Most of my animal sculptures are Raku fired. If you’ve ever wondered what Raku firing is and why I use it for my animal sculptures, this one’s for you. Be warned though, things may get a little heated!
Raku fired sculpture is bisque fired in an electric kiln and then heated rapidly to 980C before being immersed in a combustible material, such as sawdust. The glaze melts in the firing, developing a distinctive crackle finish, while the final combustion imparts a smoky matt finish to any unglazed areas.
As you can see, Raku firing is not for the faint hearted. The heat is intense and the combustion process creates a great deal of smoke. Special clothing is essential if you’re going to protect yourself from burns, scalds and smoke inhalation. Timing is critical. The sculpture must be removed from the kiln at just the right moment and immediately immersed in sawdust to create the final combustion.
Raku firing is unpredictable. After firing the sculpture must be thoroughly cleaned. It’s only then that you can see whether the glaze has achieved the desired finish. No two pieces are ever the same. Slight variations in the glaze, temperature, moisture and even the wind direction can combine in unexpected ways to create dramatically different results.
It’s not without risk either. The sculptures have to be lifted straight from the kiln into the sawdust. Even with protective gloves, they are extremely hot and can only be handled for short periods. With thick gloves on, it’s easy to lose your grip. And I’ve lost count of the times I’ve accidentally set fire to my hair, my clothes, overhanging trees or even the fence!
So why would anyone go to all the trouble of using such a difficult, dangerous and unpredictable technique? Well, for one thing, it’s very exciting and a lot of fun. But more to the point, Raku firing is a technique that creates very rich but natural looking colours. And Raku glaze has great depth. This is particularly noticeable in the eyes, which have wonderful intensity.
Raku fired sculptures have a rawness that perfectly suits my subjects. They aren’t over-finished or unnaturally perfect. The inherent variations in colour and finish reflect the natural diversity of animals in the wild, with all their irregularities and idiosyncrasies. And just like real animals, each one of my animal sculptures is a unique individual with its own distinct personality.