Atmospheric firing allows for chance to collaborate with control in the final surface of a piece. A common perspective among the artists featured in this issue is valuing the variations and irregularities achieved in handmade work that is fired in atmospheric kilns. These eccentricities foreground the fact that these objects were made by human hands and the concept that these surprises and imperfections echo the lived human experience.

In his Studio Visit article, Stéphane Bouchard shares that while he makes both high-fired and raku-fired work, the latter defines his philosophy because it combines preparation, presence of mind, and a willingness to be guided by intuition and creative impulses.

Brian Chen reflects on his recent apprenticeship with Simon Levin, which focused on learning to make pots that he felt expressed his individual voice while also learning about the practice and aesthetics of wood and soda firing. Levin taught Chen technical firing practices while also asking him to consider specific ideas, like how ash from the firing might affect surface details, wadding, and the placement of his pots in the kiln. In addition to writing about his learning process, Chen offers advice to others interested in pursuing an apprenticeship.

Karl Borgeson relies on both chance and technical expertise to create the aesthetic seen in his vessels. His exploration started decades ago with a combination of high-fired clay and low-fired glazes, followed by raku, and then wood/salt-fired vessels as he continued to seek creative challenges. His process has now evolved to salt firing in a gas kiln with added wood ash for flashing, flux, and variation. The additions of wood ash in this latest work preserve references to history and community, and maintain the importance of chance.  

1 Elena Vasilantonaki’s smoke-fired bowls, white stoneware, terra sigillata made from local clay collected by the artist. She smoke fires her work in an above-ground brick chamber filled with sawdust and various other combustibles found near her family’s home on the island of Crete.

Dick Lehman recounts how seeing Oni-shino pottery in a gallery in Japan decades ago morphed through memory and time and led to his current glazing exploration. Fired in reduction and wood kilns, Lehman’s interpretation of Oni glaze, meant to capture and convey excitement and energy, includes many (10!) layers of glaze and added materials to create the final surface. He shares how exploring these memories helped him to set aside some time-honored rules as well as push past the many failures he experienced along the way.

Minsoo Yuh links utility with personal expression through numerous influences that she values, including traditional Korean art, forms in nature, and lessons learned through her studies and an apprenticeship. Her pots are fired in reduction to cone 10, and the forms and surfaces express a balance between contrasting elements. Flashing slips, oxides, and stains react with the kiln atmosphere to create naturalistic compositions with depth and character.

Hayun Surl shares his research and knowledge about Onggi ware—Korean earthenware vessels made using coil- or slab-building techniques that were originally used for tableware and food storage and are now valued for both utilitarian and aesthetic purposes. The four traditional styles of Onggi ware include glazed, raku fired, salt fired, and reduction cooled with salt. In addition to their iconic aesthetics, these firing processes tie in with the purposes that the Onggi vessels serve. Artists today are exploring new modes of expression using Onggi techniques that build on the form’s cultural importance. 

Elena Vasilantonaki makes two bodies of coil-built vessels that have a central focus on connection to place and the historical forms of Greek pottery, expressed in different ways. One series consists of red stoneware vessels coated with wild-clay terra sigillata and occasionally with wood-ash glaze that are fired to mid-range temperatures in an electric kiln. The second body of work is smoke fired. She transports these vessels from her home studio in Athens to her father’s property on Crete for the firings, and incorporates materials local to the island. The vessels are coated in wild-clay slip, placed in a brick chamber, and fired using locally available materials.

Atmospheric firing gives artists an opportunity to achieve unrepeatable results and add layers of visual information to their work. If you’re interested in trying different firing techniques to pair elements of chance and control in your work but don’t have the resources, consider researching opportunities that might exist in your community, from renting kiln space to assisting with firing. In addition, consider applying for a short- or long-term residency (see Ceramics Monthly’s annual listing) to explore some of the many options.   

- Jessica Knapp, Editor

Topics: Ceramic Artists