Here is a list of resources to help you create lovely handmade ceramics at home. I’ll be adding to these as we go so check back from time to time to see if there is anything I can help you with
The Ceramic Process - an easy to follow infographic of the process from start to finish. By no means is this definitive, as there are many more things you can do in between. But it is a great guide for beginners.
Firing services around Australia - a list compiled by Shelby Pip (thank you amazing lady!) of studios that offer a firing service. If you’re in Melbourne, check out Northcote Pottery Supplies, Walker Ceramics. If you’re in Sydney check out Keanes. Clay cannot be fired in a household oven.
Clay, glaze and firing - it is imperative that you know what temperature your clay fires to. This will dictate which glazes you can use and how high you can fire. My kits all come with MID-FIRE clay, which means they will need a mid-fire glaze and to be fired at a mid-fire temperature.
Extra Clay - Where to get it? Most of the above places that provide a firing service will also sell clay and some will even deliver!
I have complied a list of frequently asked questions to help you navigate the world of ceramics. Of course with anything to do with ceramics, there can be exceptions to the rule, so my advice (and disclaimer) is to always safely test before investing all your hopes, dreams and time. There is a lot you can achieve with clay, but I believe you need to know the rues before you can break them. I hope you find them useful.
Q: What clay should I use?
A: It depends on the type of application, process and end result. As a general rule:
- Earthenware clay (eg. Terra-cotta) is great for sculptures and ornamental work. Also great for outdoor planters. Its a low firing clay so it isn’t vitrified (non-porous) so it wont be sealed unless glazed all over.
- Mid-Fire clay can be used for functional ware (plates and cups etc), sculptures and ornamental work. Some Mid-fire clay is vitrified.
- Stoneware clay and porcelain is a high fire clay and is suitable for functional ware (plates and cups etc), sculptures and ornamental work.
- Air Dry clay doesn’t get fired in a kiln, will be porous and cannot be used for much other than ornamental work. You can paint it with acrylic paint and seal it. But it is not safe for food or water.
Q: What glaze should I use?
A: If you use a low fire clay, you must use a low fire glaze. If you use a high fire clay you must use a high fire glaze. Clay and glaze need to “fit” each other when they get fired in the kiln. Putting the wrong glaze on the wrong clay can result in the glaze melting off the work or the clay melting under the glaze. Either way, it won’t be pretty - imagine trying to spread buttercream on jelly. It would just slide off - they just don’t go together. Glazes have different ingredients that react differently to each clay. Some look amazing, some look brown.
Here is a good tutorial for glazing: Glazing
Q: Why has my work cracked?
A: There are so many reasons why work cracks. It is hard to determine the cause without examining the piece or seeing the making of it. One possible reasons is that it can happen when joining pieces together. Joining cracks happen when one piece is dryer than the other, or dries quicker than the other. It can happen during the making of the work but is only evident once it starts to dry out. The best way to avoid cracks in your hand built work is make sure the clay is at a workable (elastic) state and not too dry. Make sure that if you’re adding pieces like a handle or a foot that you use the scratch and slip method and that each piece has the same moisture content as the rest of the piece. Wrap the work in plastic so that air can get in but the air is slowed down, giving the work time to slowly dry out.
Q: What boards are best for working on?
A: I use a combination of calico material and marine ply. Both are porous (clay won’t stick to it) and the board makes it easy to lift work without deforming it. I have a few A4-A5 sizes for working on and some larger A1 size pieces for drying and transporting around the studio. I also use cement sheeting.
Q: How do I transport work for firing?
A: Once work is bone dry (no longer cool to the touch) it can have its first fire. You can pack greenware (unfired work) in a box with corn starch packing beans or wrap carefully in bubble wrap or old towels. Greenware is delicate, don’t grab it by the rim! Glazed bisqueware is still very delicate as some glazes turn to powder on the surface of the work. Transport with care.