Raku in its Eastern form would be a simple technique, closely associated with Zen and tea ceremonies. Work was primarily quickly fired in a fuel burning kiln followed by rapid cooling and drenching in water. As practiced as it was developed several hundred years ago, it was a simple process and was revered for that simplicity. Early raku was appreciated for its natural esthetic. more or less embracing the concept of wabi-sabi. In keeping with raku ideology…this is a simplified explanation. The technique was favored by Japanese tea masters in the old days…and for some of us the “old days” would be prior to 1980 but for the rest of the World that’s in the 1700s. However, this is not the same raku that we use at LickinFlames.
Raku here in the United States, sometimes referred to as "Western Raku" began its own path of raku development in the 1960s. Generally speaking, credit is given for bringing raku to the Western world to Bernard Leach, a famous English potter. Leach traveled to Japan and developed relationships there in the early 1900s. But here in the USA...we usually give credit for the early and very experimental development of the raku we see today to Paul Soldner. This would be the form of raku that most people are familiar with. The piece could be fired in an electric kiln or a fuel kiln, rapidly cooled or slowly cooled, but nearly always a post firing reduction container is used. Typically the post firing is done in a trash can with some sort of combustible material in the container. The post firing reduction could also be done in a nest of combustibles and then the chamber lid is placed over the top, killing the fire and allowing the chamber to fill with smoke. Frequently, newspaper and sawdust are used for the combustible…LickinFlames uses pine needles, dried leaves and newspaper. Some folks get picky about which part of the newspaper is used and the type of wood used in the sawdust. We have found that the timing and manner the piece is placed in the reduction can and the interfacing with the reduction material plays a much larger role in the outcome than the type of combustible used.
The object is fired in the kiln to 1860 degrees Fahrenheit and allowed to “soak” for a bit before lowering the temperature. The piece is taken from the kiln at 1700 degrees Fahrenheit using tongs or hooks and placed into the reduction container with the combustibles. There are occasional mishaps where eyebrows and arms lose hair. The combustibles catch on fire and after a brief time in the flames the chamber is covered and the object is left to cool. The whole post reduction process is used to control the atmosphere (primarily the oxygen) in which the pieces cool and the glazes set. The reduction of the available oxygen affects many of the oxides used in the glazes, primarily cobalt, iron and copper. The object is removed from the container at something under 375 F degrees.
The raku firing process usually lasts about 30-45 minutes, but we fire between 8 and 10 batches in a day. The process is known for its spontaneity.
The buttons, pins and bowls are individually formed...one at a time. The pieces are dried, sponged, sanded, scraped and colored slips 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.
Our work is usually fired and cooled on a more-or-less controlled basis to be able to manipulate the glaze colors. Still, with all of the control we think we have on the process, working in raku remains, at best, a controlled mayhem, the colors and finishes are not just “batch specific” but in some cases, two piece sitting next to each other in the kiln may look a bit different. It’s the bases for those “licking flames” being the beginning of LickinFlames.
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.