Ceramic Making for Beginners: The Top Tips and Tricks

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Ceramics is a load of fun, but sometimes, it can be hard, to begin with. Here, we’ll discuss ceramic making for beginners and the top tips and tricks that you can use to get the most out of your experience with making ceramics.

Know Your Materials

Before you begin, you must know the materials of ceramics. They’re a little different from clay because they include a couple of other additions rather than the clay itself.

They are the following:

  • The glazes
  • The kiln

Both of these are incredibly important for an amazing pottery experience. You need these to help turn the clay from pottery to ceramics.

The difference between both of these at the core includes the following:

  • Pottery is the formation of pots
  • Ceramics is changing the pottery from a clay form to a glassy form

Glazes are used to help with making sure that you get the right coverage on top of it. The glazes alone can be fired to make smooth and supple different pieces, and they also affect how the glazes are used.

Glazes have the benefit of the following:

  • They make items food-safe
  • They make them water-safe
  • You don’t have to worry about toxic substances
  • It helps make the pottery piece stronger

You’d be surprised at how different your piece becomes by just adding some ceramics and different structures to it.

Now, before you begin with this, we’ll highlight everything that you should learn, and the top tips and tricks for beginners when they’re working with ceramics.

Building your Piece

Now, what’s cool about clay, is you don’t need to use a potter’s wheel. It wasn’t been used until about 4000 years in the past, and there were different ways to build your pottery.

The best ways to begin building your pottery include the following:

  • Pinching the pots by using your fingers
  • Coiling them by pressing the coils together
  • Slabbing them by having a flat surface, lightly pinching these sides together, and forming different slabs of clay

These three methods are the best ones, to begin with when you’re learning how to build ceramics and those pieces. However, a potter’s wheel is important too.

The benefits of a potter’s wheel include the following:

  • You can build circular shapes easily
  • They create a more rounded surface
  • They’re better for vessels and other oval containers

For many people, these are great ways to begin, but if you’d like to start off easily, then consider the hand-building means for building pottery.

There are other techniques as well out there and they also include the following:

  • Forming reliefs
  • Making molds
  • Slip casting
  • Carving out
  • Sculpting

Pretty much, any of these means are very good, and you can choose the different ways you want to tackle this based on your desires and experiences as you go along.

Before You Begin

Before you begin, you need to prepare your clay, and that’s done by removing the air bubbles.

To do that, you begin with the following:

  • Throw the clay down on a work surface
  • Wedge this all out into pieces
  • From there, get some bats and beat this into the ball form

You want the ball form to begin with because it allows for the following to happen:

  • Creates a smooth surface
  • Allows for air bubbles to be taken out
  • Makes the piece smoother and better

After that, you can form your pottery piece. But, never forget this step, because while it is kind of boring to do, it will affect the overall results that you get with your clay, and your pottery piece too.

After Throwing or Forming the Piece

When you start to throw your piece, you’ll notice it will have to go through different stages. For basic ceramic makers, I do encourage you to learn about the different steps of the clay, and what stages it goes through.

  • First, you have the slip, which is the liquid form of most clays, and it’s used for cementing and casting pieces
  • The plastic form is used for pretty much anything from manipulating, throwing, sculpting, and wedging and slab building too
  • The leather-hard stage, which is where the decorating and glazes are added, and any carving, stamps, and building are added to this
  • The bone-dry stage, where there is no water left, and you are ready to fire it

Never try to throw anything with a bunch of water in it into the kiln for firing. It’s better to make sure that you have some sort of dryness to it, and bone-dray is usually the best option for this.

Now, once you’ve made your piece, I highly encourage you to leave it around to dry. This can take up to 12 hours, but there are other things you can do at this point, but make sure that it’s at least bone-dry.

Firing Information

Firing is when you add the pieces into a very hot kiln and fire them.

There are three types of clay that you can work with, and they are the following:

  • Earthenware, which is a low-firing pottery
  • Stoneware, which is usually a medium-firing piece of pottery
  • Porcelain, which is high-firing, and oftentimes some of the strongest out there

Now, when you first get a piece of pottery, you’ll have it in the greenware state, and it has the following:

  • It’s not fired
  • It is bone-dry
  • It is incredibly fragile
  • It usually feels almost brittle to the touch

If you’re using pottery that’s not fired at least once yet, so be careful. At this point, you put it into the kiln for the first firing.

The first firing is known as the bisque firing stage or the bisque. A bisque firing is incredibly important for pottery pieces, cause it allows for the following:

  • A stronger piece
  • Let the clay change fully from pottery to ceramics
  • Makes the piece usable

Now, you can skip this stage if you’re thinking of doing a single-fire, but I like to have the bisque.

