What is the difference between Pottery and Ceramics?

Pottery and Ceramics

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Typically, we hear pottery and ceramics used interchangeably, but did you know that there is a major difference? Well, you’re about to find out.  What is the difference between pottery and ceramics? The difference is important to understand, and for many people, understanding the difference is essential. It’s common to mix these two up, but let’s look at it at a much deeper level, so that you can understand the differences between each, and why they both matter.

Pottery and Ceramics

The Technical Definition of Ceramics

So let’s take a moment to begin and talk about the technicalities behind ceramics.  Ceramics, at the very core of it all, involves a couple of things, and they are as follows:

  • Ceramics are made with materials, not just clay
  • They can be changed in different ways
  • They can be disintegrated, or even cause the particles to change in the different types of ways
  • The material changes happen as well

Now let’s take an example.  you’ve got some clay, and you put some water on it.  Well, essentially, it will start to disintegrate when the dried object is put in water, or it will start to become smaller when you fire it as well.  At certain temperatures in the kiln, it actually starts to dissolve and change, and in some ways, it creates a glass form.  That’s at the very core of ceramics.  You’re changing something from one form to another.

Pottery and Ceramics

Most of the time, clay does fall into the realm of the ceramic material, but of course, you also have glazes too, which do change when you fire them. If you read up on glazes, you’ll find out that they have a lot of differences, and when they get fired, it can manipulate the different elements inside of there.  Silica carbide, for example, works with the heated temperatures, and it can create a vast change in the overall state of the pottery and the texture it has. 

So, ceramics involves changes, and they can include the following:

What Pottery Technically Means

Pottery involves the changes that are made in the clay.  While pot can mean any old container, usually pottery involved well, making pots initially.  Both pottery and pot come from old English, which means “to push something.” With pottery, you’re in a sense pushing, or “throwing” your clay in order to create the shapes, which is how pottery got the name that it does.  Pottery can be used to make various items, usually along the lines of the following:

  • Bowls
  • Food containers
  • Pots for flowers
  • Serving pots

Some say figurines fall into this, but that’s a bit debatable. Usually, it’s on the pottery side of the things, rather than decorative figures.

Pottery and Ceramics

Lots of times in industrialized places, there are two different types of pottery that you often see, and they involve the following:

  • Pottery made in factories
  • Pottery that’s made by artisans

Usually the former involves being made in bulk, while the latter involves a singular unique piece that is made by a craftsman to show off.

You also may have heard of studio pottery, or also called studio ceramics.  This actually involves lots of things, and usually, it’s the following:

  • Potters producing large quantities of a specific item
  • Usually involving hundreds of pounds of clay
  • It involves throwing it off the mound since it involves less time centering.
  • It also allows for bats to move off and on the wheel head, creating a more efficient sort of means

It still sits under pottery since many times, it involves creating a lot of pots, mugs, and the like. But, some people criticize it because it doesn’t involve much uniqueness since you’re mass-producing similar elements.  It focuses on full functionality, and you can get some sculptural items, but lots of times, these are pieces that are often made in bulk and are good to have if you want to have a lot of the same thing.

Usually, if you’re planning on being commercial with pottery, this is the way to go, and it’s something that allows for a lot to be made in a small amount of time. However, some people prefer to just get art pieces of focus on being an artist, because it actually involves doing more unique pieces. But remember, lots of times, they’re one-offs if you do go this route, which means if you make it once, it probably won’t be made again. Some people like that though, because it involves more uniqueness, and there is personal pride in only having one singular piece. 

The Slipware

One element that we haven’t discussed yet, is slipware.  This is essentially where you put a slip onto a leather-hard body of clay, either with dipping, splashing, or painting.  Lots of times, this is a suspension, and because of it, it creates different colors.

Now, this type of ware actually falls under the ceramics definition, and that’s because of the following:

  • It changes the way it looks
  • It can change the chemical composition
  • It usually isn’t made of clay

However, if you’ve ever heard the term slipware pottery, it kind of almost contradicts itself because it’s pottery, but also a form of ceramics because you’re using something other than clay to decorate this since it’s an aqueous suspension used in these clay bodies.  It involves clay in a sense where you’re putting it on a piece of pottery, like a pot, but it’s also a form of ceramics in a sense because of what it does to the body as well.

It’s used to create different images at times too, and it’s a popular form of decorating, but just know that it involves kind of the mixing of both of these forms together.

It’s an old technique seen in different ancient cultures, including Romans, the ancient Africans with the red slipware, and other types of figurines.

Lots of times slipware is put on in different ways, and you can even use it with different types of decorating material. 

