My output has been a bit crimped of late- mostly because I've been grappling with some experimental work.
I've been frustrated of late with high failure rates in my Raku firing. Raku is- of course, a process laden with thermal shock and awe. Pieces do break. I've walked away from the kiln cursing like a sailor on more than one occasion.
However, I've been firing some fairly complex forms lately (lanterns, fountain components, etc.)... and the shatter rate has approached 50%.
As one example, I've been testing a fountain component with a design like a mill wheel (see drawing to left, and photo below). Two goals... get a little closer to a full 'babbling brook' soundscape (hard to achieve in a small fountain)... and make the piece a bit more visually interesting.
The problem- this particular form doesn't cool at a uniform rate. I've taken these out of the kiln, and the edges cool practically to the touch point, while the interior glows like Smaug's lair.
To date, I've fired six of these. The results have been utterly consistent.
I could, of course, repair these with epoxy... and since they're sculptural objects, repair doesn't have the stigma that it would if I were making teapots or other functional wares.
However, many of these have shattered with chunks lost in the kiln (see repair job below)... and I certainly can't sell water features with gaping cracks in the form.
I've also seen cracking and shattering in large tiles, some of my conga drums, and almost anything tall. In short, I think I'm pushing at the limits of what Raku can reliably do.
So- I spent the past month experimenting with sagger firing. A sagger is a closed vessel that creates it's own atmosphere. You can fill them with combustible materials. The 'real' sagger experts often fill their saggers with everything from fertilizer to copper wire, all of which leaves a scrim of wildly unpredictable color on the surface.
My main goals in trying sagger firing were 1) to obtain Raku-like glaze results in a 'gentler' atmosphere, and 2) to 'smoke' my pottery without doing a post-fire reduction step. In particular, I needed the lines on my carvings to blacken.
Here's the first piece I tried to fire- a miniscule test pot. As you can see, the lines did not blacken. I wasn't very optimistic about this (as I thought the upper, 1900 degree temperatures might burn off the carbon). However, this particular sagger cracked in the kiln.
It's worth noting that my Raky glazes came out looking nothing like they usually do. The grey glaze- usually white crackle. The coppery-looking glaze on the base- usually turquoise.
There's manifestly a heavy reduction atmosphere in the kiln... and my standard glazes are way off the reservation.
So- I decided to try some commercial glazes, and a more 'robust' sagger. These glazes are generally formulated for fairly uniform results across a range of atmospheric condition (although I could not- for the life of me- get the specifics from the source companies).
Here are the results. Note the white, carved lines (no smoking to any appreciable degree). Note, as well, that the glaze on the lower part of the pot on the right was supposed to be a brilliant yellow.
So- I don't think I'll be doing any sagger firing as a Raku surrogate.
The work is starting to pile up in my studio... I'll have a boatload of work to bisque-fire before too long here. Fortunately, my kiln is big enough fire an a full set of space shuttle tile... so I'm good to go.
At the moment, I'm working on a few art plates. Most of my work is functional, but there are some sporadic juried shows that restrict themselves to work that can be hung on a wall. Thus- plates- such as the study in puffer fish above.
There's an upcoming show with a focus on 'Forsaken Nature' that I'm considering applying to. The platter above is one idea I've been kicking about- sort of a 'lowland gorilla and the burning plain' design.
Meanwhile, I'm re-doing a drum with a centaur design. This design was based off a contest I ran at the end of the summer.
Unfortunately, the first drum that I made with this design suffered a rude fate. Kids- don't put your greenware down on the floor when you're working- even for a minute. I must have kicked that drum five feet through the air.
Here's the revised drum. Predictably enough, I'm pining for the original... but hopefully, this melancholy will pass.
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