Pit Firing

This category contains 22 posts

Pit Firing Community Project – The Creative Legacy of Edna Walling.

Last week I facilitated a pit firing workshop for a community project which is part of a group exhibition commemorating the work of Landscape designer Edna Walling. One of the exhibiting artists Heather Hesterman is creating an installation consisting of ceramic pinch pots en masse and plants referencing Walling’s love of constructing gardens. The pots have been made by Hesterman’s friends, acquaintances and members of the community, both adults and children, coming together to make approximately 300 palm sized pots.

During Hesterman’s research for the project she discovered an anecdote found in Walling’s writings, indicating Walling’s joy of witnessing a friend hand-build a small pot from clay, fire it and then fill it with the local native plant species, Thomasia petalocalyx.  This event together with ‘The Chalet’, which Walling had built along the Great Ocean Road, being burnt down, along with 2 other residences, inspired Hesterman’s methodology in developing the installation.

Part of that methodology involved the firing of the clay pots made during the project – enter a pit firing! As regular readers may know usually when I pit fire I add lots of varying organic ingredients and wrap the pots in seaweed, gum leaves, copper wire and the like. This endows the finished pots with a vibrant dappled colour response. Hesterman, however, wanted the smoky greys and blacks of fire to be captured on the pot surfaces, so the pit was fired using only sawdust. The sawdust creates a higher likelihood of a reduction atmosphere in the pit allowing for carbonisation of the clay surface.

The firing was successful overall with results ranging from soft smoky greys through to strong oil slick blacks.

Lisa Byrne, Director of ArtSpace at Realm, Maroondah City Council, is curating a group exhibition The Creative Legacy of Edna Walling. The exhibition commemorates the work of Landscape designer Edna Walling with artists Heather Hesterman, Rebecca Mayo and landscape designer/construction Sam Cox.

The exhibition will be held at the gallery ArtSpace at Realm, Ringwood Town Square, 179 Maroondah Highway, Ringwood. 03 92984553, 19 Sept – 13 Nov 2017, with the official opening on Saturday 21 October 2-4pm.

More information can be round on the website

And now enjoy the pics of the sawdust firing process 🙂

New Exhibition – After the Fire.

As readers may know from previous POSTS I have been working on a new body of work, including sculptural ceramics and photography, which is now on exhibition at ContainArt till February 16th. The container is currently on location at Weerama Part, Wendouree.

The exhibition was inspired by the Scotsburn Bushfires, which I have also posted about before – both the experience on the day and Bushfire Relief Arts Program I was involved with in the following months.

I have friends who live in Scotsburn (and almost lost their home and business) and I know of others who did lose their homes. On the day of the fires I stood on my property watching the smoke and water bombers flying over, so it was very dramatic.

Approximately a week after the fires, which destroyed 4000 hectares, 12 homes and 23 sheds, I visited the site and drove through  the area extensively following the path of the fire. I took many pictures and have a comprehensive documentary of the immediate aftermath with the intention of developing a body of work to reflect the fires and comment on the climate (political and environmental) which has contributed to the severe bushfires Australia is experiencing on a more regular basis.

The opportunity serendipitously arose to hold an exhibition in ContainArt just a little after the twelve month anniversary of the event, providing a great chance to commemorate the fires.

All of the works are, of course, for sale, simply send me a message to begin the discussion 🙂

Following is the ‘Artist Statement’ for the exhibition and some images…

Artist Statement – Dawn Whitehand – After the Fire

As a person I feel deeply saddened about the natural environment and the harmful effect the human race has inflicted upon Mother Earth.

As an artist I feel a duty to bring these issues to the attention of the general public via a visual interpretation of the climate dilemmas currently perplexing our global society.

A little over a year ago the effects of global warming were brought into stark reality when the town of Scotsburn and surrounds, on the outskirts of Ballarat, experienced fires that raged out of control on the 19th December 2015. The fire, once started was fuelled by dry conditions, extreme heat and high winds, which combined to form the perfect storm of environmental conditions.

At the time I witnessed the billowing smoke from my property, and having close friends in the area I was watching and worried. Thankfully my friends remained safe, as was their property. Others were not so fortunate.

A week later I undertook an extensive tour throughout the entire route of the fire, documenting the physical effect of the tragic event on the environment. During the following months I worked with the local community conducting art workshops as part of the Scotsburn Bushfire Relief Project.

This current body of work presents a series of documentary photographs and interpretive ceramic sculptures which respond to the colours, shapes and textures of the event, that also hopefully, evoke an emotive outcome within the viewer that raises questions about their personal and communal responsiveness toward the environment, and their role within the wider global context.

A little after a year later I revisited Scotsburn and the abundance of regrowth is majestic – Mother Nature healing both the local community and her natural environment.

By presenting a display commemorating the Scotsburn fires in the context of “urban Ballarat” I am hoping to make this seemingly physically remote event more immediate & real.

