Throwing pottery on the wheel The Seattle Artist League is opening a clay studio and will be offering IN PERSON pottery classes in South Seattle this summer. In addition to our drawing and painting classes both online and in person, we will be offering classes in wheel throwing and handbuilding clay forms. I am tremendously excited about this. When I went to art school, my intention was to major in ceramics. It was an unplanned turn of events that led me to graduate with a degree in painting, and I have missed having my hands in clay. Building a clay studio for the League could not possibly bring me more joy, especially after these past two years in the pandemic has left us all feeling so disconnected. The online art classes have been fun and they’ve kept me sane, but it will be even better to be in a studio, making things with clay. I’ll continue to post V. Notes about drawing, painting, and printmaking, but for a little while at least, I’m going to be enthusiastically posting about clay. Where to begin?? How about we start with some basic vocabulary. What is the difference between ceramics and pottery? The words ceramics and pottery are often used interchangeably, but although they do overlap, they are different things. Pottery is made out of clay. Pottery is a type of ceramic. Not all ceramic is pottery, and not all ceramic is clay. Marcel Duchamp Fountain, 1917, photograph by Alfred Stieglitz at 291 art gallery following the 1917 Society of Independent Artists exhibit, with entry tag visible. The backdrop is The Warriors by Marsden Hartley. Ceramics are non-metal materials that, once fired, are permanently changed. An example is clay: dried clay will disintegrate in water, but once it’s heated to 660°F to 1500°C (or higher), it can sit in water without disintegrating. Glazes, which are actually a type of glass, are also ceramic. Other ceramic materials include false teeth, and the stuff that spaceships are made of, because they’re able to withstand the high temperatures that are generated when they re-enter the earth’s atmosphere. It can get confusing. In casual language, pottery is often used to refer to a clay “pot” or vessel. But while a toilet is made from porcelain, and it holds water without dissolving (thank goodness) it isn’t pottery. It’s ceramic. A porcelain toilet titled “Fountain” for an exhibition as an art piece is ceramic, and still not a piece of pottery. If you made a chamber pot out of clay it would be pottery. It would be a pottery porta-potty (a PPP for your peepee). And it would be ceramic. So sometimes it takes a potter person to make a pottery potty. FUN FACT: The word ceramic is from the Greek keramikos, from keramos “potter’s earth; tile; earthen vessel, jar, wine-jar, pottery,” perhaps from a pre-Hellenic word. Source: etymonline Types of Clay for Pottery There are four main types of clay for making pottery: Earthenware, Stoneware, Porcelain, and Ball Clay. Part of what differentiates these types of clay from each other is how hot the clay can be fired before it slumps and melts. Temperatures in a kiln are made in pyrometric cones. Cones are little triangles made with carefully varied clays, so when each melts you know how hot the kiln is. For example, cone 04 is a low fire clay, and cone 10 is a high fire clay. Pyrometric cones Earthenware A low fire clay, earthenware was the first clay shaped and fired by humans, with forms dating back to the Paleolithic period. The Venus of Dolní Věstonice, a ceramic Venus figurine found with a few others at a Czech Paleolithic site, are the oldest known ceramic pieces in the world. The Venus is earthenware, pit fired, and 4.4 inches tall. The Venus of Dolni, a Paleolithic earthenware figurine found in the Czech Republic The first clay pottery that was used for carrying water, storing, cooking and serving food was made in China in the Neolithic period, at least 20,000 years ago. Early Neolithic Pottery Neolithic bowl, found in China, dated 3200-2700 BC Earthenware is fired at relatively low temperatures (cone 04, under 2,000 °F), so even though the clay no longer dissolves in water, it does absorb water. However, earthenware can be made vitreous by coating it with a ceramic glaze. The Met’s Blue Egyptian Hippopotamus is dated 1961–1878 B.C. and represents one of the earliest known uses of colored glaze on earthenware. “William” – the Blue Egyptian Hippopotamus at the Met The most common earthenware is terracotta, known for it’s red-orange color. Common bricks and planter pots are made with terracotta. terracotta planter pots The army of 6,000 soldiers that guard the tomb of the first emperor Qin in China are made from terracotta. Terra Cotta soldiers in China Stoneware Stoneware clay can be thrown on the wheel and glazed. Glazed stoneware makes beautiful durable dishes. Stoneware clay can be mid fired to cone 06, at which point it is still semi-vitreous, but generally it’s high fired to cone 10, with temperatures reaching up to 2,345°F making it strong, vitreous and very durable. Tough and practical, stoneware throughout history has most commonly been used for utilitarian objects, leaving porcelain, its fine high fire sister, for delicate tableware. Porcelain Song Dynasty porcelain bowl Jiangxi, China Porcelain is a fine clay that can be high fired to 2,600 °F. Porcelain clay is either white or light grey and can even be a bit translucent. When wet it is elastic, it can feel like a marshmallow on the wheel, but after high firing, it is tougher and stronger than any of the other clays, and can have a degree of beautiful translucence. Ball Clay You don’t hear as much about Ball Clay as you do about Earthenware, Stoneware, and Porcelain. Ball clay is highly elastic, tricky to throw with, and nearly impossible to sculpt. It is great for slip casting and is sometimes mixed with other types of clay to add plasticity. It dries to a white-ish color. Slip cast in a mold makes a pottery Slip cast in a mold makes a pottie More Soon So there you have it. The Seattle Artist League is launching a series of pottery classes, and you already know four basic types of clay. You’ve also indulged your mind on a spaceship, a toilet, and Paleolithic figurines. That’s enough for today. I’ll post more soon!