Raku on the Walls: How to Make a Raku Mural

If you have ever done raku firing, you are probably aware that the raku firing process should not be used for pots that are intended to serve food. The rapid firing, removal of the ware at the red-heat stage, and subsequent post-firing all contribute to surfaces that remain porous after firing. So it is best for decorative pots or sculpture. If you are looking for another application for raku, today’s post just might be for you.

In this post,  Barbara VanSickle shows you how making a raku mural gives you a chance to explore making art for the walls.  – Jennifer Poellot Harnetty, editor.


India Blue Peacock, 48 inches in.

India Blue Peacock, 48 inches in.

The idea of creating raku murals happened quite naturally. A few years ago I was fortunate enough to be asked to create a retirement gift for a dear friend and former colleague. I needed to design something very special. I knew that he was partial to raku surfaces. During visits to his home, I was struck by its impressive open-concept architecture with the tall, wide wall spaces. The more I thought about what to make, the clearer it became: a raku mural.

The problem was I had no idea on how to proceed. My experience with raku was limited and, although I had previously created some murals for a school installation with children, I’d never attempted anything like this. The school project gave me some of the technical knowledge and experience of creating, drying and mounting the clay tiles but I needed inspiration for the subject matter.

I turned to my own environment and my love of Art Nouveau stained glass to come up with the design for “India Blue Peacock.” Two doors down the road from me lives a family that raises India Blues. I hear the peacock calls all through the days from early spring to late fall. Linking the peacock with the Art Nouveau stained-glass look was quite natural.

Since making this first mural, I have continued to look to my own experiences and environment for inspiration.

figs1-3

Click images to enlarge!

Prepare Paper Template

Begin a mural by making a series of small drawings. Whatever your inspiration, remember that simplified edges work best (as in stained glass) and that some areas naturally lend themselves to being cut into sections. If you have areas that would be too large for one tile, plan how you’ll adapt your work by adding divisions in the tiles that add to the overall design. Enlarge the drawing to actual size, then use a marker to highlight the lines. On larger projects, you’ll need to cut your plan into smaller pieces. If so, number each piece on the back to make it easier to reassemble later (figure 1).

Prepare the Slab

Roll out a slab to a thickness of approximately 3/8 inch on a textured material, such as rubber shelf liner or placemats. The textured rubber material provides a perfect backing for the tile, which helps prevent warping during drying and firing. It also makes the slabs easy to carry without distorting (figure 2).

figs4-5Remove any unwanted marks with a rib and rolling pin, being sure to roll the slab no thinner than 1/3 inch. Thinner tiles are more likely to warp during drying and firing (figure 3). Peel off the rubber backing, then join slabs together as needed (figure 4). Place the slabs on a flat surface, and cover it with plastic for about a day.

Transfer the Design

Lay the paper pattern on the slab, then using a blunt tool, such as the dull end of a wooden skewer, trace over the marker lines. When the template is removed, you will be able to use the incised lines as guides for adding any relief or textures. Trim the edges of your panel using a straightedge and a sharp, dry knife, then cut the panel into individual tiles (figure 5).

Create the Pieces

Arrange your cut tiles on a large board or table to form your mural and add any relief or impressed designs. Once you’ve completed all the additions, cut through any pieces that overlap from tile to tile. Clean up and smooth all edges.

Drying process

Cover the entire mural with plastic, and place sandbags strategically to keep the pieces as flat as possible during the drying phase. Tip: I make sandbags by cutting up old sheets into 12-inch squares, then scoop sand onto them, bring the edges up and fasten them with rubber bands. They are a great tool to have around the studio (figure 6). Check on the mural daily as warping can be reduced by relocating the sandbags if you catch it right away. Once leather hard, turn the tiles over and recover with plastic to allow them to dry slowly (about a week in my studio). Remove the plastic, turn the tiles right side up, and give the work at least another day to dry before bisque firing.

