Anagama: notes from the Q & A held on Friday 24 July

Dates to diarise:

Receiving Day: Sunday 23 August
Loading: Monday 24 – Sunday 30 August
Firing: Wednesday 2 – Sunday 6 September
Unloading and Barbecue: Sunday 13 September

Suitable clays

Something of a joke was made by the presenters repeatedly saying that only Cone 10 clays should be used. But it’s not a joke if you don’t use the correct clay. The anagama environment will likely melt the wrong clays causing damage to shelves, props and other people’s pots (besides wrecking your own). If your bag of clay states a top firing temperature of 1280, that is sufficient. If the bag doesn’t identify the top firing temperature either seek professional advice to identify that or don’t use it. No ‘near enoughs’ please; e.g. 1260 is not acceptable. Definitely do not use Club Recycled.

The anagama philosophy

Present a pot(s) you consider worthy of an operation that has taken literally thousands of hours to plan, build, maintain and fire over the past 15 years, that uses five busloads of wood each firing and presents subtleties of glaze no electric firing could achieve. Members who assist with the many tasks required to fire this kiln – particularly those who participate in the firing – agree that they appreciate the results from the kiln so much more having been involved in its firing.

Which pots suit anagama?

Any features on thrown or hand-built pots that catch or channel the build-up of ash glaze. Coarse texture returns dividends. The addition of sprigs and faceting are both useful and carving can accent glaze ‘breaks’. Fine (i.e. not very deep) carving may disappear so be bold. However, there’s nothing wrong with firing your best unadorned cups or simply-made porcelain vase.

Be aware though that porcelain my warp or slump slightly if it’s very thin-walled. Heavily iron-rich clays may be inclined to produce uninteresting results depending on the nature of the firing but the judicious use of slips over (not necessarily all over) these clays can be rewarding.

What about the use of underglazes and slips?

Underglazes burn out. Don’t bother. But slips coloured with cobalt and iron oxides (not necessarily together!!) – search Google images for Anneke Borren anagama pots for inspiration. Avoid copper-based washes and slips; copper volatises in the anagama environment and lurches about the kiln settling randomly, uninvited, on other people’s pots.

Preparation of your pots destined for the anagama firing:

  1. It/they must have been bisqued to be accepted on Receiving Day. Greenware is a sod to transport and, even if it got there, could explode in the kiln. Many anagama kilns do load greenware BUT for the sake of looking after many pots by many different potters, BISQUED is the safest bet.
  2. Don’t wax the bases. The anagama process is different. There is a natural run of glaze so all pots are raised above the shelf surface with wadding. This is designed to prevent pots sticking to the shelves. Wax will not allow a good adherence of pot to wadding.
  3. ONLY use the 3 or 4 anagama glazes provided. Club glazes are prohibited as are any of your own concoctions. Please note: the anagama glazes will not be available for use on Receiving Day. Last year we had trouble with handling wet glaze pots. Plan ahead.
  4. It is of great help to the loaders (and gives you a better chance of getting at least some of your pots into the firing) when you have your potters’ mark legibly stamped/written/incised on your pot(s).
  5. Please read and absorb the information about how to proceed on Receiving Day. This will be available on the WPA website and on posters in the main studio two weeks prior to Receiving Day. Understanding the difference, for example, between a lead pencil and a ceramic pencil – and where they should be applied – could save you some embarrassment! The bumptious person who brusquely waved away the politely offered advice from a helper last year must still be ruing the fact that her nine pots are all visibly numbered 1 to 9 on the outside surface of her darlings.

What pots can I enter?

As long as the clay is Cone 10 capable you can submit whatever you like….just be aware- large pots, broad plates and platters, ungainly shapes, very tall pots are less likely to make it into the kiln. Lots of very tiny stuff (e.g. jewellery) – whilst these can be useful to pop into gaps here and there, don’t get too enthusiastic with the number you submit. Each and every piece has to be wadded; the loaders are angels….but they’re not saints!!

How many pots can I submit?

As many as you care to pay for BUT not all may get into the firing. Be aware that anagama loading/stacking is quite different from loading a glaze firing in an electric kiln. Anagama loaders look for balance throughout the kiln and pay particular attention to the way the flames will flow. Pots are selected on that basis. Everyone will get at least one pot in the firing (subject to the size and shape note in the previous paragraph). That said, the fees you paid will be refunded for any unfired pots.

Preferred placement

Simple requests such as “near firebox” and “at the back” will be accommodated where possible. More specific expectations such as “altogether on shelf 4, stack 3” you can forget. Loaders select and place entirely on the basis of what they consider will suit The Plan. Anyway, anagama results tend to fluctuate firing by firing. Be happy with the result you get.

Other preferences

Sometimes the loading plan will call for pots to be stacked one-inside-the-other (of course, we NEVER stack pots that are glazed inside!). Sometimes just wadding is used, sometimes sea-shells. These will leave ‘wadding marks’ or shell imprints on the inside of your pots. Such marks are often prized for the glaze/flame/indentation effects they produce. BUT, if you don’t want any of that, you may state that on your submission form. Be aware, though, that this may well restrict the number of pots you will have fired.

Other points

To glaze or not to glaze? If I don’t glaze prior to the firing, where does the glaze come from then? The burning of wood produces ash. Ash settling on pots, through the management of the firing, melts and turns to glaze. This happens several times during the firing. Many factors determine how much – or if any – glaze develops on your pots and how much forms where. Even if your pot emerges from the kiln showing no signs of natural ash glaze, you can be sure your pot is vitrified! Peak temperatures in our anagama kiln are between 1280 and 1320 and, combined with the 100 hours firing you can be sure that the heat-work level is significant!

It is a matter of preference whether or not you pre-glaze. If you do, please:

  1. Leave at least a 5mm (10mm for bigger pots) clear margin at the base (sponge/wipe off…remember; don’t wax)
  2. Don’t go nuts with the application. Thicker doesn’t necessarily mean a better result; in fact, often the contrary.

Insides of vessels with narrow necks (e.g. vases) and lidded items (e.g. teapots). As a precaution it is recommended that you pre-glaze the insides to ensure a glossy surface as fly-ash is unlikely to penetrate to the interior.