What technique is Raku Pottery?
Raku Pottery is an old Japanese technique used for their traditional Tea Ceremony and means the Enjoyment of drinking tea in a handmade raku cup. The ritual was part of their social contact and a way of communicating. The forms are uninhibited and natural, while still being robust and simple without appendages so that they are resistant to thermal shock. They are fired once or twice on an open fire not exceeding 1000 C. The clay remains porous and receptive to the magical absorption of smoke after it has been adorned with crystallized glass colored with metallic acids. The presence of metal oxides and crackle glasses make the random, uncontrolled striations that are characteristic of Raku.
The result of this traditional technique is that each RAKU piece is unique.
Pottery has a long and rich history. It is attached to different traditions and forms and styles, and there are variations upon variations of firing methods, color palettes, and clay materials, among so many other factors that depend upon the culture and origin of each piece.
One such unique tradition is that of raku pottery – specifically, raku firing, which dates back to the 1500s and originates largely from Buddhist influences, though it is attributed to being an original Japanese style. Considered to be one of the most natural techniques that can be utilized in pottery, the raku firing method makes use of all four of nature’s elements: earth, fire, water, and air. Earth makes the pot, fire heats it up, water cools it down, and of course, the air allows it to dry. The name “raku” translates from Japanese to mean “fun” or “delightful” which is a great way to describe this method!
It is historically known as a kind of low-firing process, but there are some differences between the original method and what is now considered to be Western-style raku. In Western-style raku firing, the pottery is removed from the kiln when it is still at bright hot red heat and placed into containers filled with combustible materials. This is because one of the features of raku pottery, which is aided by this method, is the existence of small, deliberate cracklings all over the surface of the piece. These cracklings are a result of a drastic thermal shock that occurs when the blazing hot pottery clay comes into contact with the container's contents. Other outcomes of raku firing can be black, smoky clay or some beautiful metallic effects, which produce shiny exteriors on the clay!
Since the raku pottery method seems to be specific, you might be wondering whether that means you should use a particular type of clay or need a certain glaze. While you can form your piece out of any clay and use raku firing to heat it up, a low-fire glaze afterward is necessary to produce the best results for your pottery because it is a low-firing process. In terms of the use of your pottery, despite the fact that raku pottery was used to create tea cups and largely associated with the tradition of drinking tea in the past, it is actually recommended that you do not use it to eat or drink, and to keep pieces as decorative embellishments for your home or workshop. This is because raku firing is a delicate process and even after drying and the application of glaze, raku pottery pieces may flake off and land in your food and therefore body.
The tradition of this firing process is longstanding for a reason – it is undeniably a stunning way of producing outstanding pieces that will add to the environment in which it is placed after completion. Raku pottery is an extremely unique form of craft that creates beautiful, inimitable pieces delicate in form and appearance.