Handmade pottery takes many forms. Hand building, sculpting or throwing handmade pottery can be an absorbing hobby and great way to express yourself. For many thousands of years, mankind has taken one of nature's basic elements, dirt, and turned into practical items and beautiful works of art. Handmade pottery at its roots is an invention of necessity. Before metals were readily available, a material was needed to carry, store and cook food. Something that could be heated repeatedly without burning or damaging itself or its contents. A little clay, some water, ingenuity and lots of heat is all that’s needed to make a sturdy pot for many different uses.Since there are many different types of handmade pottery we need to limit our discussion to the commonly practiced. Hand building or free forming clay is the oldest and easiest way to mold clay into useful shapes. With a little water to lubricate your hands , from basically mud an amazingly beautiful piece can be formed with a practiced hand.
Sculpting is another form of handmade pottery that is similar to hand building but requires the use of tools and jigs to obtain a more precise form. Sculpting clay, similar to sculpting stone, requires a steady hand and an artistic flair to create incredible forms.
Throwing is another popular way of creating handmade pottery but requires a pottery wheel and some additional forming tools. Throwing achieves a more symmetrical shape and can be combined with both hand building and sculpting to create truly masterful handmade pottery. Here is a reasonable idea to explore the world of throwing a pot on a wheel.If you want to learn the art of pottery, let's explore some fundamentals. Clay is as varied as the art forms that are made from it. There are self hardening clays that don’t require a kiln for curing. Experimenting with self hardening clay is an inexpensive way to create handmade pottery. Add a few forming tools now you can sculpt. Self hardening clays are not as durable as kiln fired clays and should only be used for artistic creations.
The most common clays used to make handmade pottery are earthenware and stoneware. Porcelain is most often associated with slip casting. It takes a skilled artisan to use Porcelain on a the wheel, so we won’t cover it for the budding artist. Earthenware is the oldest type of clay used for handmade pottery and requires a lower firing temperature than Stoneware. Terra Cotta is prime example of earthenware and is normally not glazed. You might recognize earthenware in the brightly colored coffee cups that are not microwavable.
Stoneware is essentially man made stone that requires a higher firing temperature and is stronger than earthenware. Once fired in the kiln to the proper temperature, it is vitreous or water resistant. Stoneware is a result of the evolution of pottery through chemistry. Stoneware is commonly glazed with a mixture of chemicals that form a glasslike coating for enhanced beauty and hardness.
After shaping the earthenware/stoneware clay by hand building, sculpting or throwing, clays must be dried out slowly to a state known as “bone dry”. That means the piece has almost no moisture. Then, the art piece must be fired or heated to extreme temperatures. Earthenware is normally heated to around 1840 degrees Fahrenheit. This is also called bisque fired or Cone fired 06. Cone measures are used in the handmade pottery world as a reference for rating the working temperatures of clays and glazes. Stoneware are also bisque fired, and then glazed and re-fired at much higher temperatures of 2400 F (Cone 6) and higher.
The kiln is an oven capable of reaching these high temperatures. A kiln can be expensive, but essential for creating finer finishes and quality pieces of handmade pottery. Firing can be as simple as building a sustainable roaring fire, carefully placing your bone dry work in the coals cooking it over time. Be careful though! Uneven heating can cause your creation to be misshapen. Handmade pttery can also shatter it if not cooled properly. Consider joining a local community center that will provide a kiln, wheel and lessons for their members. This is a less expensive option until you decide to get muddy and purchase your own equipment.