The eureka moment for potter Catherine Lucktaylor came in 2009, sitting on the beach at Sennen Cove after a move with her son Leon to St Just on the West Cornwall coast. ‘The turquoise of the sea, the curve of the waves and the cliffs were all so striking, I couldn’t believe it was England!’ she laughs. Eight years on Catherine, who originally gained a BA in ceramics, now hand-builds Cornish-inspired raku in a kiln she made herself at her studio in St Buryan, a few miles from Penzance.
Her ‘Sea & Cliffs’ collection captures that first visit to Sennen in its fluted shapes and vibrant blue glaze, while her ‘Wild Cornwall’ collection featured as a perfect example of raku on BBC2’s The Great Pottery Throw Down and incorporates impressions of wild ferns and flowers she finds on coastal walks.
Raku is an ancient Japanese art adapted by Western potters. It involves taking red-hot pots from the kiln and placing them immediately into a container of sawdust and combustible material. The sawdust ignites and the container is closed, which cuts off the oxygen in a process known as ‘reduction’, causing the glaze to slip off to create the distinctive cracked finish. ‘This is what makes raku exciting!’ says Catherine.
Recently, she’s started using a pebble found at nearby Marazion to burnish the clay before firing, ‘To give it a silky-smooth finish,’ she says, though her signature blue glaze of copper carbonate is more a case of trial and error. ‘It’s affected by how much air gets to it during reduction, how much sawdust you use. Even what the fickle coastal weather is doing that day.’
But the pros of life by the sea far outweigh the cons, such as leaving her studio in her VWT4 for the school pick-up and heading off for sea-swims with Leon, or watching the sun go down over a beach BBQ. ‘I love the wildness of Cornwall,’ she says. ‘The weather is always changing -– you’re so connected to the elements. That’s what raku is all about – earth, fire, air and water – it’s all part of the same process.’
• Catherine’s raku ceramics are available from Beside the Wave in Falmouth and London (beside-the-wave.co.uk), Customs House Gallery in Porthleven (cornwall-art.co.uk), and on her own website (lucktaylorceramics.co.uk), and prices range from £45 to £495.