Unless you don’t fire the clay objects you make, at some point you have to decide what type of surface works best with your ideas. Kiln type and access are often major factors when artists develop a color palette, surface patterns, etc. for their work. With dedicated focus and testing, it is possible to get a wide array of results from an electric or gas kiln, arguably the most commonly available options.

For some artists, choosing a specific type of firing goes beyond chasing the results that are achievable. The labor, time, and procedures involved in firing become integral parts of their artistic process. The relationship between artist and kiln becomes collaborative, and the many variables that give each firing a specific character become another layer of expression in the works that emerge from the kiln once it has cooled.

1 Dick Lehman’s teabowl, 4½ in. (11 cm) in height, triple glazed and frit dusted. 2 Meg Beaudoin’s covered jar, 7½ in. (19 cm) in diameter, handbuilt, stoneware, natural ash glaze, anagama wood fired for 3 days to cone 12, 2019. Photo: Robert Hansen-Sturm, Storm Photo, Kingston, New York.

In this issue, we highlight several artists who have incorporated atmospheric firing (from raku up to cone 13 wood firings) into their studio practice. Their aesthetics vary widely, and include everything from minimal to rough-hewn forms, along with surfaces that range from unglazed or slip coated to glazed with multiple layers and a dusting of flux on top for increased effect.

You don’t need a wood, salt, soda, raku, or gas kiln of your own to branch out into a different type of firing. An article by Lisa York details her experience as a guest potter. Recent interstate moves have meant she doesn’t currently have a wood or soda kiln of her own, so she now participates in firings at other potters wood kilns located within a 2–3 hour radius from her home. She offers some key tips for guest potters: building a positive relationship based on open communication and adaptability with the host potter, designing forms to maximize space, and glazing (but not wadding) ahead of time. These practices increase the chance of fitting more work into various parts of different kiln designs. While aimed at wood kilns, these tips can be applied to other group firing scenarios as well.

We also share the research of Boris Robinson who had developed a body of work with reduction-fired glazes. When he lost access to the kiln he had been using due to a facility closure, despite a lack of space and funds needed for a larger or more permanent gas kiln, Robinson converted an old electric kiln to a downdraft gas kiln that provided the reduction results he wanted. If you have (or can source) an old electric kiln, his insights and designs might help you transform it into a small reduction kiln.

3 Trevor Youngberg’s fan vase, 9 in. (23 cm) in height, treadle wheel-thrown stoneware with Redart slip and natural ash glaze, anagama fired to cone 12. Photo: Jeff Becker.4 Lisa York’s onion jar, Yellow Salt glaze, wood fired to cone 10.

When it’s time to expand your palette of surface options, the recipes shared by Ryan Coppage, Dick Lehman, Lisa York, and Trevor Youngberg provide a range of possibilities. In addition to atmospheric recipes, the microcrystalline glaze shared by Coppage offers highly varied surfaces with great depth and complexity in electric kiln firings. Dick Lehman’s recipes and techniques for triple glazing can also be adapted for various firing types. Once you get started with testing, Don Clark’s soft-brick racks for firing test tiles and wooden stands for transporting and displaying the results will make the process more efficient.

If you want to explore even more options for firing, form and surface development, or anything else you can imagine, check out the summer workshops listings included in this issue.   

- Jessica Knapp, Editor
Topics: Ceramic Artists