Raku is a Japanese inspired method for firing clay that creates unpredictable smoke patterns and spectacular metallic and crackle effects in the glazes. After initially firing your clay piece (greenware) in an electric kiln, you fire it (bisque) a second time in a gas kiln. When the temperature of the piece reaches between 1600 and 1800 degrees, you place it in a nest of combustible materials (leaves, sawdust and pine needles), cover the item with a metal container, and wait about 15 to 20 minutes. Then remove the piece and dip it in water.

Sheila Giddens started working in Raku six years ago when she was introduced to the process by a friend. She enjoys the spontaneity of Raku and says, "I particularly like the effect of sparkling sawdust on the top and inside of the pieces when they are blazing." She describes Raku as having "exotic endings". "You never know how a piece will turn out. The whole process intrigues me, especially the unknown."

The firing process is challenging, however. "Due to placing the piece in water after firing at such high temperatures, you are lucky if you have less than 50% breakage," she says. But she has found that "smoking the Raku helps to reduce the chance of breakage" and adds that she has "been known to salvage a piece through refiring, etc."

In determining the success of a piece, she considers the design, texture, color, and craftsmanship, in that order. To best appreciate its beauty, she recommends displaying your Raku piece in good lighting and placing a mirror under the piece to reflect the light. Also, remember that Raku pieces are "not safe to eat on, because you do not seal them."

Sheila Giddens
(770) 424-4922
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