In modern slipcasting, it actually involves more of the ceramic elements, including the following:

So yes, slips are great because they involve using both, but it’s important to understand that it does involve both, and they’re used together in an effective manner.

So now that you know about both, let’s highlight the differences between each of these. 

The difference is What They’re Made Of

When it comes to understanding the difference, it can be hard because of lots of times, they’re used interchangeably in shops and such.  History itself actually makes these two appear the same, but they’re not.  it’s something that was used by people for thousands of years in their home, and even in the common places where it’s made, people don’t know the difference. 

Well, one of the ways to tell the difference is what they’re made of, and we will discuss that difference here. 

Now ceramics, often involves a couple of different things, and they are as follows:

  • These change permanently when they’re heated, like with clay changing when it’s molded and heated
  • Usually, with this, it says into the perfect shape after being heated
  • Pottery uses more of pots and such in order to create something
  • Pottery also involves using a wheel in many cases
Pottery and Ceramics

This is a huge thing.  Now, both of these tend to use clays at the bottom of it all, but usually, the ceramics element of this actually involves other parts of it, including the following”:

  • Zinc
  • Silica
  • Zirconium Oxide
  • Other organic materials

With ceramics, these compounds actually change when you heat them up into something else. 

Wheels in motion

Wheels are another big difference when you’re looking at the two. With pottery, you use something called a pottery wheel, and in this, it creates the following:

  • Changes the clay into a pot or container shape
  • Helps to form the walls of this
  • Allows for proper width and depth before you leave it on the drying rack

The wheel is an integral part of pottery, and really if you’re making anything on the wheel itself, you usually are using this.

Pottery and Ceramics

Now, how do you make ceramics then? Well, lots of times you can use different kinds of means, including the following:

  • Coiling
  • Hand Building

Some people like to put the wheel as a part of this, but it’s often seen as different things, and it’s quite interesting.

Pottery is Older Ceramics

Now, the oldest ceramics done is actually pottery.  that’s because the ancient people used this in order to create bowls and pots to use when you’re at the dinner table and to eat.  However, ceramics became something different over time, and it definitely does involve a few new differences.

Ceramics involves different elements, and they are as follows:

  • Knives
  • Armor
  • Some cookware
  • Some furniture
  • Artistic items

While pottery mostly works in the sense of creating bowls and such for foodstuffs, nowadays, ceramics are used in so many different ways, that there are so many different means to help change simple pottery into something more.  In essence, ceramics involves a multitude of chemical changes. 

Pottery and Ceramics

Types of products

Ceramics have different types of products. It really involves just a whole bunch of different items that you can use.  You can make ceramics for different items to use.

Some of them can include the following:

  • Tiles
  • Plates
  • Decorative Items
  • Vases of different Kinds
  • Various holders for things

There are so many different things you can make out of this type of clay that in essence, if you’re making something that isn’t a pot, you’re basically doing ceramics.  That’s a huge difference between the two. 

Now pottery, you’re only limited to the pot form.  If you’re making a planter to throw your new flowers in, well guess what, you’re making pottery, not ceramics.  It’s a bit more limited, and while pottery is used for a long time and still uses that terminology if you’re going to get technical unless you’re making a pot, you’re actually doing ceramics and not pottery.

Other materials

With pottery, you’re only working with clay, but if you’re going to be doing ceramics, here are a few other items that you can use:

  • Slips
  • Glazes
  • A Kiln
  • Stains

There are a lot of things you essentially use.  Ceramics is much broader, and it involves more changing materials into something that you can use.  Ceramics usually have a lot more techniques added to it as well, whereas pottery is really just the clay being made into well, a pot.  With this, you’ll be able to do a lot more with ceramics.

The thing with ceramics, however, is the fact that you can, in essence, use them interchangeably in the world, and most wouldn’t know the difference. If you talked to a potter and they said that you used the wrong term, that’s one thing, but usually, the average person on the street doesn’t know the difference, so if you don’t want to get too technical, you honestly don’t have to. 

But, there are more differences obviously. Look at the materials that you’re going to use, try some of the different kinds of things that you can incorporate, and you’ll be able to create some great elements that will allow you to have a nice understanding of the two, and know of the difference between each of these as well.

What About Ceramic Shops

you may have heard the term called ceramic shops.  This usually involves using the term “paint your own pottery” and then it involves painting different things.  Well, ceramic shops usually are similar to what you used before, and the difference is, in what they provide.  In essence, ceramic shops do involve both, but here are a couple of differences. 

