Introduction to Raku Pottery
Pottery has a long and fascinating history, spanning thousands of years and dozens of cultures. One unique branch of this art form is Raku pottery, which originated in Japan in the 16th century.
Originally used for tea ceremonies, Raku pottery has since spread around the world and gained popularity for its beautiful and distinctive appearance. In this article, we will explore the world of Raku pottery, from its history to its techniques and processes.
Whether you are a professional artist or simply a curious enthusiast, we hope that this article will provide you with an informative and enjoyable read.
Overview of Raku Pottery
Raku pottery is a type of firing technique that involves removing the pottery from the kiln while it is still glowing hot – usually around 1800F (982C) – and placing it in a container filled with combustible materials like sawdust, straw, or leaves. This process is known as oxidation reduction, as it involves exposing the pottery to both oxygen (to create a glaze) and reducing it (by covering it with the combustible materials) to influence the final appearance.
The traditional Raku pottery technique is characterized by a crackled glaze and a rustic appearance, with the surface often taking on a metallic sheen. This process is also known as low-firing, as the pottery is fired at a lower temperature than other types of ceramics.
History of Raku Pottery
Raku pottery was first developed in Japan during the 16th century by a tea master named Chojiro. The technique was used to create tea bowls for use in traditional tea ceremonies, with each bowl handcrafted and unique.
The Raku firing technique was kept secret for many years, only being passed on to family members and apprentices. It wasn’t until the 20th century that Raku pottery gained popularity outside of Japan.
In the 1950s, Bernard Leach, a British potter, visited Japan and learned the Raku technique. He brought it back to Europe, where it quickly became popular among ceramic artists.
Another influential figure in the history of Raku pottery is Paul Soldner, an American artist who studied with the famous Japanese potter Shoji Hamada. Soldner adapted the Raku technique to suit his own style, incorporating elements of stoneware and adding grog (a type of broken pottery used for texture) to his clay.
His techniques helped to further popularize Raku pottery in the United States.
Raku Techniques and Processes
Raku Firing Technique
One of the most distinctive aspects of Raku pottery is the firing technique. The process involves heating the pottery to a high temperature (up to 1800F or 982C) for several hours in a kiln, then removing it while it is still hot and placing it in a container filled with combustible materials.
The pottery is then covered with the materials, which burn and reduce the oxygen around the piece, creating a distinctive crackle in the glaze and a unique surface texture. There are a few different techniques that can be used to achieve different effects with Raku firing.
Some artists will apply glazes to the pottery before firing, which can create a variety of colors and patterns. Other artists prefer to leave the pottery unglazed, relying on the smoke and fire from the Raku firing process to create unique patterns and textures.
Clay Shapes and Textures
Raku pottery can be made from a variety of clays, but it is typically made from a type of clay that is low in iron content and high in silica. This helps to ensure that the clay has good thermal shock resistance and can withstand the extreme temperatures of the firing process.
One popular technique for creating textures in Raku pottery is the tezukune technique. This involves hand-building the clay using coiling or slab techniques, then using a paddle to press and twist the clay into shape.
The result is a piece of pottery with a unique texture that resembles the bark of a tree.
Raku pottery is a unique and fascinating form of art that has captured the imaginations of artists and enthusiasts around the world. From its traditional roots in Japan to its modern adaptations in Europe and the United States, Raku pottery has a long and storied history.
Whether you are a professional artist or simply a curious enthusiast, we hope that this article has given you a greater understanding and appreciation for this unique form of pottery.
Types of Kiln and Safety Precautions
When it comes to firing Raku pottery, there are a few different types of kilns that can be used. Each type has its own advantages and disadvantages, as well as unique safety considerations that must be taken into account.
Types of Kiln for Raku Firing
One common type of kiln for Raku firing is the Raku kiln, which is specifically designed for this technique. Raku kilns are typically small and portable, making them ideal for artists who want to work from home or in a studio.
They can be fueled by propane or natural gas, and can reach temperatures of up to 2000F (1093C). One benefit of using a Raku kiln is that it can be very efficient, as it requires less energy to fire than a larger kiln.
Another option for Raku firing is an electric kiln. Electric kilns are typically larger than Raku kilns and can be used for a variety of firing techniques, including Raku.
They are generally more expensive to operate, however, as they require a significant amount of electricity to run. One benefit of using an electric kiln is that it can be safer than a gas-fired kiln, as there is no open flame involved.
Gas kilns are also sometimes used for Raku firing, particularly in larger production settings. They can be fueled by propane or natural gas and can reach very high temperatures, making them suitable for a range of different ceramics techniques.
