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Ceramics / Pottery

Ceramics & Pottery can be one of the most creative and fun arts. Although it may seem more intimidating to get into, once you learn the basics and get some materials it is very easy to continue and learn. Practically anything can be made in ceramics, from sculptures of people and animals, to objects such as model houses, cars, furniture. The trick to have fun while you make it and not be afraid to make mistakes and try new objects.

Below is a terrific introductory article where you can learn the basics and how to get started. You can help grow our learning community by contributing your knowledge to the article. Just click on the edit tab in the wiki article below.

Use the white subtabs above to navigate the other Ceramics & pottery resources. We have a ceramics forum where you can get your questions & doubts answered, a page with ceramics how-to videos, a page with the best handpicked links to other sites, and a page with the best ceramics books and products.


Good Luck and Have Fun!
Duncan Davis






Definition


Ceramic art covers the art of pottery which is made by forming a clay body into objects of a special shape and then heating them to a certain temperature in a kiln to create a reaction that leads to their strength and hardening.




History and Traditional Styles


When most people think of pottery, they think of bowls and plates, or perhaps cups, vases, and ashtrays. And it is true that the functional forms of pottery may be the most common. But archeologically, the study of pottery may also allow inferences to be drawn about a culture`s daily life, religion, social relationships, attitudes toward neighbors, attitudes to their own world and even the way the culture understood the universe. The earliest history of pottery production can be divided into four periods namely; the Hassuna period (5000 - 4,500 BCE), the Halaf period (4,500 - 4000 BCE), the Ubaid period (4000 - 3000 BCE), and the Uruk period (3,500 - 2000 BCE). Ceramics, itself, dates back even farther, to the year 25,000 BCE, with the discovery of a Venus figurine in the modern-day Czech Republic. But it was the invention of the potter’s wheel in Mesopotamia sometime between 6,000 and 4,000 BCE (Ubaid period) revolutionized pottery production.




Pottery Process


Shaping is done in various ways, but working clay with the hands is always used at one point, or another. The clay material is either built up from a flat slab, a stack of coils, or balls of clay to form the desired shape. A slurry solution is added to smooth out unwanted bumps and to help work out spaces of air. Working by hand is the slowest method, but it is also the most controlled means of producing size and shape. Studio potters most often choose hand shaping because it allows them to create unique pieces.




“Throwing” refers to the process potters use when a potter’s wheel is used. It involves placing a ball of clay on a turntable that the potter rotates with a stick, a foot-powered treadle, or an electric motor. The throwing wheel rotates rapidly and as it moves, the potter presses out a center in the ball (“centering”), gently hollowing out a center in the clay (“opening”), making a flat or rounded bottom inside the pot (“flooring”), drawing up the sides so that they’re even and symmetrical (“pulling”), and then removing excess clay to make an even foot (“trimming”). Until the introduction of slip casting in the 18th century, the potter’s wheel was the most effective method of mass producing pottery. Because if its inherent limitations, wheel work can only be used to create wares with radial symmetry on a vertical axis. These can then be altered by impressing, bulging, carving, fluting, faceting, incising, and other methods, making the wares more visually interesting. Often, thrown pieces are further modified by having handles, lids, feet, spouts, and other functional aspects added using the techniques of hand working. Shapes and textures can be added through the use of paddles, rollers, knives, wires, burnishing stones, and rasps.




Ornamentation


Pottery can be decorated in an almost limitless number of ways. The clay can be incised (cut with a wedged object to make a three dimensional pattern), it can be decorated with an underglaze, it can use in-glaze or on-glaze decoration, and it can be enameled. You can use additives to your piece, such as sand, differently colored clays, and colorants, such as metal oxides or carbonates. Combustible particles, such as salt or sulfur, can be pressed into the clay’s surface to produce striking textures, once the pottery has been fired. Agateware results from banding different clays together in order to produce the mottled or veined appearance of agate. Banding, or lining, adds a color to the edge of a plate or cup and is usually done while the piece is still on the potter’s wheel. Burnishing refers to an application where the surface of a piece is rubbed with wood, steel or stone before it is fired. When fine clays are used with the burnishing process, a highly polished surface will result. An engobe is a whitish slip of clay that can be added before firing; it can be painted on or dipped to provide a uniform, even coat. If it is used in several coats, it resembles a glaze. A litho (or transfer print) can be used on the pottery. This involves three layers—the actual image layer, the cover coat, and the clear, protective layer. Gold can be added to high quality objects by various means, such as painting, etching, a “bright gold” solution, or a rubbing of gold leaf with sugar and salt.




