Raku is a firing technique that has its roots in Japanese culture. We use the term "Raku" today to mean fast cooling and smoking. This produces a variety of effects including crackle glazes, blackened clay, and copper color effects. On my raku pieces I use airbrushed underglazes with masking, stenciling, and liquid latex resist brushwork. My surfaces involve landscapes, seascapes, tropical creatures, and architectural elements. I use ceramic stains in my underglazes that are stable colors and don't change when fired so I can work like a painter. The palette is rich at the relatively low temperature of 1700º F and a raku firing only takes about an hour. Pieces are removed from the kiln red hot and placed with pine needles under a trash can to smoke. At one point I will blow on the pieces to produce crackle in the glazed surface. Finally the pieces are scrubbed clean. Many of my raku pots have rattan handles on their lids that I weave. Raku pottery is beautiful but still porous and therefore limited in function.
Stoneware is fired much hotter than raku (2400º F) giving it hardness and durability. My stoneware pieces are made on the wheel and fired with propane gas. Stoneware firings take about 10 hours and at least that long to cool. My stoneware pieces are functional food safe and can be used in the oven, microwave, and dishwasher. My stoneware glazes for gas firing feature matte surfaces, "fake" ash glazes that look fluid, and rutile blue glaze with wax resist details of fish, turtles, crabs, and gators.
Lately I have been making functional musical instruments in clay and mixed media. The horns are built from sections that resemble hollow donuts made on the wheel, combined with wheel-thrown mouthpieces and bells. There is a lot of assembly required. They sound like bugles, shofars, fog horns, and didgeridoos. The different shapes all produce different tones and is always surprising. The tuning is random at best but I've found that the longer horns can produce amazing harmonics making it possible to perform bugle calls. The ocarinas shaped like turtles and fish are based on ones I've collected from Latin America. They sound like whistles or flutes and can play simple tunes. Turtles are pinch pots and fish are made on the wheel. The horns are stoneware fired so they ring well and are strong enough to be handled. The ocarinas are raku fired with copper glaze on the turtles and crackled glazes on the fish. Udu drums evolved from water jugs in West Africa and are played with fingers and palms. My djembe drums have stoneware shells made on the wheel with goat skins and steel rings and feature a rope tuning system.
CIGAR BOX and STONEWARE GUITARS
My cigar box and stoneware guitars have four strings with pieso electric pickups and volume controls. I like to tune them as baritone ukuleles which is like the first four strings of a standard guitar (D G B E). A similar tuning for slide players is open G (D G B D). Use brass wound steel acoustic guitar strings for the best sound. The stoneware guitars have a bright sound because they are ceramic and the cigar boxes have a mellow wooden tone. License plate boxes sound twangy like banjos.