To me, firing my pots and sculptures is part of my art. It's an important step in my process of creation, and I derive as much satisfaction from it as I do from any other part of the process. I like being hands on with every step of working in clay; choosing it, shaping it, glazing and firing it.
I fell in love with firing clay way back in the 70's when I worked with a production potter. Production potters will often use the same clay and glazes, and fire in the same way so that they know exactly what will happen. Even so, anomalies can happen, as harnessing fire in a kiln is a bit like cooking on an open fire - results will vary based on the conditions.
My students at the Vero Beach Museum of Art often have expectations of what their pieces will look like when they emerge from the kiln. But at the museum we use so many different clays and glazes that there are lots of surprises! I try to prepare them for the unexpected, as often their work will look completely different after firing than they imagined it would. I always suggest they take these pieces home, and just wait until they fall in love with them. Usually that's exactly what happens.
I've learned lots more about the art and process of firing kilns since I started firing the big gas kilns at the museum. It's an exciting process - watching the temperature rise or the cones falling to know when to begin reduction by closing the damper a bit or turning the gas up. Either action will reduce the oxygen in the kiln, which is when the clay body and glazes reduce and darken as oxygen gets sucked out. As this happens, the flames will shoot out of the peepholes - what a dramatic sight!
I've learned the basics of the big kilns from Sean Clinton, the education coordinator at the museum. Sean has also encouraged me to play and experiment on my own with the art of raku firing, about which he is very knowledgeable.
So now I fire most of my own clay art in my home studio. I use and experiment with different methods of firing, but more and more I gravitate toward raku firing. It's the unpredictability of it that entrances me, although the whole process is marvelous! I love the heat and excitement of the fire itself, watching the glazes melt and then removing the pieces from the kiln one by one and putting them into cans with combustible material. I love the process of the carbon in the smoke blackening the clay and the crackling that results from the raku glazes. To me, the crackling and coloring that result from raku firing are the true beauty and character of a work as much as is the form.