THE SCIENCE OF POTTERY
In pottery, refining your technical skills is just as important as tapping into your creative well. Good work emerges when a balance of technical skill and personal vision merge successfully. This blog is full of technical information that will help you understand how to shape clay into works of quality.
Working with clay is a scientific craft. Clay’s utilitarian qualities such as its durability and heat and water resistance have helped advance society. People have used clay to create every thing from religious artifacts, storage containers, and food serving utensils to modern plumbing, electrical transformers, parts for computer chips, spacecraft insulation materials, and replacement parts for the human body, some of the most inspir ing expressions of human culture and intellect.
Though clay is relatively easy to shape, it requires an understanding of chemical and physi cal changes to transform it through fire into a permanent rock-like hardness. Glazing and deco rating delve into some basic chemistry that, when combined with good design, can render beautiful works of art. Most ceramic students have limited exposure to the scientific part of the ceramic process in a classroom environment. Teaching studios typically have one or two people in charge of mixing glazes and loading and firing kilns, and therefore students rarely learn those skills. The potter’s cycle includes shaping raw clay, bisque firing, glazing, then glaze-firing. Students form pieces in class then place them on a shelf to dry in preparation for its first firing. In most cases, a supply of glaze is provided and the bisque-firing is done by staff members. The bisque-fired work is glazed or decorated, then fired again, whence it is trans formed into finished ceramic pieces. The student assesses the success or failure of the work and the cycle begins again.
THE VERSATILITY OF CLAY
Clay is one of the few natural materials that can become nearly any shape desired. You can carve it, stamp it, pinch it, coil it, join it, turn it on a potter’s wheel, and pour or press it into molds. You can easily combine small sections of clay to make larger pieces. The size of a finished piece is limited only by the clay’s stability and by the size of the kiln you have available. (Some people even build special kilns around work that is too large or unwieldy for a typical kiln.)
BUILDING YOUR FOUNDATION
After you read this book, I encourage you to take workshops and classes with different instructors, as well as to read other books and magazines on ceramics. These experiences will build upon the information that you will gain from this text and will show you alternative ways of working. All clay artists develop techniques that are honed for their own designs and choice of clays. You will see that as your clay skills build, you, too, will develop unique methods and your own style of working with clay.
When I teach, students often ask me if they are “doing it right.” My response is, “If it works, it’s probably right.” There will always be better ways to render a technique, but you will find them by watching others work and through personal experience. Use this book as a guide and learn to trust the process and your instincts. Know that a fine craftsman is someone who has strong basic skills. The true craftsman is always honing the basics so that his or her use of tools and materials becomes second nature. The stronger the skills and knowledge base, the more focused one can be on the creative details of design and execution. My hope is that this handy online blog will be accessible to you anywhere, not on a pristine shelf in the living room, and that it will be used as a primer and reference guide whenever you need it. The goal is for you to learn the basic skills to further your knowledge of the ceramic process in an accessible, non-intimidating way. Some sections of this book will seem technical. Know that you do not need to memorize the information, but you should know where to find it when you need it. Information is power! It will give you confidence to move forward with your work. The informed artist can make better decisions about the process to strengthen aesthetic, expression, and functionality. Read on and enjoy!