Raku pottery firing with Julie Anderson
Local ceramics artist Julie Anderson and friends took these photos of a recent Raku firing session outside Anderson and Greg Grasso's Warehome Studio. Raku involves heating pieces of glazed pottery in an 1800-degree kiln, then transferring the pieces to piles of combustible material and covering the pile with a trashcan.
For more information about Julie Anderson and her ceramic art, go to www.julieanderson.... For more information about the Steamboat Arts & Crafts Gym and to see a complete schedule of adult craft workshops this fall, call 870-0384 or go to www.steamboatarts...>
Learn Raku and other ceramic art techniques
- Beginning/Intermediate pottery wheel and Raku firing class: Students take on the basics of throwing pottery on a wheel; trimming and glazing their pieces; then fire functional work in an electric kiln and nonfunctional work in a Raku kiln during the last class. The class is from 6 to 9 p.m. Oct. 1, 8, 15, 22, 29 and Nov. 5 at Steamboat Arts & Crafts Gym. Register by calling the Arts & Crafts Gym at 870-0384. $250 for the class, $60 for materials; price includes five day passes to the studio; an additional $30 buys six weeks of open studio time.
- Beginner Raku two-weekend workshop: Students make hand-built or wheel-thrown forms one weekend, and glaze and fire them in a Raku kiln the next. The class is from 1 to 5 p.m. Oct. 3, 4, 10 and 11 at Steamboat Arts & Crafts Gym and is taught at Colorado Mountain College. $305
- Advanced altering and carving forms on the wheel: Students make wheel-thrown, altered pottery forms one weekend and work with oxidation firing in an electric kiln the next. The class is from 1 to 5 p.m. Oct. 24 and 25 and Nov. 7 at Steamboat Arts & Crafts Gym, and is taught at Colorado Mountain College. $230
- Reduction firing two-weekend workshop: Students make hand-built or wheel-thrown forms one weekend, and glaze and fire them the next. The class is from 1 to 5 p.m. Nov. 14, 15 and 21, and from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Nov. 24 at Anderson's Warehome Studios on Copper Ridge Drive and is taught at Colorado Mountain College. $258
- Glaze experimentation workshop: Students work with recipes for various ceramics glazes. The class is in the evening on Nov. 10, 12, 17, 19 and 24 at Anderson's Warehome Studios on Copper Ridge Drive and is taught at Colorado Mountain College. $254
Steamboat Springs In the decade-plus that Steamboat Springs ceramics artist Julie Anderson has been making fine art sculpture out of clay, she's learned not to become too attached to any one project.
"There's a saying that sometimes you're a bug and sometimes you're a windshield, and that's very true in ceramics," Anderson said.
The saying is especially true when Anderson pairs throwing pieces on a pottery wheel with a dynamic firing process called Raku. She'll teach her pottery and Raku techniques in a series of workshops this fall.
"It's a little nerve-wracking when it's actually happening," Anderson said about the Raku process. There are instances like the time Anderson picked up a hot piece by its rim, and the bottom half fell off. Or a windstorm can blow up suddenly during the outdoor firing process, as one did during one of Anderson's Raku workshops this summer at Steamboat Arts & Crafts Gym.
Raku began in 16th century Japan. In the 1950s, American ceramics artist Paul Soldner updated the art form to fit a firing process that's done at a comparatively low temperature - Anderson's Raku kiln fires at 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit, a good shade cooler than her 2,300-degree electric kiln.
The Raku kiln - which looks a little like a heat-insulated trash can with a firing element attached - takes about an hour to heat a ceramic piece to the right temperature. Once the piece is fired, Anderson moves it to a chamber (trash can) full of combustible material (newspaper or sawdust).
"You kind of pick them up by the rim, or whatever you can hold on to, really," Anderson said about moving the red-hot ceramics from one place to the next.
It doesn't take long for the glowing red pottery to set everything in the garage can combustion chamber on fire. Anderson lets that burn for a minute before she cuts off the airflow to the can. The resulting lack of oxygen causes a reaction in the glaze on each piece of pottery, she said.
"Oxygen comes out of the chemicals in the glaze, and the glaze changes completely. So a
glaze that might be turquoise in an electric kiln might come out crazy rainbow metallic," Anderson said.
The first time Anderson taught the process at Steamboat Arts & Crafts Gym, owner and teacher Diane Davis said she was slightly unnerved.
"Until I saw it done, I was kind of apprehensive because you're working with fire. : It kind of quieted my nerves after I saw the process, but before that, you're kind of like, 'Oh, my gosh,'" Davis said. The end result and relatively smooth process have Davis excited to finish firing some pottery pieces she's made, she said.
Anderson learned Raku from one of her first ceramic art professors in college and practiced it regularly before putting the technique aside for several years. She picked it back up recently and has been enjoying taking on new challenges with the fiery method.
"It's a much more immediate process than putting it in the electric kiln - turning the electric kiln on and then having a finished, glazed piece a day and a half later," she said.