Having studied science subjects at school and university, I entered the emerging computer Industry during the 1960s and this, subsequently, became my long-term career.
But I also developed a growing interest in studio pottery, along with a fascination for the potter’s wheel. So, during the 1970s, I enrolled part-time at Hammersmith College of Art to learn and practise the basics of wheel-throwing, glazing and firing. Helped by expert tuition, I quickly found a love of working with clay and a great sense of satisfaction and enjoyment from starting to learn this demanding craft.
This was at a time when the Leach influence was very strong. This helped me to develop an appreciation of pottery form, and it made me aware of the traditional methods, styles and skills practised by generations of Chinese, Korean and Japanese potters.
I was first introduced to a raku firing while at the College. Extracting glistening, glowing red-hot pots from the kiln was exciting and inspiring then, and has never ceased to be so!
So pottery became much more than a passing interest and in the 1980s, I set up a studio and produced wheel-thrown stoneware vessels on a part-time basis. But then, my business career moved me away and I had to leave the kiln and the workshop behind.....
Now having retired from the business world, I have the time and opportunity to get fully involved with raku, practise the techniques, develop the skills, and experiment with new ideas.
I produce hand-thrown raku-fired pieces. My main focus is to produce work that is well formed and crafted and is inviting to the touch as well as the eye. So good finish and glaze quality is important. My current work is characterised by:
- prominent heavily smoked crackle glazing
- darkly smoked clay body
- smooth glaze quality
- metallic colours and lustres
The raku firing process puts the ware in direct contact with the fire and exposes it to extreme thermal stress. This is exciting and dramatic, but is challenging to control.
Firstly, the ware is biscuit-fired in the conventional way. Then glazes are applied, which are deliberately formulated to craze in the subsequent raku firing. Metallic oxides may also have been brushed or sprayed on to the clay surface, which, during firing, will interact with the glaze, causing various colours to develop. The pieces are then fired quickly in a gas kiln until the glaze surface has melted, is smooth and glistens. The whole pot is glowing red hot.
Then, seemingly against all common sense, the molten ware is lifted with tongs from the kiln and placed into a metal bin charged with combustible material, which immediately bursts into flames and is then covered with an air-tight lid. For up to an hour, the pots are left immersed, in contact with flames, smoke and fumes. The smoke penetrates and blackens the clay body, highlighting the crackle glaze effect. The atmosphere within the bin is starved of oxygen and the metal oxides undergo chemical changes, producing striking colours and metallic lustres.
My aim is to sufficiently control this multi-stage firing process to achieve quality and consistency and also to take advantage of the creativity of the fire itself. I want my finished work to reflect the dramatic direct contact between the ware, the flames, smoke and fumes and the heat.
Wheel throwing produces inherently strong forms, and I use a white firing Earthstone body which has been lightly grogged, to enable it to better withstand the extreme thermal stresses involved in the raku firing process.
I use a mixture of metallic oxides as sprayed and/or brushed underglaze decoration. My principal transparent glaze is a mixture of a soft borax and alkaline frits, plus china clay. Sometimes, I use wax-resist or paper-resist to achieve the finished result, and may also burnish the clay surface of areas that will be kept free of glaze.
My ceramic-fibre kiln is propane gas fired. I use it for both bisque firing to 980˚c and for raku firing to about 900˚c, soaking for up to 20 minutes or so to achieve the desired glaze quality.
The ware is then extracted from the hot kiln and placed in lidded metal bins charged with wood shavings for a post-firing reduction and smoking of about an hour.
At this firing temperature, the clay body does not full vitrify (which is what enables the smoke blackening to occur) and because of the glaze crackle, the pots may be a little porous. So for reasons of hygiene, the ware should not be used to hold wet or moist food.
However, all glazes are lead-free and my vases and jars have been water-proofed inside so should be fine for holding flowers. If in doubt, sit the pot on a coaster the first time you use it or, alternatively, cut a plastic bottle to fit and place inside the pot.
Midlands Potters’ Association (MPA)
- Barewall Gallery, 2012, 2014
- Birmingham Botanical Gardens, 2012, 2013, 2014
- Winterbourne House,Birmingham, 2012
- Woodbridge House,Birmingham, 2013
- RBSA Gallery, Birmingham, 2013
Potfest in the Peak, Bakewell, Derbys, 2013
Merge Contemporary Crafts, Oundle, Northants, 2012
Solihull Crafts, 2012
Ferrers Gallery, near Ashby de la Zouch, Leics, 2013 18th Oct through to 5th Jan 2014
RBSA Gallery, Brook St, Birmingham, 2013 27th Oct through to 9th Nov