000c. After firing, the pots are plunged into sawdust and water to achieve the exciting Raku effects. We also use other post-firing techniques.

Develop your skills and ideas with one-to-one tuition and advice. Raku pieces will be made in the first two days then biscuit fired ready for glazing and firing using outdoor Raku firing methods, a process that is physically active, yet exciting.

The first evening session starts with a short introductory talk and discussion followed by a practical session on clay preparation (wedging and kneading). The tutor will give a couple of demonstrations and the evening will end with a short audio visual presentation of the Raku firing process.

If you are beginning your experience of working with clay, the emphasis will be on getting the feel for clay and making. This will include clay preparation, making thumb/pinch pots, learning the hand-building techniques of coiling and slabbing and simple decoration. There may be opportunities to try out the potters wheel. If you already possess technical skills you will be encouraged to further develop these skills and your creative ideas.

Further audio visual sessions will take place as relevant to the course mainly in the evenings.

The two kilns we use for the Raku firings are gas fired. One of the gas kilns has been built by ourselves, and you will have the option of learning how it has been constructed on day three. Kiln plans, material lists and glaze recipes will be available.

The work for the Raku firings is made on the first two days of the course. While this is drying and being biscuit fired, on day three, you can expect to continue with finishing work, along with preparing for and learning about the outdoor processes. The glazing and Raku firings take place on the last two days: four and five.


The Raku firings can be very physical, active and tiring, yet an exciting process. It is essential that all students are able to participate with this aspect of the course as part of a team, so you need to be fit and able to do so.

The Raku site is in the sculpture courtyard, 10 minutes walk from the College’s pottery. Only work made during this course can be Raku fired during the course, to ensure that Raku firing sessions can end at 6pm on Thursday. This course ends at 5pm on the final day.


Arrival Day - this is the first date listed above

Courses start early evening. Residential students to arrive from 4pm, non-residential students to arrive by 6.45pm.

6.45pm: Welcome, followed by dinner (included).

8 - 9pm: First teaching session, attendance is essential.

Daily timetable

Classes 9.15 - 5pm, lunch is included.

From 6.30pm: Dinner (included for residential students).

Evening working - students may have access to workshops until 9pm, but only with their tutor's permission and provided any health and safety guidelines are observed.

Last day

Classes 9.15am - 3pm, lunch is included.

Residential students are to vacate their rooms by 10am please.

(This timetable is for courses of more than one day in length. The tutor may make slight variations)

Course Materials


  • The cost of all clay, glazing and firing costs (large work in size and quantity may be charged extra).
  • Basic tool kits are provided in the Pottery for use on the course.

What students need to bring

  • It would be good but not essential to come with some ideas, functional and/or sculptural, and any natural or man made objects for inspiration, and textures.
  • Overall/apron
  • Suitable clothing for Raku firing – e.g. jeans, old sweatshirt, long sleeved shirt, stout covered shoes/boots and waterproofs are essential. Please note: double layers of clothing will need to be worn when unpacking the kilns
  • Torch
  • Old towel and 20 clean plastic shopping bags
  • Cardboard boxes for taking away the finished Raku work
  • Books of interest.

Available to buy

  • Available from shop:
  • Pottery tools, pottery knife
  • Rough paper, notebook, or sketch pad and pencil
  • Wood or plastic ruler, plastic set square
  • Watercolour paint brushes and/or Chinese brushes
  • Natural sponge
Firing and glazing options: It is anticipated that you will have the opportunity to glaze and Raku fire the work you make during the course. However, if this is not possible you may: 1. Leave any raw, finished pieces that you wish to keep, for biscuit firing, basic standard glazing (not Raku) and re-firing by the College, for collection within six months. 2. Take away your unfired pots for firing and glazing elsewhere. Please wear appropriate clothing/aprons for the workshop or studio, and Raku firing. This means stout covered footwear, i.e. no open-toes or sandals. Safety boots are ideal. Course Reading List: For those interested in reading any books before the course, the following may be in your public library: The Craft of the Potter by Michael Casson (BBC Publications) The Potter's Book by Bernard Leach (Faber & Faber) The Complete Potter's Companion by Tony Birks (Conran Octopus) The Potter's Manual by Kenneth Clark (McDonalds) A Raku Handbook by John Dickerson Raku by Ian Byres (Batsford) Raku by Tim Andrews (A&C Black) Raku – Investigations into Fire by David Jones (Crowood Press) Raku by John Mathieson (A&C Black) 10,000 Years of Pottery by Emmanuel Cooper (British Museum Press) Sources of Inspiration by Carolyn Genders (A&C Black) The Workshop Guide to Ceramics by Duncan Hooson and Tony Quinn (Thames and Hudson)


Alison Sandeman

Alison Sandeman is a long-standing tutor at West Dean. She makes functional individual pieces in stoneware, porcelain and Raku. She has a special interest in outdoor firing techniques.


Residential option available. Find out accommodation costs and how to book here.

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Further study options

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