Ceramic Art

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Ceramic art is the creation of ceramic pieces using a multitude of techniques and processes. It involves clay which is a versatile medium that can be worked to simulate just about any other material, any desired colour or effect- smooth, dry , shiny or textured. [[Image:|thumb]]

Ceramic art has been around since millenniums and evidences have been found across the world in many old civilizations including Chinese, Greek, Roman, Mayan, Mexican Indian and Egyptian.



There are a number of ways in which one can get ideas for the ceramic work. Looking around at different objects, images and forms of design heightens artistic judgments. Many ceramic artists react in a sensory way to the world around them, or even to strongly held beliefs and ideas. It is all about observing patterns and structures, which surrounds us in our daily lives and interpreting of patterns in symmetrical or asymmetrical, repeated or irregular ways.

There are abstract interpretation which sets an idea or technique free from a familiar visual pattern of recognition. The area of inspiration can also respond to a particular emotion associated with an individual memory or experience.

Symbolism is another powerful tool within creative work. Many motifs and objects have strong connotations of emotions, of character and of status. But at the end, it is all about using your perceptions to play with clay.

Fundamental Ingredient

The main material for ceramic art is Clay. It is an abundant natural material, which is normally formed around large granite outcrops but is also found all around in gardens, roadsides, river banks etc. Clay contains alumina and silica, as well as small quantities of other minerals. Different proportions of the main and subsidiary minerals give each clay its individual qualities.

There are two categories of clay – primary and secondary. Primary clays, are found where they originally formed and include china clay or kaolin, a very pure clay used to give strength and whiteness to porcelain. Another is bentonite, which can be added to other clays to improve its plasticity. Secondary clays are those that were deposited in sedimentary layers during formation like ball clays, and red clays that contain iron oxide, which acts as a flux that lowers the clay’s firing temperature. This clay is used to make earthenware, bricks etc

Altering and choosing clay

Materials can be added to a clay body to change and strengthen it. Altering a clay body in this way reduces the shrinkage rate and lessens the degree of stress during drying and firing. Each clay has its own distinct make up, resulting in a different handling quality, colour, temperature range and plasticity or workability. A ceramic clay supplier specifies most times these qualities. There are many things that one should find out about a new clay which includes-

  • Testing its plasticity.
  • Checking if the clay is suited to oxidized or reduced firing
  • Testing and seeing if it is appropriate for your working methods.
  • Testing the clay for its texture, fired colour and the price

There are different kinds of clay available-

  • Throwing clay- It is dense, plastic and responsive
  • Hand building and modeling clays- These tend to be open clays to enable limited shrinkage and safe drying and firing, combined with adequate plasticity.
  • Fibrous or paper clay- This is any clay to which fibres have been introduced
  • Casting clay- These clays are not very plastic and must break into fine particles to create casting slips

Clay can be further subdivided into five categories based on temperature range groups:

Earthenware has a maturing range of 1000-1800 C

Stoneware has a maturing range of 1200-1300 C

Porcelain has a maturing range of 1240-1350C

Bone China has a maturing range of 1240-1250C

Coloured clay has a maturing range of 1040-1220

Various techniques

Whether one is using hand building techniques or wheel based technique, one needs a to ensure an even consistency through out the clay’s mass This involves physically coaxing the clay into a homogenous state by wedging and kneading the clay. A clay mass with an uneven consistency that has not been prepared well will be almost impossible to throw on the wheel or to roll into an even slab or coil.

There are many process involved in ceramic art but the basis of everything is the actual physical manipulation of clay. Some of the many methods are –

Pinching-- The technique of pinching is one of the simplest way of manipulating clay. At the start pinched clay has a flaccid quality with a surface similar to overly ripe, dimpled fruit but it can be transformed into a taut or precise form, full of vigour and life.

Coiling -- This fast, practical and versatile method can be used to construct complicated or simple forms. It permits a freedom to create large, imaginative, unrestricted forms that are built up in a series of stages and can be used in conjunction with other techniques as well. The important point in this is to have a clear idea of the finished shape before one starts to coil so that the size and shape of the base or beginning fits the scale and direction of the planned piece.

Slab building -- There are two areas of slab building: leather hard and soft slabbing though there will be times when an in between quality will be required in the clay. Leather hard slabs are required for work that has straight edges and planes and are worked with a precision and order similar to cutting and joining cardboard or wood. Soft slabbing is a more spontaneous and immediate method of working with slabs which is suited to a more fluid, curved or folded forms.

Clay relief -- Small, soft pieces of clay can be built up in stages onto firmed and previous applications of clay until the required effect and design is achieved.

Decorating into clay --Clay is a truly malleable material and so many textures can be traced over it as well. There are many techniques to create raised and applied texture or to decorate into clay which includes indenting, inlaying, sprigging, fluting and faceting, piercing, Burnishing and marbling.

Throwing -- The most famous of ceramic art technique, throwing is done on a wheel which could be manually operated or electric. One needs a number of equipment to achieve a thrown pot from the wheel which includes trimming tools, throwing tools, bats etc.

Glaze and Decoration

Glaze and decoration present a broad, exciting area of continuous learning and experimentation. The only restrictions are technical, such as when to apply glaze or decoration and at what strength. Glaze can also work as a separate stage or without other applied decoration. There is no exact formula for applying glaze or decoration- like all designs, it is a personal choice of what methods and recipes are used to present an idea.

Kiln firing

Once the forming and decorating work is complete, the next stage is the firing process. The heat within a kiln alters the nature of clay and glaze materials both chemically and physically causing them to become hard and permanent. There are many different methods and techniques associated with the firing stage. It is another stage which evolves with experimentation and is prone to constant improvement and tweaking. Kilns can be electric, gas or wood fired.

Health and Safety

Many of the materials used in ceramics, particularly those for glazing, are toxic and should be handled with great care. Wearing and using the right equipment will protect you from any hazardous substances. Take precautions, especially when preparing dry materials to prevent the inhalation of dust particles.

Take particular care with the following materials-

Highly Toxic- Antimony and Barium

Use with extreme care-

  • Lithium oxide sources- spodumene and lepidolite
  • Boron Sources such as Borax and Boric acid
  • Silica Sources such as quartz, flint, frits, feldspars, clays
  • All the colouring oxides, stains and underglazes
  • Lead which is a hazardous substance. Many ceramic artists use lead in their glazes while some prefer to avoid it. Remember that most of the tableware must be lead free.

In addition, all glaze wash water containing lead must be collected and treated as toxic waste.

Safety tips

  • Never inhale or ingest powders
  • Wear a safety mask and protective gloves when preparing glazes. This prevents toxins being absorbed through the skin.
  • Keep the working area clean and free from glaze
  • Store materials in carefully labeled, fireproof lidded containers and always check the instructions on raw materials carefully
  • Never store containers near the kilns
  • Keep all ceramic materials away from children and pets.
  • Do not eat in your work area.


  • Ceramics Art
  • Pottery
  • Pottery making
  • A Pottery Studio

See Also