  • Ceramic shops aren’t called ceramic shops because they can involve painting a lot
  • Lots of times, you can purchase the slipware that you can use, but they’re usually mugs and plates
  • You can buy figurines to paint, and that’s a form of ceramics
  • If you do buy a mug and you paint it, that’s essentially painting pottery

Understanding most of the time these are used interchangeably is important, because lots of times, people don’t understand the difference, so when they got to the shop they’re totally confused. 

What About Sculpting clay?

One area that we haven’t really touched is sculpting clay, and it involves the following:

  • Taking clay to make a structure
  • Firing it to keep it dry and use it for decoration

Now, this is more of a decorative element, but since it isn’t involving pots, it’s labeled under ceramics.  Usually, this starts to get used interchangeably at times, but in all technicalities, if you’re creating a three-dimensional piece of art, and not something that’s a bowl or a mug, but an actual figure, it involves ceramics more than pottery.  Usually, sculptural work isn’t done in studio pottery either, and usually, it’s more of an artistic medium than anything. 

Quick Aspects differences

Here are a couple of important aspects to look at when you start to look at the difference between each of these, and they are as follows:

  • The material: the raw material that you use in order to fire is actually quite different.  For example, you’re firing clay with pottery, but with ceramics, you’re firing the glazes and other chemicals.  Ceramics also use porcelain clay than traditional clay, but both have used porcelain.
  • The firing temperature: Pottery typically has a low firing temperature, especially if you’re working with earthenware, which is the most common form of pottery. That’s usually 1100 degrees or lower.  Ceramics gets higher, and that’s around 1300 degrees.
  • Changes in states: With pottery, you’re usually getting it to the stage where the clay pieces do stick together.  that’s why the firing temperature is so low.  You just want to get the water out of there. With ceramics, you’re changing the state of it, to make it a glass shape, and in some cases, it creates an inversion. There are a lot more intricate chemical processes that go down with this, so you’re not just doing one thing and that’s that. 
  • The transparency: due to the raw materials that are used in firing, you don’t see any translucent parts to it.  Ceramics tend to have a semi-transparent look to them if the light bounces carefully, and in some cases, it may have a lot more transparency.
  • Textures: Because of the way pottery is, usually the texture is looser, and it feels softer to touch. Have you ever touched a planter? You should notice that it’s much softer.  That’s pottery. If you touch the piece and notice that it’s much harder, then that’s ceramics.  For example, if you have a teacup that feels hard to the touch, that’s ceramics in that case.
  • Ideas are different: The ideas behind the creation of these are vastly different.  For example, pottery is essentially clay that’s processed by something called microprogramming once it’s formed, then dried, put in the kiln, and fired to a low temperature.  With porcelain, there is a lot more that’s put into this. You have the clay, yes, but you also have the calcination of the glaze that happens and the change of the appearance that happens to this as well.  that’s a major difference, and you’ll probably see many more changes and different process actions that happen as a result of this.
  • The molding used: Lots of times, ceramics have a smooth surface on there.  That’s because of a molding that’s used on it.  It doesn’t feel as rough as pottery does because of this molding that’s put on thee, which aids with the feeling of this.

But, even with all of these differences, you’ll probably notice that they’re used interchangeably.  Lots of times, if you can get away with it, it isn’t a problem.  Here are the general terms used for each:

  • Potter: someone that works with clay
  • Pottery: working with just clay
  • Ceramist: anyone who works with ceramic materials in an industrial or individual manner
  • Ceramic engineer: those who work with chemistry or physics of these materials, usually already a professional in this type of industry
  • Studio Potter: Those that create singular unique pieces usually, rarely doing the production kind of potteryPottery and Ceramics
  • Production potter: those who create large amounts of functional pottery, usually done as a job
  • Clay artists: Those who do ceramic arts, but they don’t fire the pieces to different temperatures
  • As you can see, there are a lot of definitions here, but understanding the difference is essential, and you’ll be able to fully comprehend what each of these means in a simple, yet accurate manner. Knowing full well what you want to get from this will help you get the difference nailed down relatively easily.  It’s a bit confusing, and a little bit complicated, but once you do understand, you’ll be able to get the benefits of this in no time.

Pottery and ceramics are usually used interchangeably. by many, and few know the difference. But, this post told you exactly what the difference is, why it matters, and a lot of different parts to this. It may seem like a lot, but once you sit down and understand it, you’ll be able to really get the most from your pottery adventures. Plus, you’ll feel happy knowing the difference, and seeing the intricacies of each, and why they’re different, and why it’s important not to mix these two up when it comes to using this type of medium.

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