With today's weather (temperatures pushing 90 and bright sun) a trip to the beach would probably have made more sense than hanging around a hot kiln and fire-filled trash can all day. But that was nevertheless today's agenda, at the studio of potter Barry Weiss,
observing the process of raku firing. Pale glazes were transformed by heat and burning organic matter to rich irridescent colors and textures.
My son has been apprenticing with Barry this summer and he and another student assistant were on hand to help in the process. In this version of raku technique, the pots are first kiln fired, then quickly removed with large tongs as the glazes reach a molten state, and then they are placed in a container of burning organic matter (Today that was a metal garbage can with dry grass, paper and other combustables.)The burning material creates a state of reduced oxygen in the container and through some kind of alchemy that I fail to completely understand, a metalic sheen is produced, as well as intricate and subtle textures.
Barry remarked that raku involves both knowledge and control of the glazes, and a large element of surprise...the end results are never completely predictable. The organic textures and colors are created through complex chemical interactions that could not be exactly replicated through technique alone.
Though my own studio processes are quite a bit less dramatic (no fire involved--and I somehow doubt I could entertain an audience on a hot afternoon) I see similarities in that balance of control and surprise. In my search for paint surfaces that evoke nature's complexity, I use some techniques that are quite random and unpredictable. For example--when I use brayers to layer colors, or purposefully unrefined printing techniques, or when I go into the paint surface with solvents and abrasive materials, I'm never exactly sure what will result. Sometimes I'm really pleased, sometimes I have a mess. At the same time, through experimentation and practice, I've learned a fair amount of control over the outcome. It's always a balance between the spontaneous and unexpected, and the controlled and chosen. Today I saw this creative drama played out in a media quite different from my own, and enjoyed the chance to just watch and be fascinated.