A glimpse into my Gothenburg studio, and some insight in the making of ceramic objects.
Where it all starts
The first step - choosing a clay body that meets the needs of the techniques used during the making, and the aesthetics of the final product. Before being shaped, the clay is weighed out into lumps depending on what it's becoming. It's then wedged to ensure even consistency throughout the entire mass, and to get rid of air pockets that could potentially become a big concern during the throwing process. It’s laborious, but an important step for good results.
This is where the major transformation happens, where the clay mass goes from mud to mug. The shaping can be done using several different techniques, where pinching, coiling, slab building and throwing are the most common ones. To make functional ware, I usually throw my pieces. The lump is placed on the wheel, centered, opened, the walls are pulled up, and it’s shaped and finished with a sponge before being lifted off the wheel to dry out.
When the thrown pieces have been allowed to dry out for a while, they enter a stage called leather hard. A lot of the moisture has evaporated, and you can handle the pieces without any concern of them deforming. However, they are still malleable and you could alter the shape if you would want to. This is when you do the trimming. Trimming means flipping the items upside down and securing them on the wheel to remove excess clay and give them their final shape using different tools. This is also when they get their maker’s marked debossed.
At this step, any finishing parts are added. If for instance a mug needs a handle, this is when it's attached. This is done using slip which is basically liquid clay, or clay mixed with water. This acts as a glue, fusing parts to become one unit.
After being fully shaped, the process of drying begins. In order to not warp or crack, the clay needs to dry out evenly, which in most cases mean slowly and controlled. Usually, this step takes days, but can be quicker or slower depending on the thickness of the piece and techniques used. To be able to fired, the pieces need to be at a stage called bone dry, meaning that there is no longer any mechanically bound water left in the clay.
Ceramics almost always undergo two firings. This first one is called bisque firing, or biscuit firing, and has the purpose to make the pieces durable enough to withstand the handling during glazing. The temperature climbs slowly during around 13 hours to avoid cracking, up to the final temperature of just below 1000 °C. After that, it cools off slowly for a day or so.
When glaze firing, the bottoms on the bisque ware touching the kiln shelf must be clean from glaze, otherwise they would fuse to the shelf. That’s why the next step is brushing the bottoms with a type of liquid wax that resists the glaze, leaving the covered areas almost perfectly clean.
Time for glazing! There are several techniques and application methods for glazing, but the one I use the most is dipping. I use glaze tongs, and dip the bisque ware for a few seconds in the glaze buckets containing a mix of finely ground minerals suspended in water.
The second and final firing, the glaze firing is the hottest one reaching a temperature of around 1240°C. This is where the items become durable, waterproof (which is called that they sinter), and get their glassy glaze surface and final look. This firing is a bit quicker than the bisque, but still needs another day to cool down properly.
Now that the pieces have gone through all the steps above, they’re almost finished. The one thing that needs to be done is sanding any areas with exposed, unglazed clay facing down. This is to remove any rough clay particles that could potentially damage or scratch tabletops or other surfaces.
Ready for you!
From clay to bisque to stoneware, the ceramics are finally ready to find a new home! Click here to see what pieces are ready to move to you at the moment.