“It is in the most difficult moments that I find my peace and happiness in ceramics.”
Mary Caroline Richards
Pottery is an ancient art form that has fascinated mankind for thousands of years. From creating utilitarian objects to decorative artwork, it offers a wide range of creative opportunities. In this article, we will explore some of the ceramic working techniques that enable artists to shape clay into wonderful creations.
One of the most classic techniques for working with ceramics is the use of the potter’s wheel. The potter’s wheel, also known as potter’s wheel or simply potter’s wheel, is a machine used by potters to shape clay or ceramic objects precisely and evenly. It works similarly to a metal or wood lathe, but is designed specifically for machining ceramic materials. But let’s see how it works. It has a solid base on which the lathe itself is mounted. The base is stable to avoid unwanted vibration during processing. The lathe is the central component and rotates on a horizontal axis. On top of the lathe, there is a plate or stand on which the clay or pottery to be shaped is placed. The rotary motion of the lathe can be powered by an electric motor or by a foot pedal operated manually by the potter. With the foot pedal, the potter can control the rotation speed of the lathe according to the needs of the work. The potter takes a piece of clay or pottery, molds it into a rough shape and places it on the potter’s wheel plate. The clay or pottery must be precisely centered on the plate so that it rotates evenly. Once the clay or pottery is centered, the potter uses hands and or modeling tools such as scrapers or scissors to begin shaping the object. The lathe’s continuous rotation allows the potter to work over the entire surface evenly. During processing, the potter may apply additional details and finishing touches to the object, such as carvings, grooves or bevels. The potter’s wheel is an essential tool for producing high-quality ceramics, enabling potters to create precise and uniform shapes. Speed control and machining precision are critical to achieving desired results. Among the designers of Creativity Objects, Pantou Ceramics use the potter’s wheel not only to make their magnificent vases but also to shape their plates.
Hand modeling, on the other hand, is one of the oldest and most personal techniques for working with clay. The artists use their hands, along with tools such as trowels and rasps, to shape the clay. This technique offers greater creative freedom, allowing for the creation of unique and detailed works of art. Processing begins with the acquisition of a ball of clay. The clay must be properly prepared; it can be previously heated or added with other substances to make it more malleable. Here again it is important to center the clay to achieve a uniform shape. This means creating a solid and uniform base on which to work. There are several main techniques used in handmade pottery:
Slab work: The clay is flattened with a rolling pin or by hand to create thin sheets. These sheets are then cut and assembled to construct objects such as plates, cups or bowls. Massimo Voghera and Monica Grycko are two artists who use this working technique to create their works.
Columbine work: This technique involves creating objects by rolling cylinders of clay and overlapping or shaping them together to create the desired shape. This is a commonly used technique for vessel construction. Enrica Campi uses columbine machining to make her women, but Studio Elica of Pastore & Bovina are also expert connoisseurs of this technique.
Pinch working: The potter uses his fingers to pinch the clay and slowly mold it into a desired shape. This technique is often used to create objects with thick walls and organic shapes. Prominent among the designers of Creativity Objects is Nericata, who creates beautiful works with her hands and pinch work.
Coil working: Here, the potter creates long, thin strips of clay called “coils” and wraps them into concentric circles or other shapes to construct objects.
The roll technique in pottery making refers to the use of a cylinder of clay, known as a roll, to create specific shapes or details in a ceramic object. This technique is especially useful for constructing objects with thick walls, curved shapes or for adding decorative elements to ceramic objects. The roll is an essential tool for creating thin slabs of uniform clay. These sheets can be used to wrap objects or create layered sculptures. It is a versatile technique that allows you to experiment with shape and texture. To apply this technique, it is necessary to take a piece of clay and shape it into an even, long cylinder. The size and length of the roll depends on the intended use and the shape you want to achieve. This can be done using hands or a rolling pin, depending on the size of the roll needed. The roll is then used in different ways. If you are building an object with thick walls, such as a vase, you can use the roll to flatten the clay and then wrap it around a basic shape, such as a cylinder or sphere, to build the walls of the object. You can overlap and join the rolls to create the desired shape. But the roll can also be used to create decorative details or ornamental edges on a ceramic object by pressing the roll onto the surface of the object to create decorative grooves or furrows. If you are making a cup or other object with a handle, you can use the roll to create a long cylinder that will serve as a base for the handle. Once the roll is applied to the ceramic object, it is important to ensure that it is firmly joined to the existing clay. The roll technique is a versatile addition to hand pottery making, allowing the potter to create complex and detailed shapes with relative ease. With practice and skill, a wide range of ceramic objects can be made using this technique.
Often some designers in order to cope with massive production of their works have begun to make their pieces by casting in molds. One of the techniques used in ceramic work to create objects in a reproducible way and with precise details. This technique involves pouring liquid clay into a mold, allowing objects with complex and detailed shapes to be created. To begin with, it is necessary to prepare plaster molds or other suitable material. Molds can be purchased or handcrafted, a time-consuming process that requires a great deal of craftsmanship. The clay used for casting must be transformed into a liquid or semi-liquid state. This can be done by adding water to dry clay and mixing until the right consistency is achieved. The liquid clay should be sieved to remove any lumps or impurities. One must then pour the liquid clay into the mold, an operation that requires great care to avoid air bubbles or imperfections in the form. After a certain period of time, depending on the density of the clay and the desired thickness of the object, the excess liquid clay in the mold is poured away. This creates a solid, uniform wall inside the mold while the more liquid clay drains out. The clay inside the mold is allowed to harden for a specific period. The duration depends on the size and density of the object and the ambient temperature. During this period, the clay compacts and begins to dry out. Once the clay is hard enough to hold its shape, the object can be carefully removed from the mold. This may require special care to avoid damage to the object. After removal from the mold, the object should be allowed to dry completely. This process can take several days or weeks, depending on the size and thickness of the object. Pastore & Bovina’s Elica Studio workshop, the Amaaro and Mirta Morigi make great use of this technique, creating magnificent molds of their works.
