Raku-11-2

First made as hand-moulded tea ceremony bowls in 16th century Japan, raku is a form of ceramics practiced by artists around the world. In a style popularized in the 1950’s by American artist Paul Soldner, glowing red hot ceramics are removed from the kiln and smoked in a reduction containers. Raw clay is blackened and bright colored raku glazes crackle. Due to its fragile and porous nature, raku ceramics are non-functional and are best as hand-sculpted art pieces.

Playing with Fire

The American raku process produces surprising results, which made watching Thai artists play with fire at a recent workshop in Chiang Mai especially exciting. The Setpember workshop was held at Baan Kaang Wat Art Community and organized by Empty Space, a local arts group. Thai ceramic artists Kritchnun Srirakit, Komol Kongcharoen, Chatchaiwat Chungchoo, and Nupol Wiriyawong lead the workshop. Learn about their 8 step process by reading below.

Step 1: Wedging the clay. Wedging mixes the clay and pushes out any air bubbles.

Step 2: Hand building. Raku pieces are generally hand-formed rather than thrown on a potter’s wheel.

Step 3: Bisque Firing. After the hand-built sculptures have dried into what is know as the greenware, the first of two firings takes place.

Step 4: Raku Glazing. Bisque pieces are painted or dipped into glaze – a mixture of ground glass, clays, color, and water. Raku glazes have a low melting point.

Step 5: Glaze Firing. After a few hours in the raku kiln, the lid is lifted by Kritchnun Srirakit and Komol Kongcharoen…

The glowing red sculptures are revealed…

Step 6: Reduction. Metal drums act as reduction containers. The sculptures are placed in the drums using tongs and swallowed up by fire and smoke.

After a few minutes in the smoky covered barrels, the fire is extinguished…

Komol Kongcharoen

Step 7: Submersion. The hot pieces are dunked into a cool bath.

Step 8: Washing. A final wash with water removes burnt paper and debris from the finished works.

Raku ceramics by artist Jirawong Wongtrangan.