Wednesday, 29 September 2010

The Girl Who Played with Fire - a Raku Workshop

Last weekend I had a very rare (in fact racking my brains, I think it is fair to say 'unique') day away from my shadow - aka my 2 year old daughter.

Myself and my mum had booked to attend a one day raku workshop in rural Milton Keynes. After the inevitable driving round and round various roundabouts and getting horribly lost, we arrived at the studios an hour late.

I was a little apprehensive about the day. To my eternal disappointment I am not in the least bit artistic - I struggle with drawing stick men. I have done pottery before, and after 3 years of attending evening classes with the old man, we are now the proud owners of lots of wobbly pots, a kitchen cupboard groaning with thick, heavy mugs and a very wonky homemade rhubarb forcer in the garden (which I describe as 'rustic'. Or do I mean 'primitive'. Or maybe just 'crap'?).  I gave up pottery when my pregnant belly could no longer fit in my overalls or allow me to reach the potters wheel. The part I always loved best about those sessions was the glazing and firing. I loved the alchemy of it. Of watching one colour magically morph to another and come out beautifully shiny and glazed.

Luckily for me, this one day workshop was not long enough to allow us to make our own pots. Instead there were crates of beautifully made, perfect little biscuitware pots and vases for us to pick and make our mark on.

Our course leaders Mark and Kirsteen made us very much at home, and were on hand all day to help and advise if we needed it - and of course to man the kiln.

The art of Raku is thousands of years old. It is an ancient Japanese technique whereby you remove the pot from the kiln while it is still glowing hot (over 1,000 degrees), and place it in a container of combustible material such as straw or wood shavings. Once these have caught light, the container is closed, creating a reduction atmosphere. The fire then searches for oxygen, and draws it from the clay and glaze and has extraordinary effects on the metals inside the glaze. The pot is then removed and plunged into water to cool it and fix the pattern. The result is fantastic lustrous, metallic sheens from the glazes and a crackle effect both from the glaze and the thermal shock.

Anyway, enough of the science - or at least my limited grasp of it. The point is, as long as you are relaxed about the process, and prepared to experiment, you really need no skill or knowledge to produce fantastic results. I'm not saying that true raku experts aren't skilled - it takes years and years of practice and understanding to produce a perfectly controlled raku piece. But to me, the fun is in the 'wait and see what happens' approach.  It is a dramatic process and a truly unusual way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

Here are some pots I produced on the day.

I love the turquoise and copper on these. My daughter said 'Oooh, they are like peacocks!' and I think that's a perfect description of the colours.  I also love this one which has come out much more textured, almost reptilian in feel.  You wouldn't believe this one was made using exactly the same colour glaze as the ones above.

Finally we had a bit of a play around with some other decoration techniques. This final one was made by removing the unglazed pot from the kiln, and then while still hot, feathers were laid on leaving the burnt imprint behind and a ghostly feather effect. The same technique can be done with other organic matter, such as horsehair. The effect may be stunning, but the smell while you are doing it is most definitely not! Think singed fingernails on a candle...

You need no specialist knowledge or equipment to attend these sessions. They cost £45 for the day (10am til 5pm) plus you pay around £3 per pot you use.  All the other equipment and materials are provided. You just need to take a packed lunch, and maybe a pinny to protect your clothes.

As raku is an outdoor affair, if you want to book there are unlikely to be many more this year. M & K Raku generally run once a month, and the next one is 23rd October.  Join their facebook page for more information. I've already re-booked!

If you are not local, a google search for raku workshops should find you one nearby. Have fun!

Linked up with

Inspire Me Beautiful


  1. Ooooh I love the feather one! ( well I love them all!, but thats my fav!) Well done you!

  2. Wow! Those pots are gorgeous! What a lovely day out. I want to go do Raku now :O) I particularly love the feather effect.

  3. pots are lovely what a great day out.Like the 1st won best

  4. Thanks for your lovely comments x I really had a great time making them. I can recommend it for a different day out!

  5. Gorgeous pots and sounds like a fun mummys time out activity x

  6. Wow! I am so glad I popped in, I feel very inspired and MUST have a go! They are fantastic, well done you!

  7. Thank you all so much! Feeling rather proud of myself now, as I never make anything- other than a pigs ear out of things. x

  8. Fantastic!!!

    What a fantastic way to spend a day and your results are beautiful... my favourites are the 'peacock' colours though the others are fab too.

    Definitely something which looks like so much fun, while at the same time giving you a lasting reminder to take home... great for handmade gifts for family too :)

    Excellent work :)

    Love Laura xxx

  9. OMG these are AMAZING!!!! Love those vases. I am in awe (and very jealous!!!)

    Maggy x
    Red Ted Art

  10. WOW! These are beautiful! How clever! Love them and the technique looks really interesting x

  11. I never tire of looking at these, you are really talented! Thanks for linking up, Liz xx

  12. I really want to do this, must look up the site. I think you have a great talent!

  13. Thanks peeps! Honestly, my efforts were more luck than judgement which just goes to show anyone can get nice results!

    I wholeheartedly recommend it for a great day out too :0)