I use RAKU clay – it’s rich with grog, a substance that allows the clay to shrink and expand with temperature fluctuations in the kiln and fire. Raku clay is malleable and forgiving. Porcelain is malleable but so pure it does not shrink or expand; it has a memory and is less forgiving.
I kneed and roll the clay into long rolls, flatten them like ribbons and then stack them on top of one and another to form a rounded, spiraled shell. The clay is soft so if I go too high, the shell collapses – patience. I use my hands inside and out to smooth and bond the ribbons of clay, and then I mold the shell continuously until it takes on its own shape. Surprisingly, the bonding, the molding, the creation occurs rapidly, as if all along the clay knew its final form.
I stand the piece in air until it becomes bone dry. It is vulnerable now; it could easily chip or break. Next, I carefully place the piece in a large electric kiln and bisque it for hours beginning low and going slow to the highest temperature.
In the meantime, I blend powered chemicals in water to make a glaze. After the bisqueing, I paint the piece sometimes highlighting certain areas or leaving areas bare to create black so as to contrast with the colors. The shape and subtleties of the piece are now complete – I let go of control.
Firing is a spiritual process for me. I sage the fire pit area; use hard wood like oak, hickory or cherry - often cut and split from our own property – and build a fire. I can see and feel the intense heat as I carefully arrange the piece into the fire. I sit in front of the fire for hours watching heat colors and dancing flames paint the piece – they give the piece it’s soul.
A specific moment comes. I move to take the piece out. I have to wear fire protective gear: a head and face shield, boots, a large apron and huge asbestos mittens with a couple of fingers. Tongs don’t work with the larger pieces. Its almost as if I have to move into the fire, cradle the piece and gently usher it out. I put the piece in a large trashcan full of combustibles, fan and then smother the fire. It’s nearly over. I take the piece out of the can and flush it with cool water.