Down to Earth

Clay and humanity have had a long history together. Vaidehi Jha outlines this crash course in the ancient art showing you its evolution and myriad facets.

In the past few years, pottery has crept out of the souvenir stores and walked right back into fashion. One of humanity’s oldest cultivated craft, the pottery industry is thriving again with a bright future. As the demand rises for hand-made goods over mass-produced items and people seek out DIY techniques to create their own handicrafts, pottery is seeing a resurgence. We can all agree that living in the 21st century can be exhausting – the work, the commute, the endless screen time. All we do is consume, not create, so redirecting our energy to put our hands to use, tainted with mud and sweat, and the satisfaction of molding something enduring and beautiful might be just what the doctor ordered.

The idea of creating something permanent with your own hands is an undeniably romantic and therapeutic one. For the rustic beauty it promises, the hobby is a relatively easy one to acquire with the right tools, techniques, and inspiration. Making pottery for beginners can be scary, but what isn’t scary when you’re just starting out? The hesitation should never prevent you from learning how to create exquisite, hand-thrown, or hand-built pottery. Let’s get all your questions answered here.

THE TYPES OF POTTERY

Beginner’s luck – Earthenware Pottery
The earthenware technique can be considered a good start for those wanting to dip their toes in pottery. The material needed is coarsely grained clay, dug from the ground and available in plentiful. It’s easy to work with and fires to hardness at the lowest temperature of all the clays used for making pottery. However, this material, plus the low hardening temperature, does make it prone to chipping and breakage. Gorgeous earthen pots or bowls meant to be ornamental and not meant for robust everyday use can be created using this technique. Popular examples include terracotta products.

A good way to maintain durability is glazing or painting your wares. If not glazed, it will absorb water and will not allow light to pass through it. Due to its natural water-absorbing qualities, the fired object is covered with finely ground glass powder suspended in water and fired a second time. The heat causes the particles covering the surface to fuse into a protective, glasslike layer, known as the clay body, and makes the piece waterproof.

Halfway there – Stoneware Pottery

The Stoneware technique works brilliantly to build stronger pottery. The higher firing temperature, thick build, and mix of clay and vitreous ceramic materials all help to make this material durable. The temperature is high enough to partially vitrify the materials and make the ware impervious to liquids even when unglazed. Given the durability, stoneware finds a lot of use in making dinner plates and cups. These pieces will often sport a colorful matte or glossy finish.

How do you spot a stoneware utensil? If you happen by a cozy diner or casual eatery and spot dinnerware with a rustic, earthy appearance that gives a wonderful farm-to-table allure without being too delicate, that’s a stoneware creation.

Experts only – Porcelain Pottery

The word porcelain evokes images of translucent glass or smooth marble-like finish with a sharp, distinct sound when clicked against. In actuality, these are wares made of fine-particle clay – typically comprised of feldspar, kaolin, china stone, and quartz — that is fired at a higher temperature. The result is an amalgam of strength with aesthetic, being both durable yet finely crafted, with thinner, more delicate artistry.

While porcelain is well known for a dreamy white finish, it doesn’t have to be so. Colorful glazed porcelains can add a fun touch to your dining experience and be an exquisite addition to your tableware collection.

Porcelain Pottery requires intensive practice and professional supervision, but the good news is there are plenty of classes that will walk you through the dos and don’ts of temperature-based glazing.

You’ve grasped the definitions of the different kinds of pottery, and you’re at the starting line. But how do you proceed? We’ve got you covered!

SPIN AND SHAPE WITH SKILL – MAIN TECHNIQUES OF POTTERY

The Pinch pot Technique
The Pinch pot Technique is a simple technique for hand-made pottery, popular in Egypt from 3500-3400 B.C. To implement it, smooth a piece of clay into a ball in your hands and press in the center creating a dent while simultaneously pressing the surrounding material into a flattened wall shape.

The Coiling Technique
In the Coiling Technique, the potter flattens a piece of clay, which serves as the base. Then, use your fingers to roll out the clay into long, thick strips. Layer them by placing one coil on top of another, then join them securely by scoring and slipping them together.

The Wheel-thrown Technique
The Wheel-thrown Technique requires special knowledge about how to work the wheel and handle the clay while it’s spinning, along with other things. In this technique, the Pottery wheels are used to mold clay into diverse shapes; however, it takes time to become skilled with wheel-throwing, but it’s an efficient method once mastered.

That’s all the theory you need to get tremendously excited to start creating. But hold on. What are the essential pieces of equipment needed for Pottery?

A Kiln
The main piece of equipment you’ll need to get your pottery hobby off the ground is a kiln – a simple device for firing and baking glazes onto the pottery. A kiln is quite safe to use at home, but do exercise caution since you are playing with fire, literally. Kilns can be constructed in backyards in a pit or using bricks. Alternatively, you can get your wares baked at an artist’s kiln after creating your pottery.

A Pottery Wheel

If you’re interested in making more advanced ceramic pieces, you’ll need a potter’s wheel. A small electric-powered wheel is a great preference for a beginner as it doesn’t require the user to develop the coordination needed to kick the wheel while forming a shape. It neither takes up too much space nor is it tremendously expensive, although the criteria for picking the right wheel depends on a person’s production scale and affordability.

Also recommended is a pottery modeling stand, an elevated platform to rest your pieces on, although it is not essential at the beginner’s level.

FREE YOUR MIND, GROUND YOUR SOUL

Pottery is one of those rare activities where your mind is calm while your hands are engrossed in creation and the act of shaping the mud and earth with your fingers grounds you entirely in the moment. As such, this hobby has incredible benefits at the mental, physical and spiritual levels. Let’s explore:

Provides a creative outlet
Pottery is an essential hobby for self-expression. Learning new techniques with the satisfactory feeling of completion at the end can contribute to a lifetime commitment to a productive hobby that creates tangible results, your skill only improving with time.

Reduces stress
Severe concentration is required while you’re making pottery, thus, your racing thoughts are quietened for the moment. The sense of touch is of high importance as it delivers a sense of belonging.

Strengthens the hands, wrists, and arms
Despite being gentle, the movement of making pottery strengthens the hands, wrists, and arms. This can benefit those prone to arthritis in the hands as it promotes joint movement and dexterity.

Pottery can’t help but feel miraculous: a lump of mud set spinning on a wheel, transformed by motion and friction into something useful. As we shape pots, vases, and little figurines, we all become creators in our own right, giving rise to objects that are as ornamental as they are useful. All you need is the motivation to keep practicing, experimenting, and creating to craft masterpieces at the potter’s wheel. We’ve set the clay spinning on the wheel. Are you ready to sink your hands into it?

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