Monday, 3 May 2010

Smoke Firing Ceramics

I have a collection of pieces of biscuit fired ceramic from college which have been waiting for me to do ‘something’ with them. They are nothing fancy, just a few experimental bits and pieces made when I was getting used to what I could do with the clay – the pace of the foundation course has been such that there was really no time to become expert in any new skills.

Anyway, after discussions with my college tutor I decided to have a go at smoke firing them – which is basically burying them in something that burns and setting fire to it!

There are potters who do the most amazing things with smoke firing

Smoke fired vessel by Sally Bradley.

Smoke fired vessel by Sian van Driel.

The monochrome colouring is so subtle and, I think, quite beautiful.

Personally, I was going to be happy if I managed to get any colour at all on my pieces, and at least some of them came out still in one piece!

For my ‘kiln’ I used one of those incinerators which look like an old-fashioned dustbin. I put a layer of newspaper in the bottom with a layer of sawdust on top. Then I put a few of my ceramic pieces in, packed around with more sawdust. One of the pieces I wrapped in newspaper with a handful of grass – just to see what happened. And I set fire to it!

I was surprised how much flame and smoke there was – next time I will do it at the bottom of the garden! And I may dampen the sawdust and try to include some slower burning material to try and slow the burn down. So, when it had finished burning I was left with a pile of ash and, amazingly, still whole pieces of ceramic!  Really I should have left it alone overnight but I was so impatient to see the results – fortunately nothing cracked when I took them out.  (The ash is hopefully going to keep the slugs away from our runner beans - apparently they don't like ash?)

So this is what I got – please excuse the dodgy photographs on the concrete – the pieces were still too hot to move! You can see markings where the grass stopped the colouration on the piece on the left – and one of the smaller pieces took the colour only on half of it, which I like very much.

They are actually much more coloured than I expected but all in all I am pretty pleased with them for my first attempt.  I will be coating them with a wax polish (when they have cooled down) to protect the surface and give them a subtle sheen - it will be interesting to see how much, if any, of the colour comes off then.  And I shall try again, wrapping some pieces so they are only partly coloured and burning different stuff - I have heard banana skins are interesting...  Watch this space!


  1. i'm loving your new blog, helen!! all of your projects are so interesting :)

  2. Some of those pieces have turned out really well, do keep us posted on future burnings,


Helen Smith, artist and maker in glass, print and stitch.


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