However, gas kilns can be more complicated and expensive to operate than Raku kilns or electric kilns.
Safety Precautions for Raku Firing
When firing Raku pottery, it is important to take a number of safety precautions to protect yourself and those around you. Some of the most important safety considerations include:
Respirator – When working with Raku kilns, it is important to wear a respirator to protect your lungs from the harmful fumes emitted during firing.
This is particularly important if you are using combustible materials to cover the pottery, as these materials can release toxins when burned. Tongs – It is important to use tongs to handle the hot pottery during firing.
This will help to prevent burns and other injuries. Look for tongs that are designed for high-temperature use, which are typically made from materials like steel or wrought iron.
Face Shield – A face shield can be used to protect your face and eyes from the intense heat during Raku firing. Look for a shield that is designed for high-temperature use, such as one made from tempered glass or polycarbonate materials.
Closed Sneakers – When working around a Raku kiln, it is important to wear closed-toe sneakers to protect your feet from hot pieces of pottery or other debris that may fall during the firing process. Flame-Resistant Gloves – Finally, it is important to wear gloves that are designed for use around high temperatures.
Look for gloves that are made from materials like Kevlar or Nomex, which are designed to withstand heat and flames.
Uses of Raku Pottery
Raku pottery is known for its unique appearance and distinctive characteristics. Here are some of the key traits that make Raku pottery so special:
Characteristics of Raku Ceramics
Uniqueness – One of the most appealing aspects of Raku pottery is its uniqueness. Each piece is one-of-a-kind, with its own subtle variations in color, texture, and glaze.
This is due to the nature of the Raku firing process, which creates a degree of unpredictability and randomness in the final appearance of the pottery. Low-Temperature Firing – Raku pottery is typically fired at lower temperatures than other types of ceramics.
This gives it a unique appearance, with a crackled glaze that is not found in other types of pottery. Porosity – Another characteristic of Raku ceramics is their porosity.
Because they are fired at lower temperatures, they do not become fully vitrified like other types of pottery. This means that they are more porous and often not suitable for use with food or drink.
However, this does make them ideal for decorative pieces. Flaking Glaze – Raku glazes are known for their tendency to flake off over time.
This can be seen as either a benefit or a drawback, depending on your perspective. Some people find the flakes to be a unique and interesting part of the pottery’s character, while others prefer a more stable and non-flaking glaze.
Uses of Raku Pottery
Decorative Piece – Because Raku pottery is often not suitable for use with food or drink, it is commonly used as a decorative piece. Raku pottery can add a beautiful and unique touch to any home or office, and can be found in a variety of styles and sizes.
Tea Ceremonies – Raku pottery’s roots in traditional Japanese tea ceremonies have made it a popular choice for use in modern tea ceremonies. Raku tea bowls are highly valued for their unique appearance and cultural significance.
Not Food Safe – As mentioned earlier, Raku pottery is often not suitable for use with food or drink due to its porosity and potential flaking glaze. If you want to use Raku pottery for eating or drinking, it is important to consult with a ceramic artist or other expert to ensure that it is safe to use.
Famous Raku Artists
Raku pottery has a rich and storied history, with many notable artists contributing to its growth and development over the years. Here are just a few of the most famous Raku artists, both from the past and present.
Tanaka Chjir (1592-1656) is considered to be the first-generation Raku potter, and is credited with inventing the Raku firing technique that is still used today. Chjir was a well-known and respected tea master in his time, and he created many beautiful Raku tea bowls that are still highly prized by collectors today.
His technique involved removing the pottery from the kiln at the peak of its heat and placing it in a container filled with combustible materials like straw or rice husks. This produced a unique and beautiful crackled glaze that is still a hallmark of Raku pottery to this day.
Honami Koetsu (1558-1637) was a remarkable figure of the Japanese Edo period, which spanned from 1603 to 1868. He was a man of many talents, including sword polishing, calligraphy, and lacquer work in addition to pottery.
Koetsu was considered a master of the Raku style and his pottery was highly prized for its beauty and unique style. His influence extended beyond pottery, as he was also instrumental in promoting Japanese tea culture.
Koetsu is often credited with establishing the tea ceremony as an art form in its own right, and his work continues to influence the practice of tea ceremony today.
Contemporary Raku Artists and Their Contributions
Paul Soldner (1921-2011) was an American ceramic artist who is widely credited with popularizing Raku pottery in the United States. He studied ceramic arts under the famous Japanese potter Shoji Hamada, and developed his own style that incorporated elements of stoneware and added grog (a type of broken pottery used for texture) to his clay.
