Atmospheric Firing Process






            Atmosphere, in regards to firing ceramics, has to do with the type and quality of the air in the kiln during the firing process.  The chemicals, compounds, and mixtures of elements present combine with the clays, slips and glazes on the work to create colors, textures, and surface depth.  Atmosphere affects the general surface of the work and informs its overall charachter. 


            There are numerous aspects to atmospheric firing.  One has to do with the intimate, interactive engagement with fire, and how that relates to being involved with as much of the complete (creative) process as possible.  Another has to do with the actual qualities sought after in the work.  A third aspect important to me has to do with the work of creating meaning through Art.


            Every fire, every kiln has some type of atmosphere, in an electric kiln for example,  one can have a clean, oxidized, air quality, repeatable, reliable, fully controllable and measurable.  Electric kilns are important tools with a certain range of possibilities.  Much of the 20th century studio pottery movement saw the development of reduction firing with different types of gas, oil, and wood as a fuel source.  The long Asian traditions of Japan, China and Korea had been developed firing in this type atmosphere and glazes such as Celadons, Shinos, Tenmokus, Copper Reds, Chuns,  and others with rich surfaces were possible only in a fire that contained a reduced amount of oxygen and was rich in carbon.  The carbon combines with the glaze elements at certain vital points in the firing producing certain colors that many ceramicists in the 20th century pursued and developed in a variety of ways.


            Today atmospheric firings refer to wood, soda, and salt firings that utilize both reduction and oxidation atmospheres but essentially create glaze in the kiln in a more interactive way. Different chemical elements are introduced to the kiln in process. The style and configuration of the kiln affects the possibilities of the surfaces. Various clay qualities are brought out and celebrated for their characteristics. New vocabularies of surface, color, texture have become possible for the artist to explore, develop and utilize.



Feeding the Fire


            Understanding… involvement with complete process…in an abstract sense, is of interest and concern to me. ( Wholeness, Completeness,  All and Everything, is in fact a mantra in my investigations).  Atmospheric firing gives me a concrete material practice in which I can see just how my involvement with the process affects and influences things. What power do I have to affect things and how?


            Qualities I seek in my work are qualities potential in atmospheric firing,  Flashing is a term for the variegated marks left by flame and heat patterns as they move through the kiln and around the work.  Wood fired kilns potentially deposit ash, calcium, salts and minerals from the different woods, which form their own naural ash glazes.  Sodium vapor kilns deposit salts and vapors which combine with the clay, glazes and slips on the pots to produce vibrant color.  The color range of the two processes is very different.  One aspect similar to both wood and soda is their organic nature.  The work from these kilns can have a naturalness to the surface color and texture.  Elusiveness, mysteriousness, and other unknowns are some additional qualities I want to see on the pottery I make and find in atmospheric firng processes. 


            The interactive context with the fire is one place from which I draw metaphorical content for my work. The metaphorical has been said to be “ more than factual”.  Here we are in the territory of the surplus and abundance of meaning that a pot can hold. The pots are carriers of energies, of meaning, beauty, integrity, history.  This is the realm of the subjective where individual and collective meaning and beauty exist.