We all use ceramic objects every day, whether functional or decorative. But how much do we really know about ceramics? North Bristol Artist Linda Brogan explains the basics.

The term ‘ceramics’ refers to an object that is made of clay and fired in a kiln, often using glazes, slips (coloured liquid clay) and metal oxides for colour and decoration. Clay is a versatile material that lends itself to many forms and you can see lots of these on the North Bristol Art Trail.  

Ceramic work may be described as earthenware, stoneware or porcelain.

John Pope blackheaded gull

Earthenware is fired to a relatively low temperature (around 1050 degrees C) and is porous, such as in terracotta pots.

Jitka Palmer - Stone Head

Stoneware clay is fired to a higher temperature (around 1260 degrees) and is more durable. It is used for a range of work from tableware to outdoor sculpture.

Porcelain Air Plant Holder

Porcelain is fired higher again (up to 1400 degrees) and gives a very fine white translucent finish. It is used for a variety of work from bowls to earrings.

How are ceramics made?

Ceramic artists usually specialise in ‘throwing’ on the potter’s wheel to make items such as mugs and dishes or in hand building using traditional methods of pinching, coiling, or slab building to make more ‘one off’ pieces. 

Some artists use ‘slip casting’ (where liquid clay is poured in to a plaster mould) where repetition of a particular shape is required.

Clay can also be modelled to produce sculptural forms.

The process of making a ceramic object takes time and patience. There is the initial preparation of the clay, the making process, drying then firing.

Linda Brogan - Ceramics in kiln ready to be bisque fired

Once the clay is completely dry, it is fired in the kiln to around 1000 degrees. This is ‘bisque’ firing which makes the clay more durable and porous so that it is ready to be glazed.

 It is then dipped or painted with glaze before being fired again to a higher temperature. Glaze gives a glassy coating to the clay and a variety of colours and finishes can be achieved. Each firing can take around two days to heat and cool. Some artists do ‘raku’ firing, a different method involving fire, smoke and sawdust! 

Linda Brogan - Objects in kiln ready to be glaze fired
Linda Brogan - Yoga Cat Sculpture

Opening the kiln door after a firing is always an exciting moment for the ceramic artist. The results can sometimes be surprising but always interesting!

When you buy from a ceramic artist you will have something very different from a mass produced piece from the usual outlets. Ceramic pieces are very tactile, so handle the object, feel it’s weight, it’s surface, how the handle of a mug feels. You will know that you have a piece which is unique, hand made by a skilled craftsperson and artist.