Once the first firing stage is done, you then have the bisque piece, and this is the following:

  • It is partially fired
  • It is now able to hold the glaze
  • It usually has the color of clay

At this point, you then add your glaze to the piece. You can make your own, but if you’re a beginner, I just like to get some glaze that fires the clay to the cone that you have going on.

What you do at this point, is the following:

  • Glaze your pottery through whatever means you’d like to use
  • From here, let it dry a little bit
  • Then fire it once again

You don’t finish firing until the glaze is now on the pottery piece. Don’t oversaturate, and don’t underapply the glaze that you’re using, otherwise, it will affect the quality of your pottery.

Once this is over, you’ll have your finished ceramics piece! That’s all there is to it.

Tips for Drying

When it comes to drying, I said about 12 hours is pretty good, but if it’s a piece that is going from a workable state to a dried state, I encourage you to wait a week before a bisque firing. That’s because of the following:

  • You want to remove all the water because it will turn into steam
  • You want to remove all the air bubbles
  • You’ll prevent the item from exploding in the kiln

Yes, you can cause explosions of the pieces, or just cracks in the piece if you’re not careful. The problem with cracks is the following:

  • It causes the clay to seep out
  • It makes the piece decorative but not usable
  • It makes the piece incredibly brittle

This is something that lots of beginner ceramic artists don’t realize can happen until it’s too late.

So, if you’re making ceramics, always be careful with how dry this is, and if nothing else, error on the dry end before you throw it in.

Glaze Tips

The glaze is what turns pottery into ceramics that are usable in many cases and makes them stronger.

To use it, you need to keep the following in mind:

  • Use at least three coats
  • Apply these in an even manner and make sure that the coat is fully dry before applying the next
  • Don’t apply glaze on the bottom of the surface with the kiln shelf, or else it’ll suck and you could potentially ruin it
  • Make sure that the bottom is wiped clean with a sponge before you let it fire
  • Once you’re finished, you want to make sure that you have a food-safe marking on the glazes so that you know whether it will be used for food or decorative ware

For a lot of people, learning to glaze can be hard, but there are a few ways to do it, and here you learn a few of the important tips to help you build the safest experience with glazing that’s imaginable.

Kiln Safety

Make sure you use your kiln safely. Kilns get incredibly hot, are very dangerous, and could cause fires and explosions if you’re not careful.

How do you use a kiln safely though? Well, the best way is to do the following:

  • Know how to operate the kiln you’re using
  • Spend time getting familiar with it
  • Always make sure the kiln is in a place with proper ventilation and use
  • Make sure that the pieces in the kiln are completely dried
  • Always watch your kiln—never leave this unattended!
  • Always make sure that you’re using proper safety measures when handling items within a kiln
  • When it’s done, you slowly lower the temperature and never do it fast
  • When you open it, open a crack, and check to see if you can feel the heat. If you can, let it lower further before you open it
  • Never open a kiln too fast, because the shock can cause the piece to explode

The best way to learn how to use a kiln as a beginner is to make sure that you know what you’re doing and consult someone who has experience with using a kiln before you begin to use this type of piece.

Ceramic Tips and Tricks

Ceramics are an art, and you should know some of the key rules for using ceramics effectively. Here are some important tips and tricks when doing ceramics

  • Always keep your clay covered in a plastic bag when you’re not using it because this will keep it nice and useful
  • Don’t let your clay dry out, because it will cause cracking in it
  • Be careful when using clay, because the dust is toxic, so make sure you always clean your spaces and don’t have any leftover clay in your space
  • Make sure that your clay isn’t thicker than your thumb when it’s put in the oven, or when you finished shaping
  • If you’re going to stick clay together you must score it and slip it together when it is either leather-hard or plastic, never after that point
  • Always wedge your clay, because this creates consistency and lines up the particles. Plus, it removes the bubbles
  • Make sure that you hollow out any forms that you need to, and make sure that you have small holes in your pieces the size of a needle, so air is escaping in hollowed pieces
  • Make sure that you wash your piece after the bisque before you glaze it so that you’re not getting anything that’s sticking to it on the piece
  • Always handle all projects with two hands, and never one. To do otherwise is careless
  • Don’t handle anyone’s work that isn’t your own, this especially applies to studios
  • If you have questions, don’t be afraid to ask about the place you’re firing from, or where you make your supplies

For many people, ceramics can be hard to comprehend, but the right tips and tricks will help with this, and it will help to make everything all easier for you.

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