Soldner also experimented with low-temperature salt firing, which helped to further expand the possibilities of Raku pottery. Later in life, he became involved in the founding of the Anderson Ranch Arts Center in Snowmass Village, Colorado, a renowned center for arts education and a gathering place for artists from around the world.
David Roberts is a contemporary ceramic artist who has gained international acclaim for his unique take on Raku pottery. He is particularly known for his work using the naked Raku technique, which involves applying slip (a mixture of clay and water) directly to the bisque-fired surface of the pottery.
The slip is then removed once the piece has been fired, leaving behind a unique pattern. Roberts is also known for his innovative use of smoke stencil Raku, which involves creating intricate designs on the surface of the pottery using stencils made of paper or other materials.
Roberts’ contemporary take on Raku pottery has helped to bring this traditional art form into the modern era, and he continues to be an influential figure within the ceramics community.
Raku pottery is a vibrant and fascinating art form that has captivated artists and collectors for centuries. From the traditional techniques of early Raku potters like
Tanaka Chjir and
Honami Koetsu to the contemporary innovations of artists like Paul Soldner and
David Roberts, Raku pottery continues to evolve and inspire.
Whether you are a ceramic artist yourself or simply a fan of this beautiful and distinctive type of pottery, the works of these famous Raku artists are sure to impress and inspire.
Well-Known Female Raku Contributors
Raku pottery has been shaped by the contributions of many talented artists throughout history. While their work often takes the spotlight, it is important to recognize the significant contributions women have made to this art form as well.
In this section, we highlight two renowned female Raku artists and their unique contributions.
Patricia Shone is a highly acclaimed ceramic artist known for her expertise in the Raku technique. Based in the Isle of Skye in Scotland, Shone draws inspiration from the dramatic landscapes that surround her.
Her work often captures the rugged beauty of the Scottish countryside, incorporating textures and colors that mimic the natural elements found in her environment. Shone has dedicated years to mastering the Raku firing process.
She embraces the unpredictability and organic nature of the technique, allowing the flames and smoke to interact with the clay surface to create unique patterns and effects. Through her mastery, Shone combines the timeless tradition of Raku pottery with her own artistic vision, resulting in pieces that are both visually stunning and deeply rooted in nature.
Her artwork often features vessels and sculptures that reflect the multifaceted landscapes of the Scottish Highlands. From rolling hills to jagged cliffs, Shone’s pieces evoke a sense of place and capture the essence of her surroundings.
She expertly uses glazes and firing techniques to create depth, texture, and a sense of movement within her works.
Moyra Stewart is another esteemed female Raku artist who has left her mark on the world of ceramics. Hailing from Scotland, Stewart has gained recognition on the global stage for her unique approach to Raku pottery.
Specializing in handmade Naked Raku, she has refined her technique over the years to produce breathtaking pieces that showcase both simplicity and elegance. Naked Raku is a Raku firing technique that involves applying a slip to the surface of the pottery before firing.
This slip is then peeled away, revealing the raw and delicate texture of the clay underneath. The process creates beautiful, abstract patterns that often evoke a sense of movement or fluidity.
Stewart’s artistic journey has taken her around the world, showcasing her work in various exhibitions and galleries. Her ability to capture the essence of the human experience through her Raku pottery has made her a sought-after artist.
Each piece tells a unique story, capturing emotions and leaving an indelible impression on viewers. Through her skillful use of the Naked Raku technique, Stewart’s artwork invites viewers to contemplate the inherent beauty in imperfection.
The delicate cracks and intricate patterns on the surface of her pottery become a metaphor for the human condition, reminding us of the fragility, strength, and resilience within us all.
Throughout the history of Raku pottery, women have made significant contributions to the development and evolution of this unique art form. From
Patricia Shone’s exploration of the Scottish landscapes to
Moyra Stewart’s mastery of Naked Raku, these female artists have left an indelible mark on the world of ceramics.
Their creative visions, technical expertise, and dedication have not only added to the rich tapestry of Raku pottery, but have also redefined its boundaries. By showcasing their talents, the work of these well-known female Raku contributors inspires and empowers future generations of artists to explore their own artistic potential.
Raku pottery is a captivating art form with a rich history and a vibrant present. From its traditional roots in Japan to its contemporary adaptations, Raku pottery has been shaped by the contributions of numerous artists, including well-known female contributors.
Patricia Shone and
Moyra Stewart have brought their unique perspectives and techniques to the world of Raku, showcasing the beauty of nature and the power of imperfection. The importance of recognizing the contributions of women in the art world cannot be overstated, and their work serves as an inspiration for aspiring artists.
With its unpredictable nature and stunning visual appeal, Raku pottery continues to captivate and leave a lasting impression on viewers and artists alike.