Process of a Piece of Pottery

Many have asked about the process of making a Mug or piece of Art.  I thought I’d  post about the process of a Mug since I’ve been making many lately, and I’d say that the process is similar for other pieces.

 

  1. It all starts with Cutting and Wedging Clay:  When I make multiples I cut the blocks into equal parts.  Once the block is cut into squares, I take each square and wedge them into a round shape for throwing.
  2. Throwing shapes on the wheel.  This is where the lump of clay turns into a form.  I started making a mug on the wheel every 11 minutes.  I think I’m down to about 7 minutes a mug.  I’m getting there!
  3. Drying top and Bottom to Leather Hard.  After throwing an object on the wheel I set them aside to dry slowly until they are Leather Hard, meaning they are firm but still cold to the touch.  The clay is still alterable at this point but not too flexible.  Because I do most of my work in a Wisconsin basement, especially in the winter time this takes a few days.  I leave them upright for about a day or two till they can hold their form, then I turn them upside down so the bottoms can dry equally as well.
  4. Trimming on the Wheel.  Once the clay is firm I can turn them upside down onto the wheel and trim the bottoms.  Trimming removes the rough edges from taking the mugs off the wheel.  I also add a foot to the piece, meaning I also trim away clay from the center of the pot.  Trimming is also away to create form in the piece.
  5. Stamping or Texturing.  After Trimming is when I can carve or press letters and images into the clay.
  6. Drying to Bone Dry.  When I’m done altering the clay it must dry slowly until it is no longer cool to the touch.  It will turn a lighter color.  Slow drying here is critical because if it dries too fast or unevenly it will crack.  Careful not to use too much water or the clay will disintegrate. Drying time takes another few days, although I have use of a fan and space heater to help speed up the process.
  7. Final Smoothing and Drying.  When my pieces are dry or close to dry I take a damp sponge and carefully smooth out any uneven spots or little specks of clay that have landed on the piece.  It’s really a time to double check that it looks nice before going into the kiln.  Once its fired it is a new creation, no longer able to be bent, smoothed or changed – unless you want to use sandpaper or files.
  8. First Bisque fire to Cone 05.  Cone 5 is the temperature I use to bisque fire my wares.  This equates to about 1888 degrees Fahrenheit.  It takes about 24 hours to fire and cool at this temperature.  I always fire bisque slowly to reduce the chances of clay blowing up from being not dry enough.
  9. Rinsing Pottery.  When the Bisque ware comes out of the kiln it is important to rinse.  Rinsing frees the pottery from debris from the kiln and also protects the pottery from soaking up oils from our hands.  I try not to handle pottery too much between Bisque and Glazing.
  10. Glazing . Generally I coat each piece in three coats, alternating which direction I’m glazing and also letting the coats dry in between.  When doing functional ware like mugs I pour the glaze in and out of the inside, only one coat.
  11. Loading Kiln for 2nd Firing.  Glaze Fire to Cone 5.  Cone 5 is about 2167 degrees Fahrenheit.  This second firing I can do quicker, usually takes about seven and a half hours to fire to Cone 5, another 12 to cool down.
  12. Unloading Final Product.  The fun part!

 

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