The Art of Imperfection

Patrick Royle

Raku Pottery

The Art of Imperfection


A Summer 2015 Yukon Prospector Web Extra

 Patrick Royle loves pottery.  Raku pottery to be specific.  He’s been teaching it for over a quarter century.

  To be even more specific, it’s Western Raku Royle is enamoured with.

  Traditional Raku began in Japan many hundreds of years ago, when the process was used to make dishes for Japanese tea ceremonies.  It’s a matter of quickly heating and cooling clay.  This adds a lot of randomness to the finished pieces, and appeals to the Japanese concept of Wabi-Sabi.

  Wabi-Sabi is a tough concept to grasp, but it stems from the three Buddhist “marks of existence”: nothing lasts, existence is suffering and there is no self.   Art that has elements of imperfection, perhaps where the imperfection is the art, honours those values.  

  That’s what Royle likes about it. 

In his words, “it’s all about the cracks.”

Patrick_Royle_Raku_Pot.jpg  Royle spent July 10-12 in Atlin, BC showing people the finer points of his Raku at the Atlin Arts and Music Festival. 

  There, he taught people “how minerals transform into something beautiful.”

  Royle’s method differs from the traditional in that after the pieces come out of the hot kiln, they are placed in an enclosed vessel with a combustible material, such as straw.

  When the hot pottery touches the straw it creates smoke, reducing the oxygen in the vessel and preventing oxidization.

  The results are an amazing collaboration between randomness and technique.  Cracks form in the glaze, colours shift unpredictably, smoke leaves black streaks anywhere the glaze isn’t. 

  And Instead of only making the traditional tea cups or small bowls, Royle is able to create elaborate sculptures.  Large dishes, little skulls, vases, sometimes with the use of copper and cobalt.

  However, much like ego to a Buddhist, the pottery is essentially useless.

  “We call it non-functional-ware,” says Royle.  The method leaves the clay too porous to be of any practical use.

  Royle has received much praise for his work.  He has three Raku pieces in the National Art Bank, and he’s made a full 12-piece set of his Fireweed Line for the Yukon Government, as a gift to Prince Charles.

  If you missed him at the Altin festival, you can find Royle at his Raven Pottery studio in Whitehorse. 

  He says he loves teach, he got his own start during a workshop, but remember to bring your Zen with you.

  “The randomness can humble and frustrate you,” he says,” but it also elates you with the serendipity.” 

Story and photos by

Jonathan Duncan -

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