Perhaps you heard a friend or coworker refer to Raku pottery and thought to yourself, “What is that?” Should I add this to my own pottery? Let’s have a look at Raku pottery and where it came from.
What is raku pottery? Raku pottery refers to the kiln heated up much faster than with non-Raku firings. The potter removes the pottery while it has a molten orange glow. This cools it down quickly but makes it vulnerable to breaking and exploding as it cools.
If you’d like to learn more about Raku pottery, please keep reading for further information. We will cover the advantages and disadvantages of Raku pottery and how it gets used.
Raku Pottery Originated in Japan
The Japanese invented Raku pottery in the 16th century.Chōjirō, a potter from Kyoto, received a commission from Zen tea master Sen Rikyu. The Raku method had one purpose. To promote beauty. Potters shape Raku wares with their hands, rather than a wheel. In this way, each Raku piece expresses individuality and beauty.
Ever watched a traditional Japanese tea ceremony? They use Raku ware. The tea master appreciated this art form because of its beautiful simplicity and unpretentiousness. From 1580 to 2020, Raku wares remain some of the most highly sought Japanese ceramics because of aesthetic appeal. Many people think of Raku pottery as the embodiment of Zen.
Traditional Japanese Raku vs Western Raku
Traditional Japanese Raku differs from the Western Raku technique. Japanese Raku tends to use neutral colors like blacks and browns, while Western Raku uses bright metallics. The Japanese have two main types of Raku called Kuro (black) and Aka (red). When they fire up the kiln, Aka is colder than Kuro. The glaze maturing difference plays a role. Carbon deposits get sealed in a low melting glaze.
This doesn’t lend itself to long-term use as a pottery bowl because of its fragile nature. You usually only keep the tea in the Raku ware for a short time during the tea ceremony.
Western Raku tends to look Avante-Garde. Paul Soldner, an American ceramic artist, received the credit for Raku gaining popularity in the West.
Raku in the West has little understanding of the Japanese tea ceremony, whereas Traditional Japanese Raku is commonly associated with the tea ceremony, which is a spiritual process in Zen that can last up to four hours.
Raku: Meaning of the Name
Funnily enough, Raku translates to roughly, “Happiness in the accident.” Some believe this name came about from potters who took joy in the process of shaping their Raku wares. Paul Soldner said that, “The Japanese think of Raku as something pleasurable and a process of enjoyment. The term could also be thought of as a comfort.”
The Cosmos in a Tea Bowl
Traditional Japanese Raku has its origins deep in spirituality. Some even think of Raku as the process of enlightenment. The tea bowl represents the earth, while the heating process represents enlightenment. The current head of the Raku family in Japan refers to this as, “Finding the cosmos in a tea bowl.”
What Clays Can Do Raku?
You can use any type of clay to make Raku pottery, but Clay specially made for Raku (amazon) or (blick art) will yield the most favorable results. Raku clay means that it can handle thermal shock. This happens when you remove the pottery from the kiln to cool it fast. The fast cooling can lead to the Raku ware cracking or even exploding in some cases.
Because of the process, Raku has a higher rate of imperfections in pottery than other pottery forms. Raku technique would smoke the vessels using sawdust and other combustible materials while the clay pottery remains hot to inhibit the absorption of oxygen.
What Glaze Should You Choose?
Don’t overlook the glaze you choose because it serves as a layer of protective coating. It can color, decorate, or waterproof your Raku wares. Any low-fire glazes should work, and you can create your own glaze too. Amaco Raku Glazes – Set of 12 Colors (amazon) or (blick art) has a great selection for you to choose from..
Better for Decorative Purposes
You have heard how the Japanese use Raku for tea ceremonies, but you may want to use Raku ware for strictly decorative purposes. Even the Japanese don’t leave the tea for long because of the porous and fragile nature of Raku. The glaze could flake in some areas if overused. Raku wares look stunning, but they weren’t meant for daily use.
How Fast Does Raku Firing Happen?
Raku firing will take anywhere from 15 to 20 minutes. With Raku firing, a huge amount of smoke gets created as you add sawdust to it. While the Raku wares glow molten orange, you won’t see the results until it cools off.
The results of Raku can be stunning. You might see crackled glaze surfaces or stunning metallic effects. In some cases, the clay pots will crack or explode because of thermal shock, where the wares cool off too rapidly. This happens more often than with regular pottery methods.
Cooling Process for Raku Pottery
Some methods for cooling Raku pottery will let the pottery cool in the open air. That follows the Traditional Japanese Raku technique. With other methods, they will submerge the pottery in cold water. This can lead to thermal shock happening more commonly. It doesn’t follow traditional techniques and is more of a modern cooling process.
Horse Hair Raku
Perhaps one of the more interesting Raku techniques, the Horse Hair Raku technique, drapes horsehair across hot ceramic. You can use feathers, human hair, or dog hair. Anything that has oil content will create a combustible effect to where it leaves a carbon and ash mark on the ceramics. It soaks into the pottery to create a cool design.
Raku: Must Control Many Factors
You must control multiple factors in Raku, which include:
- Melting temperature
- Glaze mix
- Withstanding severe thermal shock
- Viscosity of the glaze
- Temperature of the kiln
Glaze: Not Essential in Raku
You can decorate Raku with several techniques, and not all require that you apply glaze. Potters in the West rarely use glaze in Raku because of its toxicity. You can use other metals as a glaze in Raku, which each have unique effects. The issue with Raku and glaze comes from how it uses a low-firing temperature. Because of the low temperatures, the glaze doesn’t bond to the clay as well.
Hopefully, this sheds some light on Raku pottery. You have two types, with the original coming from Kyoto, Japan. Western Raku frees itself from the traditions that bind Japan, which allows it to reinvent itself.
For those who want a more spiritual experience, Traditional Japanese Raku has many deep abstract concepts and virtues within it, like harmony and compassion. You may want to learn more about the tea ceremony. This can help you understand the background.
Try making Raku pottery for yourself to see how it looks. To understand Raku pottery, you have to know how Western Raku differs from Traditional Japanese Raku pottery.