I had the opportunity this summer to do an intensive one week course on Raku. The course was held at the Haliburton School of Arts which is part of Fleming College and taught by Michael Sheba. It was an absolutely fantastic course. The facilities were pretty good and Michael is a fantastic teacher. I learned a ton during that class even though I broke a lot of my pieces.
Learning to read the course outline…
As someone who teaches I really should have known better and actually read the course outline. My classmates at my regular pottery class at Cedar Ridge Creative centre had told me how awesome the class was so I signed up figuring I would treat it like a vacation. I wasn’t completely new to the Raku firing process. I had done a few workshops at Cedar Ridge and seen what others have done so I had an idea of what I wanted to achieve. Some of my classmates had done these really cool textured pieces using the Steve tool. I really liked the looks of them so I went and did 4 of my 6 pieces with it.
I had wanted to glaze them with a matte glaze with lots of rainbow effects. I had always avoided matte glazes in the past as I always got these ugly black marks on them that were unwashable. I was hoping to learn how to not get those.
On the first day of class I discovered that matte glazes were not part of the course. The course outline basically said that we would be working with “3 basic characteristic of raku (Crackle, Lustres and Carbonization)”. I had made these extremely textured pots that would have been much more appropriate for matte glazes only to learn that we wouldn’t be using any… sigh oh well live and learn right :). At the time I have to say I was a bit disappointed in discovering that the course covered such a small set of glazes. However, what I learned was that just learning to control these techniques really does require a whole week and in the end I have to say that focusing on just those 3 topics was better than trying to cover everything raku.
This would be so much cooler on a wiki…
Having spent the last year or two working on the C3DL and other open source project and so on, I have to say my perspective on how to teach a course has changed. Before sitting in the open source course with Dave Humphrey this past Fall, I never would have thought about using blogs/wiki’s and IRC as part of teaching a course. I admit I’m not much of a blogger… my blogs tend to stay in mind (I wrote them… you just can’t read them.. 😛 ) instead of being committed to the electronic page but when I do write, I tend to write a lot… Like I am now.
So, what on earth has this got to do with my awesome summer Raku class? One of the things that we did during class was create a tip sheet. Things that we learned during class that would help us get the results we want/avoid the mistakes we made. It was written down and eventually typed up and distributed to the rest of the class. To me something like this would have been nice on a wiki, something that the class can edit, correct and update as we learn. Some of the things that we learned would have been nice to know before we even made the piece… for example, I made a plate, which cracked after the raku firing. I also learned how to reduce the risk of this happening (its all about the distribution of the thermal mass of the plate) but I would have had to do this while I was throwing/trimming the plate. I can’t help but to think how nice it would have been to have this information on hand before I took the course. A trail for the course if you will… there are other thoughts I have on this topic that I would like to blog about but it would take this post way too far off its normal course if I put it all here so I will have to leave this for another post .
Raku is not Random!
I think that if I had to summarize what I learned (and I learned a ton) in one simple phrase it would have to be this: Raku is not random. Often when we do recreational raku in workshops, you sort of take what you get and hope that it is something close to what you had wanted. However, what I learned this summer was that if you understand what is happening during the Firing and Post Firing phase and do the right thing at the right moment in time, you can create the effect that you desire (to the limitation of what you are working with of course…). A lot of the talk was around the idea of artistic intent. What do you hope to achieve on your piece? How do you see it turning out in your mind?
A good number of the pieces that I brought cracked and broke. This really was my fault though… I had made the silly beginner mistake of letting a piece of greenware dry on a plastic table cloth and the difference in drying of top and bottom created cracks before the bisque firing occurred. These cracks were only further aggravated in the raku firing. That combined with not actually having that many pieces appropriate to the techniques we were doing, I did not have that many pieces that I was happy with in the end. However, there were two that were sort of ok so I’ll share those here.
A few side notes for those that have never done raku before… the clay that you use for raku is white. the top of the vase on the left is actually a clear crackle glaze, the black lines are cracks in the glaze that has been filled with smoke. The bottom part of the piece on the left is actually bare clay that has been burnished (smoothed). The brown part is a light coating of terra sigillata. The blackness of the piece comes from smoke.
The piece on the right is an underfired green lustre glaze. The underfiring makes it a bit more matte. Although you see that the pot is both green and copper, the piece only has one glaze on it. The copper that you see inside the textures come from reduction of the green glaze after firing.
Special Thanks… Keltie you rock!
Before I end this blog, I need to make sure I thank my regular pottery teacher Keltie Kennedy. My plans for this course were nearly derailed due to what is better known as the 2009 Toronto Garbage Strike. Living in a midrise meant that the garbage part of the garbage strike really didn’t effect me much… sure the city was less neat and clean but all in all it didn’t have much impact on me in that regard. However, the city not only handles the garbage, they also run Cedar Ridge where I would normally be making my pieces for this course. When the strike started I had no pieces made (yes… I admit I’m a procrastinator). I called up Keltie and she very kindly let me use her wheel and helped me bisque fire the pieces I needed. Thanks Keltie, you are awesome!
So if you are interested…
For those that are interested in Raku, this course is definitely a great place to start. Even if you have done some recreational firings like I have, the material you learn here is so different that it is well worth taking. I had not realized it initially but Michael has a back ground in chemistry and when he explains why something happens and how something happens its not at all fluffy. The reason why a glaze goes copper or how you get the intense blackness from smoke is explained. Michael not only teaches you how to create a certain effect but the reason behind why an effect occurs at all and what you can do to get that desired effect.
It should be noted that this is an introduction to Raku course but it is NOT an introduction to pottery class. You need to have 6 bisqued pieces (pieces that have gone through 1 firing so that they are hard and sturdy but have no glaze on them) and the ability to quickly make 2 pieces in the first day of class.