Alden Boon

Ceramication Founder Rayn Leow Talks the Art and Science of Pottery Making, Coming Out and Privilege



Rayn Leow Ceramication Singapore Entrepreneurship Coming Out Gay Singapore Pottery Porcelain
Right: A glazed bisqueware, ready for a round of firing. (Left) The glazed ware is fired in the kiln to maturation temperature. The heatwork melts the powder, transforms it into glass and bonds to the clay body. It is during this liquid state where chemical reactions between the components happen to give colours and textures.
Rayn Leow Ceramication Singapore Entrepreneurship Coming Out Gay Singapore Pottery Porcelain
Macro-crystalline glazes have flower-like surface crystals that seemingly bloom over a background of a different colour. Small variations of each individual component oxides can cause a dramatic change in appearance after firing, hence warranting the need for numerous tests to finetune colour and crystal distribution. The firing cycle – a very fast rise to top temperature and a very fast drop to crystal growing temperature – is extreme in terms of pottery production. This places a huge strain on the kiln and the materials, resulting in high failure rate and equipment wear and tear. (Photo source: Crate and Barrel)

After glazing comes the firing.

Modern ceramics usually go through two firings. The first firing is called the bisque firing. This is when the greenware is fired to around nine hundred and fifty degrees Celsius, changing the nature of clay permanently. The bisqueware no longer disintegrates back into clay when coming into contact with water, and is strong enough to handle and porous enough for glazing.

The second firing, also called the glaze or gloss firing, is done after the bisqueware is glazed. Different glazes and clay ‘mature’ at different cones. It is therefore important to make sure that the clay body and glaze complement each other. You don’t want to have the body melt to a puddle while the glaze is still in powdered state. Nor do you want all the glazes to melt so much that they drip from the pot completely and damage the kiln.

'Cones are ceramic objects that you fire in the kiln together with the wares. They are specially blended materials that bend after receiving a fixed amount of heatwork. The higher the number, the more heatwork is required to bend the cone. Usually, three cones are used together. The middle one is the target heatwork, the higher and lower ones are to check if the kiln has over or under fired, both of which can drastically affect the quality of the products.'
Careful controlling of the heatworks to reach around 1,250 degrees Celsius is necessary to melt the glaze components completely but retain some seeding agents. The temperature is then brought down to allow the zinc oxide and silica to form crystals around a seeding point. The shapes and sizes of the crystals are controlled by the temperatures and duration they are held at. Because this is a mimicry of nature, the randomness dictates that no two pieces will ever be identical.

As an artist, are you on a quixotic quest of achieving perfectionism?

As the maker, I see and know every detail in the products. Imperfections used to bother me a lot. A few years ago, I fired a glaze that I had named ‘Guardian of the Galaxy’. This was the first time massive ‘crawling’ appeared on half of the pots from that firing — crawling is a defect whereby the glaze splits and reveals the clay body underneath. I was hesitant to sell these pots even though they looked nice and unique, as they were defective in my mind’s eyes. I showed them to my mother, and she told me how the imperfect ones were even more beautiful because the pure white showing from underneath gave it more ‘layering’. That was a wabi-sabi learning moment. This glaze has been one of my best-sellers ever since.

Rayn Leow Ceramication Singapore Entrepreneurship Coming Out Gay Singapore Pottery Porcelain
What the Guardian of the Galaxy glaze should ideally look like.
Rayn Leow Ceramication Singapore Entrepreneurship Coming Out Gay Singapore Pottery Porcelain
The version with crawling — the imperfections are embraced and praised by Ceramication’s customers.

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Alden Boon
Alden Boon is a Quarter-finalist in PAGE International Screenwriting Awards. When he's not busy writing, he pretends he is Gandalf.