May 20, 2010

What's Raku?

aww... this was my favorite pendant of my first Raku firing, and I broke it. I'll glue it together and keep it for myself.  Look at that RED!  woo hoo!
I want to tell you a little bit about the Raku process as I am practicing it.  First of all, Raku is an old Japanese technique that is very different from the newer Western technique that we call Raku today.  You can read about both Raku techniques in detail on Wikipedia.

My Raku technique involves taking my little electric kiln outdoors and setting it up for a cone 06-04 glaze firing (about 1800 degrees or so). I set the kiln to start firing and I stick around for a couple of hours to watch the progress.  When I am able to look in the kiln with my safety welders goggles and see that the glaze is melting, I turn the kiln off and unplug it.  With someone's help opening the kiln, I use a pair of tongs to remove the shelf or furniture that contains a row of beads and plunge it into a bucket of sawdust.  The bright orange heat of the furniture and pendants makes the sawdust go up in flames!  After a little bit of flaming, I put a lid on the bucket and let it smoke. If there are more beads in the kiln, I continue the process until I am done, and then I wait for the smoke to clear and things to cool off to sift through the burnt sawdust to find my treasures.
As you can see, Raku is very dramatic!  It involves glowing hot kilns, fire, and smoke!  So it is a lot of fun to do... but the real reason is the results of this firing on the glazes.  Western Raku uses glazes that produce many wonderful, random, and unexpected results!  The smoke and oxygen deprivation makes many of the glazes, particularly ones that contain lots of heavy metals like copper, to have oilslick and metallic rainbow effects.  Also popular are dry crazed surfaces, crackles, and other spectacular metal mimicking effects.  I think these surfaces are perfect for the one-of-a-kind industrial based designs that have interested me lately, don't you?  If you have any questions about Raku, please ask them in the comments and I will try to answer or find the answer.
This is my first batch of Raku pendants, which will be available in my Etsy shop.

Melanie is an artist, blogger, writer, and ceramic beadmaker at Earthenwood Studio. Her beads and components can be found at her Etsy shop and her jewelry can be found in her Etsy Galleria. To comment on this post, visit the original post at the Earthenwood Studio Chronicles Blog.


  1. These are fabulous Melanie! I am so glad they turned out so well for you!!!

  2. Raku is awesome fun! If there is a pottery studio in your area that offers the chance to jump into the process, do it. Take your kids, paint some pottery with the special glazes and then watch the magic happen. My son bought a baseball bank, painted it with something that would be blue, and when it came out it had the look of some faraway planet! It is a prized possession! I have a heart dish that got all bubbly and funky and I love it as a sculpture.
    Thanks for sharing this process. I am delighted to check out your new pieces (please bring some to B&B!)
    Enjoy the day!

  3. Erin,
    Yes I agree, it is a super fun art technique that everyone should try! I am glad you got to do it.

    It's funny you mention the faraway planet look. My glazes have names like Mars, Blue Nebula, Star Night, and Galaxy.

    I am addicted now that I made this first leap, so I do intend to have some to sell at B&B

  4. We raku'd(tense?) in ceramics fairly often in college & it was always a big fun day. I was pretty convinced that the translation of raku meant " pot which will not make the car trip home" as many a time I would hear the 'tink tink' of cracking pottery & find my bowls in pieces when I got home!

  5. wow they really turned out beautiful!

  6. Fantastic! You must be so pleased! I would be! The rainbow, oil slick looking ones are delish!

  7. Wow, they turned out great! I think you're totally right about how well the Raku goes with the more industrial designs.

  8. What beautiful pieces! I love that red one also. I didn't realize it was broken until I read the caption. Maybe you could drill it and wire it together to use the crack as a design element.

    I remember raku fondly. When I was in high school, a bunch of local arty high school students and college students used to get together in a field behind the university on the third Friday of every month for raku firings. It was a lot of fun, but in retrospect... way dangerous. As you can imagine, a bunch of stupid kids with glowing red hot ceramics and metal trash barrels filled with combustibles + underage drinking. Surprisingly, no one lost an eye or got hurt. The Fates were with us those days!

  9. Andrew,
    I glued the pendant back together and wore it out to a party last night, hehe. It's MINE!

    Yes that does sound like a dangerous but memorable Raku experience. I loved doing it in college, but I never got to do doing it in my own studio.

  10. So the lesson here is don't drink and raku.

    I can't quite put my finger on why these kind of hit my a good way.
    Did I do Raku in a previous life?

    I can't believe your First Batch is perfect and I love the rectangular shape.