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.

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