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Pottery Craftsmanship

How Craftsmanship is an Integral Part of Ceramics and Pottery


Form a simple spout for the thrown pitcher.

Form a simple spout for the thrown pitcher.

Photo © 2009 Beth E Peterson

Craftsmanship is the backbone of ceramics and pottery. Without the technical skills potters use as a matter of course, their projects would be ruined. To be fully manifest, both functional and non-functional pottery must have a foundation of craftsmanship.

A Heritage of Craftsmanship

Potters are, in their own way, practical physicists and chemists. Through trial and error and then passing that knowledge down to others, potters have built up a store of knowledge based in the physical sciences.

In ancient times, a potter may not have had the term coefficient of expansion to understand some of the stresses that pots go through while being fired. Even so, the ancient potter knew, just as potters do today, that heating up the kiln too fast will result in the ware inside breaking. We don't have to know the scientific language to know we do not want more pots to end up in shards!

During the Middle Ages, alchemists could have done very well if they had visited their local potter. Who else at that time had a better idea of what certain metal oxides could and would do when heated? Even back then, potters used the principals of chemistry every time they developed a new clay body or a new glaze. Potters, as craftsmen, have a noble heritage.

Craftsmanship and Experience

Working with clay can be both immediately satisfying and yet allows for continual development in your ability to express yourself. Through experience, your hands will become more adept in throwing and in hand building. Part of the experience you will build up is also trying out and testing new clay bodies and testing new glazes.

Craftsmanship and Knowledge

Understanding clay and glazes is an area which can make your experience as a potter even more satisfying and less stressful. The basics of clay will spread outward into knowledge of why clay shrinks and what that shrinkage means as your pottery dries. Knowledge will also prepare you for the problems that can occur with clay bodies, and how to choose the right clay for your particular needs.

Knowledge about glaze materials will also help you avoid glaze problems as well as helping you decide which glaze to use.

A knowledge and understanding about kilns, how they work and what happens to clay in the firing will be a huge help.

Build Your Craftsmanship

One of the most important foundations in becoming a competent potter is to practice. It is also an excellent practice to cultivate a healthy potter's attitude. Another way to make the most of your experiences is to keep records of what you are doing, from forming a piece in a new way to how long your firings are and their results. Through all of these things, continue the tradition of craftsmanship that has been given us by the potters of the past.
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