Whichever technique is chosen, once the object is completed, it is always important to let it dry slowly to avoid cracks or deformation during the drying process. This stage can take several days or even weeks, depending on the size and thickness of the object.
In addition to the basic processing techniques, there are also numerous decorative techniques. These include engraving, relief, painting on ceramics, applying relief decorations, and more. Artists can experiment with these techniques to add detail and personality to their pieces.
Here are some of the most common decorative techniques in ceramics:
Glazing is the process of applying a colored glaze to ceramics before firing. This step is critical to creating lively and vibrant pieces. Glazes can range from opaque to transparent and can be used to create unique color and finish effects. Ceramic glazing is an important step in the process of creating ceramic objects. It consists of applying a glaze, a thin glass or vitreous finish, to the surface of the ceramic object to make it more aesthetically attractive, waterproof, and durable.
Let’s see together how the ceramic glazing process works.
Before beginning glazing, it is necessary to prepare the glaze itself. Glaze is a mixture of ceramic powders and substances that, when melted at high temperatures, becomes glassy and adheres to the surface of clay. Glaze can be purchased pre-mixed or prepared by hand by mixing glaze powders with water to a suitable consistency. Before applying glaze, it is important that the ceramic object is clean and free of dust, dirt or clay residue. Any impurities on the surface can affect the quality of the glaze. The glaze can be applied in different ways:
Dipping: The ceramic object is fully immersed in the molten glaze. This method provides uniform coverage but requires adequate space and careful management. We remind you in this regard of the blog article we wrote about Claudia and Martino of the Amaaro.
Brushing: The glaze is applied with a brush directly on the surface of the object. This method offers more control over glaze distribution, allowing you to create specific details or decorative effects. Impossible not to mention Carlo Pastore whose hand is naturally linked to his brush.
Spraying: Enamel is sprayed onto the surface of the object using a spray gun or spray tool. This method can provide even and thin coverage, Mirta Morigi is an expert in it.
Pouring: Glaze is poured onto the surface of the object. In this case the excess glaze can be poured away. This method is suitable for flat objects or for creating specific effects.
After the glaze is applied, the object should be allowed to dry completely. This is a critical step to avoid cracks or deformation during subsequent baking.
The engobes – you know the ones made by Elica Studio? – are colored clays that are applied to the surface of raw or baked clay. They can be used to create flat decorations or subtle reliefs on the surface of the object. Engobes can be used singly or layered to achieve complex color effects.
The reserve technique involves applying a fire-resistant substance to the surface of the clay before glazing. This substance creates a barrier that prevents enamel from adhering to the treated areas. Once glazed and fired, the potter can remove the fire-resistant substance to reveal the color of the underlying clay.
With relief decoration, the potter creates reliefs on the surface of the object using tools or molds. These reliefs may represent ornamental motifs, text or images. Once reliefs are created, they can be highlighted using glazes or engobes. Then there are ceramic decals images or designs printed on a special substrate that can be transferred to ceramics. This technique makes it possible to create very precise and complex details on the ceramic object. The decals are applied to the ceramic after firing and then covered with clear glaze before a second firing to fix them. Potters can use ceramic brushes and pigments to paint directly on the surface of the clay before firing. This technique offers a high degree of control over the design and details. One artist who usually decorates his works with brushstrokes is Carlo Pastore of Pastore & Bovina. Engraving involves making incisions or grooves in the surface of raw or fired clay. These grooves can be filled with colored glazes or engobes to create decorative details. Graffito is a technique in which a tool is used to etch or scratch the surface of glaze or engobe while it is still wet, revealing the clay beneath.
We have told you about all these processing techniques but we would like to tell you that many times, potters combine different decorative techniques to achieve complex and unique effects on their ceramic objects. The choice of decorative techniques depends on the artistic vision of the ceramist and the desired result. Ceramics offers many opportunities to experiment and create unique and functional works of art.
Firing is the last crucial step in ceramic processing. Clay objects are placed in a kiln at high temperatures. This process hardens the clay and melts the glaze, turning the piece into hard, durable ceramic. The firing temperature and time vary depending on the type of clay and glaze used.
Pottery firing, also known as biscuit firing or firing, is a critical step in the ceramic manufacturing process. During firing, the clay is transformed into hard, durable ceramic, and the glaze applied to the surface melts to create a glassy finish. After cooking, it is important to avoid abrupt temperature changes. Controlled cooling is essential to avoid cracks or fractures in the ceramic object. Some ceramic ovens have preset programs for gradual cooling, while in other cases it may be necessary to turn off the oven gradually or open the door slightly to allow slower cooling.
We have just finished a long journey through the exploration of the many techniques of working with ceramics, an ancient craft that still offers great scope for invention and innovation.
Janet Mansfield said, “Pottery is one of humanity’s oldest crafts, one of the oldest forms of artistic expression. Despite its longevity, it continues to be a vibrant and evolving discipline, a fusion of tradition and innovation.” And that is exactly what we think when we look at the selection of Creativity Objects, multiple ceramic artifacts made by the hands of chosen designers, designed by their minds; unique pieces that can tell a story, characterize an environment and make it unique.