The process of pit firing has endless possibilities, the pieces seem to have been created by nature itself, by the organic material, and the fire, which transforms the surface of the clay into a myriad of different patterns and colours, and each piece that is unearthed from the ashes is totally unique.
Early experiments started with simple smoke firing during Year 2 at Bucks New University in 2007. We built a structure out of engineering bricks and used a heavy metal lid over the top. We used the kiln to fire low fired burnished pieces which we buried in sawdust for a 12 hour firing.
Key inspiration for experimentation during my final year at university was Jane Perryman. I attended one of her workshops in Suffolk, and it was there that I had my first experience of the exciting and totally unpredictable technique of pit firing.
My first pit was dug with the aid of a JCB, and since then I have adapted the design several times. The pots are placed on 20-30cm sawdust in the bottom of the pit, and surrounded by a variety of organic materials and copper carbonate/sulphate. A large quantity of dry wood of approximately 1 metre depth is then put on top, followed by combustibles such as straw and paper. The fire is then lit and it burns for about 4 – 6 hours and then the pit is sealed for 70 hours for cooling.
Every firing is completely different, and the excitement of discovering the pieces all buried in the ash has been likened to an archaeological dig! The explosion of colours and organic patterns revealed when the ash is brushed off, and a light sealing of wax is put on the pieces, is like dropping a pebble into the sea, a miracle of the alchemy of the natural world, and the fusion of earth, fire and organic material.
Organic material you can use for pit-firing includes:
• Seaweed and driftwood
• Dried banana skins
• Dried citrus fruits and skins
• Avocado skins and stones
• Pistachio and other nut shells
• Copper wire wound around pots
• Copper carbonate and sulphate
• Salt and anything else you’d like to experiment with!