My Life as a Potter

I have mentioned my work as a potter in this blog and so I’ve attempted to illustrate my potting life more clearly here in order to show how my pots and paintings might relate to each other.

I learnt about Raku while studying ceramics in N.C.A.D.  I also spent a few months in the south of France as a student with a group of artists who specialised in this technique. Raku is an ancient Eastern method of firing clay whereby the glazed bisque pots are heated up very quickly, removed from the kiln while hot with long tongs and reduced in bins of sawdust. The latter half of the process is in fact a Western adaptation which was pioneered by a group of American potters in the 1960’s. This dramatic process is very exciting and produces lustrous metallic glazes with crackled surfaces. I used the technique for my degree show in 1991. Here are some examples of the things I was making then.

 

Photograph of raku pot by Deborah Watkins

 

 

 

 

Raku pot by Deborah Watkins

 

 

 

These pots were thrown on the wheel and altered from the inside while still wet. I remember seeing an ancient Roman pot that had been decorated by finger marks made from the inside and this was a revelation to me. I became interested in the notion of clay as a skin with some kind of bone-like structure behind it. I drew lots of animal skeletons in the Natural History Museum and I also looked at plants and seed pods for inspiration.

 

Photograph of raku pot by Deborah Watkins

 

 

 

These little tea bowls (below) were an homage to the ancient Japenese form of the technique.

 

Raku tea bowls by Deborah Watkins

 

 

 

The next few images are of me practising raku in Dublin in the 1990’s. The first one shows the kiln loaded with some pots and ready for firing.

 

Photograph of kiln loaded with pots and ready for firing

 

 

 

This is me taking a pot out of the kiln with a long pole. I also used a tongs but I was able to hook some shapes from the inside with this rod, which avoided marking the outside of the piece.

 

Photograph of Deborah removing molten pot from the kiln

 

 

 

 

Close up of pot being removed from the kiln

 

 

 

The next photograph shows the reduction process in action – I always worked with another person for safety. I used dustbins filled with sawdust and wood shavings which ignited when the molten piece came in to contact with them. More sawdust was poured on before the bin was sealed with a lid and some wet paper. The pots were allowed  to smoke for a couple of hours before they were taken out and cleaned. The reduction takes place because the chamber is starved of oxygen and so the oxides are drawn out from the metal oxides present in the glaze. This is what produces the metallic effects – copper oxide produces a copper glaze here where it would produce a green glaze in an atmosphere with oxygen present.

 

Photograph of the reduction process

 

 

 

I set up my own pottery studio in Clifden in 1997 and made raku pots for just over three years. I learnt how to work on my own and I had a shed and a small outdoor space as well as a workshop where I prepared the clay and made large vessels on the potters wheel.

I made purer shapes – spheres and ovoids with narrow openings. I used copper and cobalt oxides in my glazes to produce the blues, greens and metallics that I liked. Here are some examples below.

 

Photograph of raku sphere by Deborah Watkins

 

 

 

Photo of eggs shaped raku pots by Deborah Watkins

 

 

 

The next pair (below) are simple figurative pots – parent and child.

 

Raku pots by Deborah Watkins

 

 

 

 

Here is a close-up of the glazed surface (below).  I still love these rich lustrous colours as you can see in some of my paintings. I identify them with the precious and the magical which is an association I like to make with nature in my paintings.

 

Close-up of raku pot by Deborah Watkins