What is Raku?

Writing by Ashley Atterberry

Ashley's Website

Opening the hot kiln

Opening the hot kiln

Raku is a type of pottery made to use in Japanese tea ceremonies. This technique originated in mid 16th century Japan, originally called ima-yaki translated to “now wares” usually in tea bowl form. Traditionally, the piece is removed from the firing while glowing hot to cool in the air. The raku technique used in “American-Style Raku” differs from the traditional firing by still pulling the pots out while they are glowing hot but then placing them into a metal container that has been filled with different types of combustibles i.e. paper, sawdust, hay etc. and then quenching them in water shortly after. By reducing the atmosphere, or “smoking”, the porous ceramic carbon traps the smoke producing a nice black surface on the bare clay.

In the 1940s, American potters were imitating Japanese tea bowls but it wasn’t until the late 1950s that Paul Soldner, a potter who introduced these different methods of post firing, “Americanized” the Japanese style of Raku. Since this version wasn’t part of the tea ceremony, potters were able to get creative and experiment more with forms.

Prior to having a raku firing, the pieces must be bisqued and glazed. There are a variety of glazes used in western raku, any low fire glaze will work fine, but there are a number of specialized glazes that “crackle” or “craze” and many that turn out metallic.

Removing pots from the kiln

Removing pots from the kiln

Raku firings are a great way to get a community together. Whether it is at school, through a workshop or in a private studio, this method of firing is exciting and unpredictable. Being able to watch the glaze melt onto the pot and feeling the heat from the kiln that quickly rises is the best part!   

“In the spirit of raku, one must embrace the element of surprise. There can be no fear of losing what was once planned and there must be an urge to grow along with the discovery of the unknown. In the spirit of rakuness, make no demands, expect nothing, follow no absolute plan, be secure in change. Learn to accept another solution, and prefer to gamble on intuition.”
- Paul Soldner

*When firing a Raku kiln remember to be safe and be aware of your surroundings! Always wear eye protection, heat proof gloves, close toed shoes and non synthetic clothing. Also remember to HAVE FUN!

Sources:

Paulsoldner.com
Ceramicartsdaily.com
http://raku-yaki.or.jp/e/history/

Quenching the pottery after firing and reducing