In this article we read about the huge risks and rewards involved in wood-firing from the point of view of Devon based potter Nic Collins.
We look at Nic at work in his workshop throwing large jugs and bottles and opening and unpacking his anagama kiln to survey the results of a recent firing.
Nic Collins finishing a jug in his Devon studio
A largely self-taught potter, Nic has been building wood kilns and throwing wheels since his late teens and early twenties when he first became fascinated with clay. Today he is one of Britain’s foremost wood firers, of which there are few, given the relative inconsistency and unreliability of working with traditional wood-fired kilns in comparison to gas, oil or electric.
(above) Nic’s Devon pottery, on the edges of Dartmoor; (below) Nic collects wood bundles for his anagama kiln (left); a small bottle showing the varied effects of wood-firing
Nic’s pots are almost all left undecorated aside from the skeletons of shells used to stack pots on top of one another, the poolings of his applied shino glazes and natural ash deposited by wood fuel, or the torching licks of flames in the kiln as it reaches temperatures over 1300° C.
‘torching licks of flames’ – bottles and jars inside Nic’s anagama kiln
Because of the nature of Nic’s anagama kiln and the process of his firings, for every resulting ‘gem’ when the kiln is opened there may be more than 3 or 4 pieces either destroyed during the firing or sacrificed when the pots are unpacked. Often pots become stuck together, leaving Nic with the unenviable task of deciding which ones must be chipped away and smashed in order to save the best.
the dramatic beading and scorching effects of Nic Collins’ kiln on a small bottle
But as he describes, the rewards of this kind of firing heavily outweigh the regrets. The dramatic effects of wood ash and the fire in the kiln can produce extraordinary surfaces of colour. Blue, green and even purple beads of glaze dribble over the scorched oranges, reds and greys of clay or the delicate peach of shino glaze.
some of Nic’s exquisite guinomis