Pottery is NOT for someone who wants instant gratification.
The process has many steps, and there are risks at each and every stage.
Still, when it works, it’s pure joy!
The stages that porcelain / stoneware pieces go through are listed below.
- Ordered/Planned … it’s ‘on the list’
Functional work or decorative, simple or complex, it all starts with an idea, a plan, a vision … sometimes, a compulsion. Design and execution follow, and when God smiles, we succeed!
Sometimes people ask “who thinks these things up?” We do!
- Thrown/built … the basic form has been made
This requires properly prepared, ‘wedged’ clay, a skill of its own.
There are then two primary ways to make a piece of pottery:
a) It is ‘thrown‘ or ‘turned’ on a pottery wheel; or,
b) It is ‘hand-built,’ from slabs and/or sections of extruded clay.
Each of these techniques require patience, practice & skill; in addition, a piece might be ‘thrown and altered;’ or, it might require assembly of multiple constructed components.
- For example, a cup is a thrown cylinder, usually with a hand-pulled/added handle.
- Teapots are complex: a body and lid are thrown, the spout may be thrown or hand-built; the lid knob and handle must also be made, and then all of the pieces assembled seamlessly.
- Embellished … Some decorative elements may be added while a piece is being thrown, or trimmed; however, many times, the base trimmed piece is just a starting point for the artist, who carves, shapes, or otherwise embellishes the ‘blank form’ to achieve their vision for the work.
This may include, any/all of the following techniques — to list a few:
a) Surface Decorating (stamps, underglazes, texturing)
b) Incising (lightly carved patterns, very shallow work)
c) Carving (deeply carved, textural work)
d) Sprigging (addition of forms/sections to the work)
e) Sculpting (forming, which may include carving &/or sprigging)
f) Slip trailing (use of liquid clay/porcelain to add designs, texture)
g) Piercing (cutting through the piece, creating openings)
h) Inlay (a pattern is carved, filled with color clay, then trimmed)
The artist has to wait until the piece is ‘leather-hard’ to do this work, and then the work itself may take several days, or even weeks!
A piece may be ‘held’ in a plastic bag or airtight container for several weeks if necessary.
- Drying … critical and beyond our control. The piece must be absolutely bone dry before it is fired the first time! Why? Because any moisture in the piece will turn to steam during the firing, and cause the place to Explode (!) in the Kiln.
Umm … Let’s just say that is NOT a good thing!
- Bisque fired … okay, it’s survived the first round in the kiln, and is now ready for glazing. The bisque firing itself may take 8-12 hours, with 18-24 hours for the kiln to cool.
Why do this firing? It burns impurities out of the clay, and ‘sinters’ it … the heat causes the clay particles to align in a matrix, in preparation for the next firing. It also adds strength, which lowers the risk of handling it during the glazing process.
- Glaze fired and FINISHED! (The firing itself may take another 8-12 hours, with another 18-24 hours for the kiln to cool.)
During this stage, the clay is typically fired to a high enough temperature to ‘vitrify’ the clay …. ‘vitrify’ means ‘stonelike,’ and it means the clay particles have been essentially melted together, creating a strong, durable item.
- RE-Fire… occasionally, the artist just isn’t happy with the result, and may want to add a glaze or over-glaze, and re-glaze fire the piece one more time.NOTE: sometimes, in spite of our best efforts and great care, things can — and d0 – go wrong at some step in the process. When that happens, our only choice is a ‘do-over’ … and the process begins again.