Glazing

Reassemble all the pieces to form the mural before glazing. This makes it much ea
sier to apply the glazes accurately. If you’re masking any areas, apply your tape or resist material. I prefer to use black graphic tape as it provides excellent contrast, and can easily be rearranged without leaving residue on the bisqued tiles. It also creates perfectly straight lines (figure 7). Apply glazes according to your original drawings. I prefer to brush them on by completing all of one glaze color at a time on the entire mural before moving to the next glaze (figure 8).

 Raku

I fire my mural pieces in a raku kiln (figure 9). Due to the extreme range of reduction effects that influence the glaze surface and color development, try to fire tiles that will be side by side in the mural in the same load. If possible place them in the same reduction chamber together. Use a pyrometer and time each fire to get the greatest consistency between loads, and try to fire under the same conditions if your work will take longer than a day. This process takes considerable planning but the results are well worth the effort. If you get too much or too little reduction on a particular piece, remember that you can always refire.

Assemble the mural

Reassemble the mural (figure 10) and measure the finished height and width. This is the base measurement for your mounting board. Where and how your work is hung determines the type of material for mounting. If you’re working on a project any larger that 8 square feet, use plywood. For smaller murals, I recommend 5/8-inch-thick medium density fiber board (MDF) as it is lighter, though on larger murals it can warp.

figs11-12For a mural the size made here, mark the MDF board roughly three-fourths of the way up from the bottom edge and drill ¼-inch holes 2 inches in from either side. Countersink the holes on the front of the board deep enough for a ¼-inch nut to be flush with the face. Drill two large diameter washers to accept the hanging wire and bend them slightly outward. Attach the washers to the back of the board through the ¼-inch bolt head and tighten (figure 11).

 figs13-15Prime the MDF and, when thoroughly dry, apply paint (I prefer matt black). Allow the paint to dry completely for 24 hours, then spread a good quality construction glue to the mounting board, keeping it off anywhere that will show when done (figure 12). Beginning at the bottom, apply the glue to the back of the tiles, one or two at a time, and assemble. The glue dries very fast, so you’ll need to work quickly (figure 13).
“White Pines,” 24 inches in height.

“White Pines,” 24 inches in height.

When it is completely dry (at least 8 hours), grout the mural. Remember in your planning that grout comes in many colors so it can further enhance the final project. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Once the grout begins to thicken, pour it on the mural paying particular attention to the small spaces between each tile (figure 14). Gradually remove the extra grout using a damp sponge, changing the water frequently (figure 15). Allow to dry.

Thread heavy duty picture wire through the holes in the washers and adjust the length appropriately.

Comments
  • Great Project! I think Raku is a nice addition to the tile mosaic.
    Did I miss the pictures for prepping it for hanging?
    Did you drill the countersinks for the washers on the front or back or both and I’m not quite sure about the heavy duty picture wire. You installed the hanging system before gluing down the tiles right?

  • I assume you lay the tiles flat on the kiln shelf to avoid warping, if so is there a trick to picking them up with the tongs?

  • Do you place the pieces on kiln furniture when firing? Do you fire the pieces flat or vertical? Do you place them flat in the reduction chamber or keep them vertical?
    Love your work.

  • I found it hard to understand the hanging system without the visual image .It is an important part of the work.You cant hang a wall hanging without understanding how to hang it. ps I think your work is some of the nicest i have seen very inspirational .

  • I thought the artical was good for the most part but I would have liked more detail re firing and more importantly a visual image showing the drilling of holes and types of nuts/washers used would have been good as I couldn’t fully understand it!

  • I have made several raku murals and and pictures. I bisque the pieces of the mural flat at 04. Then when the pieces are raku glaze fired they will not warp as the firing temp is below 04. I made a flat bottom square wire basket that has several slanted slots to hold the pieces at a near verticle angle. This way I can fire several if not all the pieces in one basket load and reduce them together. I just lift the basket out of the kiln and into the can for reduction. The basket usually lasts for around10 firings before needing repair or replacement.

