Carbon Painting with feathers and horsehair are dramatic techniques. We use a variety of feathers but where LickinFlames gets the horsehair is just too cool.
We call our technique "carbon painting" because we think of painting and manipulating the carbon (either directly or the smoke) in a painterly fashion. Rather than simply laying horsehair against a hot pot or a feather in place of horsehair, we use a pallet of techniques to create some pretty outstanding results.
It would appear that that not all materials absorb smoke and carbon at the same rate or in the same amounts (if at all). We use that knowledge to our advantage. It is rather like sealing parts of a deck with weather sealant and then strategically throwing water on it to create patterns on the deck. Of course we can't use weather proofing as it would burn away, but you can sort of image what sealing some of the pot might do with smoke.
Smoke rises. How the pot is held or set will determine where the smoke will (or can) be absorbed. By rotating the piece while placing the carbon, one can get smoke to drift across the surface is some pretty crazy ways.
Now remember, all this twisting and turning has to be done quickly as once the piece drops below about 900 degree Fahrenheit the carbon will have less effect on the piece. If one starts the process too soon and the pot is too hot, the carbon will seem to burn into the piece nicely and then burn away leaving a faint hint of patterning.
We like to use a variety of feathers, but find ourselves using goose and peacock most of the time. The beautiful patterns on feathers has nothing to leave behind on the piece as carbon traces. It is the shape of the feather and the volume of the carbon that makes the feather useful. Feathers which are too "flimsy" are not very useful (as in chicken feathers). We purchase and trade for feathers (particularly peacock).
Our horsehair comes to us from John Pedersen of Amazing Grace Music in San Anselmo, CA. We acquire 190 proof "Everclear" while we spend time at our cabin in Montana and trade the booze to John for horsehair which is removed from worn out fiddle bows. John is a luthier (and a darn good one I might add). He uses the Everclear to make varnish for repairing musical instruments. He and I play Irish music together.
We decorate perhaps 10-12 of the smaller pieces per kiln "batch" before the kiln has cooled too much for the carbon to take hold. There is a lull in the action of 7-8 minutes as the kiln heats back to temperature. We will decorate in this way for 2-3 hours. It is by working in a rhythm that we can begin to see consistency (more-or-less) from each batch. However, even the look of the batch is never quite static like a "dye lot" because as the day moves on, the work will change...sometimes it is a little different and sometimes it a lot different. But the work at the end of the day is usually different than that done in the first few pulls from the kiln. Where a piece sits in the kiln as it waits for it's turn can effect the outcome. Even more profound effects are from the speed with which we work, as the piece cools quickly when it is removed from it's place in the kiln. It’s all about those “licking flames” from the kiln which are the beginning of LickinFlames.
The buttons, pins and bowls are individually formed...one at a time. The pieces are dried, sponged, sanded, scraped and colored slips and oxides are applied, or glazes may be inlaid before firing. There are usually an array of samples in our shawl pin section of our store to give you an idea of the variety we can achieve with our approaches.
Questions? You can always email Jim and ask him for some additional clarification.
The “fine print”…
All of the finished work from LickinFlames is safe to use as decorative items but none is suitable for use with food or drink. The work is free of lead and other heavy metals, however, finished saggar, raku and obvara work is inherently more delicate than more common ceramic products. Yarnbowls are durable for the intended use but dropping them onto the floor could cause them to break. The work should not be handled in a rough manner. Garments that these buttons are attached too should be washed by hand or dry cleaned. Explain the delicate nature of the buttons (like a bone or a shell button) and we’re sure your cleaner will understand.