Overall images of ContainArt:

Images of individual windows:

Ceramic Sculpture:

Ceramic Pit firing – New sculpture.

Hope everyone is having a great week 🙂

Following on from the previous POST I have now pitfired all of the sculptural works I made for the exhibition in ContainArt – yes I got the fire permit 🙂


It has been very warm over the past few weeks, so it was great that the day I chose to do the firing was only a 26C day… but, of course, we still needed a beer by the end of it (or maybe before the end of it!)

I have since installed the exhibition, but am a bit behind in my posts because – yes – I am still sick!! It comes and goes in waves and is driving me crazy!!

Anyways…. here are some pics of the pit firing, and the next post will be pics of the installed exhibition…. so stay tuned 🙂

Sunday Studio Visit – Catching up

Today in the studio I am finally catching up on polishing the ceramic sculpture I fired last weekend in the pit firing, which was the subject of last Sunday’s studio visit.

The piece in the middle of the picture is the sculpture I have had accepted into the Manningham Ceramic Awards which i have to send off tomorrow, and the other two sculptures i need to photograph as proposals for anther two upcoming art awards – fingers crossed.

That’s about it for today in the studio…. yesterday my son & his girlfriend visited, and we had a bit of a late night watching movies and chatting, so it was a bit of a late start to the day!

Hopefully I will be organised for more updates mid-week 🙂

Dawn Whitehand Pit fired Sculpture

Sunday Studio Visit: Pit Firing

Oh Dear…. a few days late again!!

Sunday was a bit of a busy day….. we visited friends on Sunday afternoon for a low key housewarming party, and didn’t get home till quite late!

The day before, Saturday, I did a pit firing to complete a few pieces I am thinking of entering into some upcoming ceramic awards, and had grand plans of unloading the pit on Sunday and writing my Studio visit blog post – but all I got in before we had to leave for the housewarming was a sneak peek, which I dutifully shared on Instagram.


Then yesterday, Monday, I had to go to Melbourne for a catch up dinner with my mum and my two adult sons, and in the process i just get around to getting anything much else done!!

So today, Tuesday, I am writing the blog post I wanted to share on Sunday – sorry for the delay!!

The artworks I had in the pit include a piece already accepted into the Manningham Ceramics Award, and two other pieces I am planning to enter into other awards whose deadlines are looming.

My pit is quite large, and I alter its size, depending on how much work I have to fire, with fire bricks. In this firing I also packed some smaller pieces (which make up one artwork) within sawdust in tin saggars as I wanted to get as much smoking/black firing as possible.

The colour responses I attained from the pit are not the best I have ever achieved, but the nature of pit firing is the lack of control and the random nature of the fire based on so many variables, such as the temperature, the season, the wood used, the clay used, the condition of the pit (where I live I can only do pit firings in Winter due to fire restrictions, and it can be really wet  cold where I live) and other combustibles introduced to the pit.

Overall, however, I am happy with the results – it is the nature of ceramics that one must be happy with what the kiln gods delver, otherwise you would go insane!! (well i would anyways)

Following is a short photo essay of the procedure I took for the day, but also check out the book I have written about pit firing (yes, unabashed self promotion!) available on Amazon and other online bookstores, plus some brick & mortar stores.




Pit Firing Workshop in Ballarat

My last Sunday Studio Visit post gave readers the heads up that I was conducting a pit firing workshop on the weekend… and it was great! Living in Australia means that I have to co-ordinate my pit firings between fire ban seasons, and living in Ballarat -cold and rainy (it is pouring as I speak)- means that scheduling a pit firing in the ‘not’ fire ban season can be risky…. I could wake up and the ground could be frozen…. well, maybe very soggy! However, the weather was perfect!! Not raining, not freezing cold, not windy….ideal! Student works had been low bisque fired in the lead up to the workshop so we were all set to go…. Saturday involved preparing the pots with seaweed, gum leaves, lemon leaves, copper wire, string, chicken wire and anything else handy; preparing the pit; loading the pit; and throwing in a match (the best bit). After a few hours of stoking corrugated iron was placed over the pit to allow for a slow overnight simmer. Sunday afternoon we explored the results – hot work!! OH&S: wear gloves!! We then cleaned and polished the works and admired the results – lots of photos and Facebook uploading!! There will be more pit firing workshops to come and you can sign up to information about upcoming events by subscribing to this blog, or I can put you on a mailing list – just contact me (link at top right hand of website). Meanwhile here are some pics of the weekend 🙂

Sunday Studio Visit: Pit Firing Workshop

This Sunday afternoon there is excitement happening in the studio – I have been running a pit firing workshop!!

Yesterday we prepared, loaded and fired the pit, and this afternoon we unloaded, cleaned and polished the resultant pieces – which were fantastic!!

