Introduction to Pottery

Posted by on Jun 3, 2014 in Featured, Knowledge | Comments Off on Introduction to Pottery

Introduction to Pottery

Pottery is the ceramic art of making pottery goods.  There are three major types of pottery: earthenware, stoneware and porcelain.  The term pottery is also the name given to the place where pottery goods are made and the actual art and craft of the potter.

Pottery is made by shaping/molding a body of clay into a preferred shape and then heating this shape in high temperatures until all the water is removed and the clay becomes hardened and the shape set.


Pottery is one of the world’s oldest known handicrafts performed by humans. Back as far as 10,000 years ago in the Neolithic period it is believed to have begun.  In those days especially in the Middle East and Africa the lifestyle of the nomadic hunters was transitioning into farmers who were planting crops. Baskets were well used in these times but the one problem that they had was the inability to hold water. This is why pottery was born.

They needed something new to fill this void, but it had to be light to carry. Since clay was in great supply and was easily shapeable it was the chosen material and through trial and error the tribes began to understand what was possible with this new form of this material. Especially what happens to it when it dried.  It was the Egyptians who invented the kiln to fire the pots to dry them out at a faster pace.

It was the Greeks who made it an art form and the Chinese who created porcelain. In medieval times they discovered that mixing sand with clay made it strong enough hold over fire. So the art of pottery has evolved to what we love. It is an ancient art form that is used in every day life.


There are many materials that are referred to as clay. What sets this apart from each other are the properties that each type of clay possesses. These properties include plasticity, malleability of the body, what extent they will absorb water after firing and the amount of shrinking the particular material will have when being fired. Here are a few clay types that are generally used for pottery:

  • Kaolin, this was first used in China and is sometimes referred to as China Clay.
  • Ball clay, this clay is plastic, fine-grained clay that also may contain organic matter. Small Amounts of Ball clay can be added to porcelain to increase plasticity.
  • Fire Clay. This is also plastic clay, which is highly heat resistant. This clay can be added to other clays to increase their firing temperature.
  • Stoneware Clay. This is obviously for creating stoneware.

Shaping Pottery

There are a number of ways to shape pottery. Lets take a look at a few ways that are used today.

The earliest way that potters used to shape their work was by hand building.  Coils of clay are constructed by hand, this is done by combining flat slabs of clay or pinching solid balls of clay or using a combination of both. Parts of hand built clay pieces are joined together by the aid of a slip. A slip is the suspension of clay body and water. Potters find that hand building is best to create one off pieces of work.

One of the well-known ways of making pottery is by The Potter’s Wheel.  The process used here is called throwing. You place a ball of clay in the center of turntable, known as the wheel-head;the potter rotates this turntable by using a stick using their own foot power or now a days an electric motor. Through this process, the wheel rotates while the soft clay is pressed, squeezed and molded gently upwards and outwards into a hollow shape. There are five steps when creating apiece using the Pottery wheel:

  1. Centering, Pressing the ball of clay into perfect rotational symmetry,
  2. Opening, making the ball of clay hollow,
  3. Flooring, making flat or rounded bottom inside the pot,
  4. Throwing/Pulling. Drawing up the walls of the pot and creating an even thickness,
  5. Trimming/Turning. Removing excess clay.

A lot of skill and expertise is needed to successfully use the Potters Wheel, and due to its limitations your creativeness is restricted.  Other methods you can use are:

Granulate Pressing is shaping pottery by pressing clay in a semi-dry and granulated condition into a mould. This method is widely used in making ceramic tiles and plates.

Injection molding is a process that was adapted for the tableware industry and this method is used for the forming of thermoplastic and metal components. This method is great for mass production of complex pieces but is not as widely used as other shaping methods.

Jiggering and Jolleying are methods that are carried out on a Potter’s Wheel. Jiggering is when a shaped tool is brought into contact with plastic clay; this tool is set on a rotating plaster mould on the potter’s wheel. Jiggering is used for the creation of flat wares. Jollering is the named used for the same method but is used to make hollow objects such as cups. These methods are often automated and can be performed by semi- skilled workers.

Using a Roller Head Machine is another way to mass-produce pieces using semi skilled workers. This method uses a rotating mould to create pieces using a rotating shape.

With pottery there are many ways of decoration. You can use glazes, slips and impress surfaces. You can be as creative as you like with all these methods.

Pottery is a wonderful art form that is still practiced widely around the world and used in our everyday life. Have fun being creative and exploring the world of pottery.