People love pottery for the same reason people love to paint, it’s immersive and it’s relaxing. Sure, it takes time, but in the end, it’s worth it when you get the final product. There’s also a lot of steps and tools that go into creating pottery. This can be intimidating to some, but it doesn’t have to be. In this article, you can learn eight pottery terms to help you make some sense of what’s happening in the studio, and to up your game in the gallery.
8 Ceramic Terms You Should Learn
Centering is a technique used by ceramicists where clay is placed in the middle of the wheel head so that it can be thrown. It’s important to try to keep the clay on a symmetrical axis, not too far left or right of the middle of the wheel. Otherwise, your piece will turn out to be crooked or could even fall apart in the middle of the shaping process depending on the size of clay you’re working with. If you’re new to the wheel, having someone help you center your clay is a great first step to ensure you’ll end up with a solid, structured piece of pottery.
If you can remember sitting in your art class with your teacher telling you to roll out your clay into a long, skinny piece that looks like a snake, then congratulations. You made a coil! See, we told you that you were going to be a pro. Coils are pieces of clay that are rolled out like a rope and used in a variety of ways to make pottery.
Coils can be used to make pots by slowly encircling themselves and then being smoothed out with a tool called a rib that’s been dipped into a bit of slip, or wet clay. This helps to get rid of any cracks or air holes in the clay that may lead to breakage once in the kiln. This is a great pottery method for anyone who may not be ready to get in front of the wheel just yet.
3. Composite Pot
Composite Pot is a pottery term which refers to a pot that was thrown or hand built in separate pieces and then assembled. This is a great technique for making large pieces of pottery or pieces that have lots of geometric angles which may be hard to create at the wheel. These can make for awesome planters, so if you’re looking for a gift for that friend of yours who has a green thumb, a composite pot would be perfect.
4. Dry Foot
This pottery term refers to when a ceramicist does not glaze the foot, or bottom, of a piece of pottery. This can be done either by applying wax or by removing the initial layer of glaze from the foot. Dry foot is used to keep the bottom of a piece of pottery from becoming stuck to the kiln when it’s firing which can ruin the piece. When glaze is added to the pottery, it glues itself onto the clay, so if there’s any glaze on the bottom of a piece, the foot will get stuck to the kiln.
Extrusion is a term used by potters to describe the process of forcing clay through a tube-shaped tool, called an extrude, with a stencil on the end of the tube, called a die, to get a uniform shape. Think like when you were a kid, and you had all the different tools for your Play-Doh that you could press the “doh” through to make shapes like prisms, thin strands of hair, or swirls. Dies and extruders in pottery work in a similar way to these Play-Doh tools.
When you use this tool, the clay that comes out is shaped into a long, geometric form, like a prism or a cylinder, that can then be manipulated however the potter thinks best. Extrusion is a great method for anyone who wants to create a tall piece that you wouldn’t normally be able to maintain on the wheel. The results can help you make a very avant-garde piece.
Potters use the term Grog to refer to fired clay that’s been ground to various mesh sizes. It has a coarse, sandy consistency, and it’s great for helping you shape your clay on the wheel since it improves the clay’s flexibility by keeping in the moisture of the clay longer. This also makes it far less likely to shrink or crack when it’s in the kiln. And, due to the grog’s consistency, it also gives your pottery a cool texture that can make the piece look more raw or rugged. You can see what pottery that’s been treated with grog looks like here.
A peephole pretty much speaks for itself. This ceramic term refers to a small hole in the door or wall of the kiln that a ceramicist uses to check in on their pottery while it is being dried. When making pottery, you always want to be careful that your piece doesn’t shrink too much since this can lead to breaking and cracking and you can make sure that this doesn’t happen by using the peephole to occasionally check in on your ceramics during the firing process.
Anyone who likes to cook may have already heard this term, but it takes on a whole new meaning in the pottery world. The term slurry refers to a thick slip that you can use to bind together pieces of clay. It is most used for pot handles, spouts, decorative feet, or any ornate designs a potter may want to include on their ceramics. Without applying slurry, pieces will become brittle in the kiln and break off, ruining all the hard work that went into making them. This is why so many potters preach the importance of “scoring and slipping” any additional components you want to include when sculpting your clay.
Become a Pro Potter at Fowler’s Clay Works in Gatlinburg, TN
Now that you can talk the pottery talk, it’s time to walk the pottery walk. Whether you’re an avid potter or a novice ceramicist, Fowler’s Clay Works offers a variety of pottery experiences to customers of all ages and levels of skill. We guarantee that every time you’re behind the wheel with us, you will learn something new.
Or, if you’re more of an observational learner, feel free to stop by our studio gallery and watch us work any time. All our unique ceramics are made in-store by our expert potters, and we’d be more than delighted to have you take a piece of us with you next time you’re in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Check out our website today to see all our pottery pieces, or to book a class with us. We can’t wait to see you!