I won’t say too much as I will be writing a more in depth post with lots of pics during the coming week…. so for now a few tempting pics…. enjoy!!

Book Launch and Exhibition Opening in Ballarat

Join me this weekend in Ballarat for the Launch of my new Book and Exhibition.

As many readers will know recently I published a book called Pit Firing Ceramics: Modern Methods, Ancient Traditions. The book was in February catalogues for Australian book shops, libraries, etc, and is now beginning to hit book shelves. it is also available online – it came out in the USA in November last year.
The book is being launched this weekend at the Annexe, Ballarat Art Gallery 5th July 2-4pm, so if you are in or near the Ballarat drop by and share a glass of wine and cheese with me.
Copies of the book will be available for sale and signing, or if you already have a copy bring it along to be signed.
The launch is also accompanied by an international exhibition featuring some of the artists that contributed to the book. The exhibition is in the new Exquisite Objects space in the foyer of Backspace Gallery and runs throughout July.
Below is a flyer with all the launch information or join the event on Facebook!!
I hope to see you there 🙂
Dawn Whitehand Pit Firing book launch flyer

Pit Fired Sculptures – available for sale

My previous blog post was about the Lorne Sculpture Biennale and my participation in it…. a post about the Biennale in general will be next.

In the meantime the following images are of the sculptures that emerged from the pit firing – I am very happy with the results of the project, and the colour responses achieved in the firing.

Some of the works did sell on the day of unloading the pit, and the remaining works are now available for sale online – this means no gallery fees or commissions – so grab a collectable piece of sculpture direct from the artist.

All pieces are wheelthrown and manipulated while still wet, burnished and after firing sealed with a clear wax product – in this case neutral shoe polish.

Feel free to message me for further information such as dimensions,  postage , etc….

Click on the individual images below to view a larger image.

Each piece is individually signed by myself.

You can express your interest by commenting below or messaging me by my Facebook page :

Pit Firing on the Beach at the Lorne Sculpture Biennale

As regular readers will know last weekend was the opening of the Lorne Sculpture Biennale, and I will be publishing a separate post about this soon.

But for now, I would like to share the ceramic pit firing I did on the beach as part of the Sculpturescape category in the show.

I arrived in Lorne on Friday afternoon so that I could borrow a friends ute to drive into nearby Colac and pick up the wood for the project which was kindly donated by Shelton Timber. The Biennale opening was on Saturday, and the Sculturescape projects began on Sunday.

The weather was very warm on Sunday, hitting the 30Cs during the day, which would normally be great – but when stoking an open fire for three hours… umm, not so good!!

A much needed paddle to cool off!

A much needed paddle to cool off!

I (well actually my partner Strobe – because the film crew came along just at that moment for an interview) began digging the pit at about 10am Sunday morning, and I then lit a small fire in the hole to dry out the moist sand. While this burned I prepared the sculptures using seaweed, copper wire, salted string and gumleaves.

Small fire to dry out the pit

Small fire to dry out the pit

When the small fire had burnt out and the pit was dry I added another layer of wood, some pine cones and cow dung and placed the sculptures on top. Salt, iron oxide, and copper sulphate were sprinkled over the ceramics, and a layer of seaweed was then added followed by another layer of wood. Some kindling and newspaper was the final layer, closely followed by a match, and the firing was underway!

Fire is Happening!

Fire is Happening!

As mentioned, the pit was stoked for about three hours, and again, thanks to my partner Strobe for splitting the wood as I stoked. When a good layer of coals covered the works the pit was covered with corrugated iron and sealed with sand, allowing for a slow simmer and cool down overnight.

Covered Pit for a Slow Simmer & Cooling

Covered Pit for a Slow Simmer & Cooling

Witches hats and remaining wood was used to barricade the pit – I didn’t want anyone falling in overnight!!



The following morning we arrived at the pit at 11am,and it was already cool enough to unload. The works were removed from the pit, and gently cleaned with a soft paintbrush and polished with a neutral shoe polish to seal the surfaces and give a soft sheen in keeping with the organic nature of the sculptures.

Cleaning the Sculpture

Cleaning the Sculpture

Though I have conducted many pit firings, I had never actually experienced one on the beach. This, combined with using a different wood than I usually use, made the firing a little unpredictable, but the results were great- and I sold some pieces on the day!!

Many people stopped and looked and chatted over the course of the two days, which is the entire point of the Sculpturescape category – having artist making works on site and engaging the general public, and making art more tangible and accessible.



There are five Sculpturescape projects each week during the Biennale, so twenty in all: I am hoping to get back to see a few of them and blog about them… but until then here is a sideshow of my pit firing this weekend – it does contain quite a few images, bit for those interested in the process it is well worth the look::-)

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UPDATE – For those interested in knowing more about pit firing and the artists that include this preocesss in their art practice I have written a book published by Schiffer which is available here
Book Cover

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