Raku is a method of firing clay pottery that was developed by a
Korean potter in the early 16th century and later brought to Japan by
Traditional Japanese Raku pottery was composed of cups and bowls
that were used in the Japanese tea ceremony.
The term RAKU comes from the name of the Japanese tea master
Sen Rikyu. The name and style has been past down through the
family to the present, 15th generation, potter, Kichizaemon.
RAKU can be translated as enjoyment, happiness or comfort.
RAKU firing was introduced into western ceramics in the early 20th
century by Bernard Leach.
Western RAKU was popularized in the United States by the potter
Paul Soldner in the late 1950s.
While styles of Raku differ, the basic elements of the firing remain
When RAKU was brought to England, Bernard Leach began to
experiment with the process.
During this experimentation, the process morphed into what is seen
today as Western Raku.
The experimentation continued when RAKU was brought to the
In Western RAKU, two types of glazes are most frequently used.
One contains metallic oxides and powders. The second is formulated
to shrink more rapidly than the clay shrinks.
The crackle type of glaze is often either clear or white but may be
most any color.
If a metallic glaze is used, when
the object is removed from the kiln
it is placed directly into a container
filled with combustible materials.
The container is sealed and the
glaze begins to reduce, resulting in
a metallic finish in coppers, golds,
reds and blues.
If the glaze that shrinks more
rapidly than the clay is used, when
the object is removed it is allowed
to cool for a few moments.
The cooling results in the cracking
of the glaze.
The lines where the glaze cracks or
separates turn black in the firing
The RAKU artist first throws or hand builds the piece to be fired using a
clay that is formulated to tolerate the high stress of the RAKU firing.
The completed piece is allowed to slowly air dry.
Once the piece is bone dry, glaze is carefully applied.
The glazed object is then placed in a kiln that is heated very rapidly to a
temperature of 1800 to 1900degrees Fahrenheit.
When the temperature is reached, the kiln is opened and the piece is
removed while it is red hot.
If the piece was glazed with a metallic glaze, it is then placed in a metal
container filled with combustible material (paper, sawdust and straw are
When the combustible material begins to burn, the container is sealed.
Once sealed, a reduction atmosphere is created.
The burning fire consumes the oxygen in the container and then any oxygen
in the glaze.
This results in a metallic, and depending on the glaze formula, a lustrous
surface where the piece was glazed.
Any unglazed area of the piece turns black as a result of the clay absorbing
the smoke produced once the fire burns out.
If a crackle type glaze was applied to the piece, the piece is allowed
to cool prior to placing it in a container.
The cooling time allows the glaze to shrink and to crack.
Once the cracking begins, the piece is places into container filled
with combustible material.
After the material erupts in flames, the container is sealed.
When the fire dies out, the smoke will permeate the crakes inbetween the glaze causing the cracks to turn black.
Lifecasting is a process of making a replica of a portion of a live
To create my final figurative RAKU sculptures, I start by making a
negative mold on the body of the model.
Once the model is posed, alginate, a natural substance similar to
latex, is applied to the portion of the body being molded.
An exact negative impression of the body is created in the alginate
(down to the lines, creases and imperfection in the skin).
Before the alginate sets, cotton fibers are embedded in the alginate.
As the alginate is very flexible, a shell of plaster impregnated
bandage (similar to that used to make a cast) is applied over the
alginate. The shell adheres to the cotton fibers that were embedded
in the alginate.
When dry, the plaster bandage shell and alginate liner are carefully
removed from the model.
To create the positive mold that is used in the sculpting of the final
RAKU figure, a plaster based material is pored into the negative
Once the plaster sets, the negative mold is removed and the result is
an exact replica of the part of the body that was initially molded.
The positive mold in and of itself is considered by many to be a final
sculpture and might be finished with many different surface
I use the plaster positive as a mold for my clay sculptures by placing
a large, thin slab of clay over the mold to obtain a basic shape for the
After setting the clay slab, I complete the sculpture by hand.
Raku Sculpture from
Examples of RAKU Sculptures Created from Lifecasts
In addition to the sculptures created from Lifecasting, I sculpt
smaller figures by hand from blocks of clay.
My technique is a combination of hand building and carving.
The basic shape and characteristics are created from soft clay.
Most of these figures are sculpted to be flat in the back or front so
they might be used as wall hangings, in frames or in shadow boxes.
Texture might be added as the clay begins to harden.
After the clay has hardened but is not fully dried, I begin to carve the
final features into the sculpture.
In some instances, I will hollow out the back of a sculpture and do a
carving on the inside of the back of the piece. This image is typically
not visible when the sculpture is displayed, it is intended as
something just for the owner of the sculpture.
Examples of RAKU Sculptures Crafted from Clay Blocks
Figurative sculptures can be seen and purchased from
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