Friday, August 20, 2010

How to Make a Raku Bowl

As I'm new to the Seattle area as an exhibiting artist, I am taking advantage of this summer to check out various art festivals in the area. So far, I've visited the Bellevue Art Fair (my favorite as a consumer, probably not such a great fair for me as an artist due to the long hours over 3 days), the Bellingham Arts Festival, the Anacortes Arts Festival, and Fresh Paint in Everett. I love seeing the different artists and their works. One artist of interest was Brian Somers who paints, sculpts and makes wonderful raku works of art. Raku is a type of Japanese pottery that is primarily used as part of the Japanese tea ceremony, often in the form of bowls. Raku means "ease" or "enjoyment" and got its name in the 1500's when a Japanese warrior presented a seal with the Chinese symbol for Raku to the potter who created handmade tea bowls that he favored. Raku then became the name for the family that produced the wares. Both the name and the ceramic style have been passed down through the generations (sometimes through adoption)!

I first met Brian at the Bellingham Arts Festival where he offered a hands on demonstration of how to paint the bowl and how to fire it. Lead or other metals are used as part of the glaze because of the shimmer they add and their ability to crackle or "craze", taking on the darker color from the carbon that happens later in the process.
Wide brush strokes are typically used in a more asymmetrical pattern, with colors layered on top. Splattering paint can add a nice effect on top. Any part of the vessel which is left unpainted will eventually turn black from the carbon once it comes out of the kiln.

This is the kiln with an unfired bowl on top
Once the bowl is painted, it goes into the kiln to be fired, reaching a top temperature of 1800. Time in the kiln is short, say 20 minutes, as the glazes fire at relatively low temperatures. This is a lot shorter than when I use my kiln for glass, which can take 12-15 hours! Once fired, the bowls go straight into a lidded aluminum container (for the demo, this was a garbage can) to create a reduction atmosphere which creates a luster and iridescence from the metals in the glaze when the oxygen is pulled from the glazes and clay and when there is combustion inside (i.e. flames from contact between newspaper and the bowl that comes straight from the kiln). This part of the demo was interactive for all people who made a bowl. I had the job of opening and closing the garbage can, while my friend, Heidi, had the job of covering the bowls with newspaper (and staying clear of the flames)! Next the bowls are transferred to a bucket of water to stop the process and to help clean off some of the debris before the bowls are individually washed.
This was a great way to experience another form of art and also very addictive ("I know the next one could be better..."). My friend, Heidi, who lives in the city went back the next day to make some additional bowls with her kids. The Seattle area is a great place not only for viewing art but for hands on experience! Let me know what you think and if you've seen other ways to participate like this at a venue.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Cultural Arts in Seattle: Obon Festival

The first weekend I moved back to Seattle, even before my belongings arrived, I went to the Seattle Obon with my friend, Lani. The Obon originated over 500 years ago as a Japanese Buddhist custom of honoring the departed spirits of one's ancestors similar to the Mexican observance of El Dia de los Muertos. Today, the Obon is more of an occasion to get together, have some good Japanese food and participate in the dancing as you'll see later.

The festivities kicked off with taiko drumming, which was excellent and well choreographed.

What I enjoyed is how they invited the former teachers and students to join in for the final performance. Clearly, there's a set drumming pattern to each piece as the older drummers were in sync with the students since I doubt that they all practiced together.

But what impressed me the most was the dancing -- not because of the talent but because of the breadth of participation! I was amazed at how many people joined in. Dancers form a circle, going up and down the block. In the middle are the teachers who act as guides. For the popular dances, the street was lined four rows deep. But the great part was diversity of the dancers! There were children, teens, young adults, parents, and grandparents. I saw a group of college-aged guys dancing in row! And, there were people of every nationality - Asian, African American, Caucasian, and Hispanic. I loved seeing everyone dancing in unison and that all these people had spent time learning the dances, which are typically taught in the weeks prior to the festival.

Each dance tells a story through the movement. One of the most popular and easiest dances is known as the coal miner. The photo above shows people imitating coal miners digging. This is an old and traditional dance. However, there are also newer dances as such as the Ichiro, inspired by the Mariner baseball player. Now that I'm in Seattle, I look forward to learning these dances and participating next year.

I hope you enjoyed reading this. Although I make fused glass, I would like to share other arts that inspire me, whether they be cultural arts, other art endeavors or art made by others. Does this approach appeal to you? Please feel free to share your thoughts.