Thursday, 12 September 2013

A pyromaniacs dream day out!

On Saturday 7th September 2013 West Forest Potters celebrated their 30th Anniversary with a Firing Day on the idyllic farm of member Jane White. During the day we were given the opportunity to 'play with fire' and try out three different firing techniques, Raku, Smoke and Pit firing.

Prior to the event we were given detailed instructions as to what to prepare to get the most out of the day; this saw most of us making pots with the specified Ashraf Hanna clay (some of us also burnished and applied terra sigilatta, as recommended) and collecting an assortment of organic materials to place around our pots in the pit firing (banana skins, orange peel, seaweed, driftwood, shells, etc.)

We all found our way to Jane's farm, which nestles in a valley in the Chilterns, north of Henley, eagerly clutching our pots and other paraphernalia; and plenty of cake! We were greeted by warm sunshine and a host of different animals...

After a brief introduction to each of the different firing techniques available from our experts, we were let loose to prepare our pots in Jane's beautiful studio and surrounding garden.

Pots for Raku firing were dipped into a selection of raku glazes, with additional use of coloured underglazes and wax resist where desired.

To prepare for the smoke firing some people chose to mask areas using slip or by wrapping in tin foil.
For the pit firing, we surrounded our pots with an assortment of organic materials, copper wire and copper sulphate, then wrapped them in newspaper, ready to place in the pit later in the day.

Martin and Richard soon had 4 Raku kilns roaring away in the farm courtyard and were kept busy all day with a steady stream of pots to fire.

Unfortunately one of the first firings was not successful, not sure whether this was kiln being too hot, and pots came out a bubbled blacked mess. 
Both of my pots were in this firing, they were definitely not the turquoise and green that I had hoped for!
 Fortunately the rest of the firings went really well and produced some great results. (My pots had been re-fired and looked better, even if they were not quite what I was expecting.) 

Despite a poor weather forecast for the day, the sun managed to shine on us all day until we were due to put our pots into the enormous pit in one of Jane's fields, at this point the heavens opened and thunder rumbled around the valley.
During a brief respite in the torrential rain we went to have a look at the pit (reminiscent of an archeological dig) and Jane explained how she loads the pit for firing.
Reluctantly, we left our pots for Jane to place in the pit (once it had dried out) and set fire to and headed home along roads which had turned into streams.

Our pots have now been fired and safely returned to us; for some reason the pit firing did not produce its usual array of colours (perhaps we did not put enough organic material around our pots?).
However, after a polish with beeswax, here are my pit fired pods.
Pit fired 'Love bird' pods (~12cm height)

Pit fired pods (~9cm height)

Here are my Raku fired pots after their second firing, still not turquoise or green, but interesting?

Even though the final results of the day were not quite what I had anticipated, this does not detract from a fantastic day; beautiful location, like minded potters, sunshine and plenty of cake!
Many thanks to everyone at West Forest Potters.

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