A glaze is the “glassy” part of ornamentation on a piece of pottery. It is also the process that waterproofs it. It can be accomplished by dusting, spraying, dipping, or brushing with a mineral/water mixture. The color of a glazed piece before and after firing may differ. An additional piece of advice is to either not glaze the foot portion of the piece or use little supports (spurs) inside the kiln so that the piece doesn’t stick to the rack during the firing process.




Ceramics


A ceramic is an inorganic, non-metallic solid prepared by the action of heat and subsequent cooling. Ceramic materials may have a crystalline or partly crystalline structure, or may be amorphous (e.g., a glass). Because most common ceramics are crystalline, the definition of ceramic is often restricted to inorganic crystalline materials, as opposed to the non-crystalline glasses. “Ceramic” may be used as an adjective describing a material, product or process; or as a singular noun, or, more commonly, as a plural noun, ceramics. In contemporary, domestic terms, ceramics takes on a specific form of hobby, mainly the painting and ornamentation of greenware, usually pre-formed into all sorts of vases, plates, bowls, figurines, etc. For nominal fees, art studios or recreational centers allow the public to come in and paint a piece or two and then return a week later, after firing, to glaze and add any other effects.




The earliest ceramics were pottery objects made from clay, either by itself or mixed with other materials, hardened in fire. Later ceramics were glazed and fired to create a colored, smooth surface. Ceramics now include domestic, industrial and building products and art objects. In the 20th century, new ceramic materials were developed for use in advanced ceramic engineering; for example, in semiconductors.




Some of the better-loved, contemporary collectible types of ceramics include Delftware, Royal Doulton, bone china, and Wedgwood.




Places to Display or Sell


Now (returning to the 21st century), once you find a style you’re happy with and successful at reproducing, you can begin to look for galleries, bookstores, or nooks at art co-ops where you can stash a few of your pieces. See what the public finds pleasing enough to buy and take home. If you are lucky enough, you might be commissioned to customize some pieces for a local business or festival. If you can’t find a suitable gallery to expose your work to the public, consider creating an attractive website with good quality images. Be sure to photograph the unique colors or angles that you worked so hard to create. Then make sure to generate interest (and “hits”) to the website to get your page among the first displayed when someone Googles on the word “pottery” or “pottery gallery.” Many artists do this with their portfolios, and with good results. Visit their websites and take note of their prices so that you can list comparable prices. Your goal should be to become recognized for your original style. Whether or not you’ve had any luck on the internet, try other approaches. If your friend has a show room or warehouse, ask for a chance to hold a special showing where your “wares” might be featured. Most friends in such businesses will see this as a good opportunity to expose new people to their items or products, too. This is another good chance to distribute your business cards (with your online gallery’s address included, of course).




It suffices to say that even knowing all about the processes of basic pottery or ceramics doesn’t actually mean anything until you’re physically working on a piece from the bottom up (if you’re molding using a potter’s wheel) or the top down (if you’re glazing or painting ceramics). The good thing about using coils of clay or a simple ball is that you can always pound the shape back into nothing if you don’t like what you’re seeing. A single piece of clay can undergo dozens of iterations before you find something aesthetic; it’s a very necessary part of the art. You may find out the hard way that certain glazes won’t work over certain types of paint, or that your piece was too narrow in a certain area to withstand a particular heat setting or method used in the kiln. Keep experimenting—it is the heart and soul of every great artist.