Raku, Pit & Barrel: Firing Techniques

Raku, pit and barrel firing are three of the most popular firing techniques in ceramics. Accessible to anyone involved in this expressive medium, the unifying theme of these three techniques is the ability to work directly with the fire to achieve both quick and unique results not available with more conventional firing techniques.



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Softcover | 144 Pages
Order code B055 | ISBN 978-1-57498-288-6

In Raku, Pit & Barrel: Firing Techniques you’ll discover some of the most beautiful alternatively-fired work, as well as extensive how-to techniques and step-by-step instructions to help you duplicate the processes in your own studio. Explore dozens of techniques and discover the many special effects available using these ancient firing methods. You’ll love the experience of working with glowing red-hot pieces in a raku kiln, uncovering pots from a pit fire or peeling the aluminum foil off your latest saggar experiment.

Where There’s Smoke

Frank James Fisher knew that the most common reducing materials used for post-firing reduction were paper and sawdust. He wondered what would happen if you tried other materials, so he tested a few. See the results of his test and maybe you’ll want to experiment with a few yourself.

Pit Firing in North Carolina

There are probably as many variations in pit-firing technique as there are potters, which makes every piece unique. The thrill of discovery exists each time the cooled ashes are pushed aside. Take a look at the technique used by Edge Barnes and Zoie Holtzknecht, two potters from North Carolina.

Porta-Kiln Barrel Firing

Martha Puckett’s house looks like the others in a tree-lined older neighborhood in Louisville, Kentucky, but if you get into the house and work your way to the sun-room, you see the dusty footprints that reveal a pottery. After attending a workshop on smoke firing, she began to experiment and loved the technique. She developed a technique for firing in a small barrel she can pull out whenever a pot is ready for her firing touch.

Hal Riegger is credited with being a Raku Pioneer in the U.S. After reading a 1943 article in The Bulletin of the American Ceramic Society, he became fascinated with the technique and started teaching raku in 1958.Karen Shapiro looks at the common objects around the house and sees The Art of Everyday Life. Her works include raku versions of milk containers, spice cans, bags of snacks and make up paraphernalia. Common items elevated to art.The crackled surface is unique to raku and Sumi von Dassow describes Jim Chamberlain’s technique for getting Dazzling Crackles. His secret is to use compressed air on selected areas of his glowing pots just prior to post-firing reduction.What’s a Raku Glaze? Steven Branfman answers this question in detail. It really amounts to almost anything can serve as a raku glaze—it just depends on what effect you’re looking for. Considered one of the foremost authorities on raku in the U.S., he provides his expertise on Raku Glazing giving tips and techniques gleaned from years of experience. When Mark Richardson was looking for a quick way to fire 90 small covered jars with a crackled smoke decoration as part of a commission, he needed to speed up the process. His wire basket with a barbecue grill base and fencing did the trick for Peel-Away Slip in a Hurry.

Horsehair Raku is a technique that has appeal. Applying horsehair is not a complicated process but there is a sequence that assures good results. Bob Hasselle describes his method and his work provides stunning results. Another way to affect the surface of glowing raku ware is by Wrapping Raku Pots with Wire. Mark Gordon didn’t know what inspired him to wrap wire around a piece, but after he did, he was on to something unique.

Lisa Merida-Paytes grew up in Kentucky just south of Cincinnati. Her father and his friends were hunters and she remembers the experiences she had growing up. This helps to explain the various references to animals and how raku helps her achieve desired results. George Whitten’s work seems to be Icons and Aritfacts effortlessly spanning the gap between post modern Western art and a kind of Zen-flavored orientalism. They look equally like artifacts from some distant past and time travelers from the future. While you can get some of the trademark raku luster from using copper in your glazes, John Martin discovered that Enhancing Raku with Lusters needed a little push. Using gold and opal lusters along with copper takes his work to a new level and he describes his process.

When we think of raku we mostly think of pots that will sit on a shelf. Barbara VanSickle shows you how Making a Raku Mural gives you a chance to explore making art for the walls. Her technique is complete from design to final mounting. Frank James Fisher says it’s not easy to be an artist. It’s enjoyable and gratifying, but definitely not easy. That’s why he felt he was Breaking Through to Familiar Ground with his current series of raku work. He relates his evolution from false starts to making work he’s involved in that matches his vision. Tim Proud’s Nomadic Artifacts are an aura of the prehistoric. Through their allusions to endless journeys with origins and motives in an obscure past, his works condense the effect of the infinite into the concreteness of the handmade object.

Michael Gustavson has achieved Success Without Compromise with his work. To begin a vessel, Gustavson throws a 15-50-pound gumdrop-shaped wad of Soldate clay into a cylinder and then lets it spin on the wheel overnight to dry and to allow the clay particles to adjust to the new shape. Then, with rubber kidneys of various sizes and hardness, he begins from the inside, stroke by stroke, to ease and tease the walls to bow outward.

While the engineering process of making large figures for raku is a challenge, Barbara Harnack says “Drawing in the raku is a wonderful discipline for me, because it’s all the things I delight in: the drawing, the immediacy and the richness that’s possible with both of the disciplines incorporated with each other. Glazing and firing offer more layers for expressing myself.” With Diana Pittis, Firing the Catch adds a creative twist to fishing. Pittis describes her post-firing reduction method for the fish sculptures she makes as a “a pyromaniac’s dream.” Rather than using metal containers, she uses large cardboard boxes packed with shredded paper, sawdust and dried grass. Burn baby burn.Jimmy Clark finds working with pit firing offers a Sense of Timelessness. His vessels are freely formed while resting on his lap or in sling molds made by loosely spanning a bucket or other round container. His peeled terra sigillata technique is just the beginning to subjecting pots to multiple firings.When David Greenbaum throws, he is focused on the design and perfection of the form. He prefers the classic shapes produced by potters for thousands of years. “These forms have withstood the test of time,” he says. “There’s a reason they have endured so long.”Clint Swink is enchanted by the ancient clay artifacts found in the Southwest. His study of Anasazi Pottery resulted in his duplicating the process of Making Black-on-White Ware.His firing regimen is the product of archeological study and hundreds of firings.Successful potters test and with Sumi von Dassow she does Testing in the Pit. Starting with a collection of common household items and chemicals from coffee grounds to Miracle-Gro, she produces some stunning results.

Another technique explored by Sumi von Dassow is Black-Firing in a Barrel. Although making pots black in pit or raku firing may sound simple, she worked out a firing method that doesn’t require lifting pots with tongs and protects them from direct contact with the combustible materials.

There are some who say that the burnish/smoke-fire technique is limited and that to restrict oneself to it to the exclusion of all else is to be confined. Gabriele Koch finds immense opportunities for experimentation and refinement and elevates smoke firing to Primitive Perfection through her control of packing a kiln and choice of sawdust to control the effects.

If you want a Successful Barrel Firing, Paul Wandless provides all the direction you’ll need. In this step-by-step technique, you’ll find the best advice for each stage of the process from selecting the right clay to making the barrel and firing it.

While pit and barrel firing rely on your work being packed around combustibles, you can control the final results when you do Saggar Firing with Aluminum Foil. Paul Wandless describes what to put in the saggars and what to expect with the firing as well as sources of color.


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