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Facts About How Pottery Is Made

Aug 29, 2008
The process of pot making is a rather intricate one, and over time, it has remained the same. Pottery begins as malleable clay, which is rolled into a long strand and coiled into a vessel or thrown on a wheel. The earliest vessels were made when strands of clay were coiled and the interior and exterior of the vessels were smoothed to create a consistent surface. This technique is still taught to children today. Then, around 4000 B.C., the first pottery wheel was used in Egypt, heralding a new era in pottery making.

Working with pottery on a wheel is called "throwing," because the most important step is the placement of the clay firmly on the center of the wheel, which is accomplished by throwing the clay against the wheel. If the clay is not positioned well, the wheel will be off balance and the clay difficult to work with. Although mechanized wheels are available, many true lovers of this art prefer the uniqueness of pieces that are thrown on manually-powered wheels. This illustrates how little the processes have changed.

Decorations are added before the clay is allowed to dry to a leathery-state. This is done by using tools that can create a variety of indentations as individualized and intricate as the creativity and inclinations of the potter. Because the decorations are applied completely by hand, no two pieces of pottery are completely alike.

The various consistencies of clay vessels are attributed to the temperature at which they are fired. Porous pots are fired at 500 deg. C; stoneware, ceramic and porcelain are fired at a much higher temperature. At the highest temperature, the clay melts and vitrifies, resulting in the strongest pottery structure.

Early potters were able to create vessels with varying colors by making changes to the oxidizing process. Reduction and oxidation result in a distinctive range of earthy colors from buff to black that many people associate with traditional pots. The application of glazes affects both the coloring and finish of the finished vessel. Potters must be particularly cautious when using glazes, though, because many of them contain lead. This makes them toxic, which is why not all types of pots and clay vessels are suitable for use for eating or drinking.

Perfecting the combination of throwing, decorating, glazing and firing is truly the result of years and years of practice. Though it might appear intimidating, however, as an art it is very accessible for novices who would like to learn the basic techniques and throw their own clay vessels.
About the Author
Victor Epand is an expert consultant for pottery, antiques, and figurines. When shopping for pottery, antiques and figurines, we recommend these online stores for hand made pottery, antiques, and figurines.
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