  • I have made some really lovely raku pieces, but gone off it because I have found that the lovely irredesent rainbow colours, silvers and golds all change to revolting colours after a few years even if kept out of the sunlight – any ideas on preserving these colours??? was suggested to me to use varnish, but the seems to flake off or discolour with time. I now make do with the smoked siglatttas and white crackle, but wouild love to be able to preserve those wonderful colours that I used to get. Thanks

  • I have made some really lovely raku pieces, but gone off it because I have found that the lovely irredesent rainbow colours, silvers and golds all change to revolting colours after a few years even if kept out of the sunlight – any ideas on preserving these colours??? was suggested to me to use varnish, but the seems to flake off or discolour with time. I now make do with the smoked siglatttas and white crackle, but wouild love to be able to preserve those wonderful colours that I used to get. Thanks

  • Raku WAS invented for functional tea bowls and tea ceremonies in Kyoto and was obviously meant for drinking vessels..etc, etc. I have always been curious if they were just un-aware of the lead, porousness, etc. Or if the original Japanese process differs from the western style done now.
    Anyone ???

  • @ Michelle –
    We have used spray tile sealant during raku workshops on alcohol reductions, etc… They slow the oxidation process. They will have to be re-applied once or twice a year. It may still eventually fade. And obviously, this “chemical spray” gives even more reason for the piece to be non-functional. Hope this helps

  • Thanks very much for this article.I have attempted to make some Raku wall pieces this year with some success but i was trying to use a frame made of either rebar or 1by2s with brackets on the back of the pieces. Raku is much to fragile for such nonsense!Barbara’s way seems alot less frustrating.do you use a commercial Raku clay or do you make your own?

  • The murals look great. How do you keep the grout from sticking to the front of the raku tiles? Do any of the tiles have a rough texture glaze(aligator)?

  • ABSOLUTELY GORGOUS WORK. LOOK FORWARD TO ANSWERS TO THE ABOVE QUESTIONS. DARN, NOW I HAVE ONE MORE REASON TO GET TO WORK ON MAKING MURALS–THEY SEEM DAUNTING TO ME, BUT WITH THESE DIRECTIONS, I MAY BE ABLE TO DO IT. THANKS~~

  • @shawn Japanese Raku *is* different from American Raku, but the main difference is that they don’t reduce their work–that was an American addition. They knew the pots were porous, but that didn’t matter much to them. A well-used tea bowl would be much less porous because the pores would be clogged with tea. …plus they weren’t mixing tea and letting the bowls just sit there. In the tea ceremony you mix the tea and drink it without a whole lot of time elapsing.

    Truthfully, low-fired porous work is fine for eating and drinking, as long as you aren’t leaving it on top of expensive wooden tables, and aren’t bothered by the idea of bacteria in the pores. Drinking liquids from porous cups is actually smart if you live somewhere without refridgeration–the evaporation through the clay keeps the liquid cool.

    As for lead issues, we’ve only become aware of that in the last century or so. Even then potters were still handling lead oxides with their bare hands forty and fifty years ago!

  • Wow, this is a keeper idea/process! Thank you!
    It so aligns with stained glass pattern making, yet the result is so much dense. Great variation, and one I will definitely play with! (My empty walls are yearning for this!) thank you!

  • Thank you for this sharing this great process. Would love to see your answer to Joan’s question about keeping glue away from the tiles.
    And @Viva– would you share your idea about the wire basket for holding tiles? It has another great use, I think.
    I do my cone 6 tiles in an electric kiln and would love have a rack that can be lifted out! Q — Will the rack work up to cone 6 temperatures?

  • i made a backsplash for my kitchen out of raku , all came out well but the irredesent seems to flake off or does the acid in the air corrode it . anybody have some advice or fix???

  • In regards to the fading issue I had good results resisting fading by keeping tiles out of direct sunlight and sealing the wear with penetrating stone sealer & enhancer found in tile area at national hard wear stores.

Enter Your Log In Credentials
This setting should only be used on your home or work computer.

Larger version of the image

Send this to a friend