Skills in the Making

Working with ceramics

Kate Malone
Kate Malone
(Image courtesy Clare Beck
at Adrian Sassoon)


Contemporary ceramic makers use clay to make a broad range of work that can be functional or sculptural. The practice of making ceramics encompasses a wide range of techniques which can be used individually or in combination. These include hand building techniques such as slab building, modelling and carving or wheel thrown work which can be manipulated on or off the wheel. Decoration is applied while the work is leather hard as slip or after the first firing on or under the glaze.


Kate Malone

Richard Phethean: thrown and moulded forms

Phil Eglin: slab built figurative forms collection of work an exhibition at the V & A inspired by medieval sculpture

Stephen Dixon: slabbed and modelled political and satirical works record of workshops run at the V & A

Katharine Morling: slab built sculptural ceramics

Rob Kessler: ceramics and print


Links to makers in action can also be found on their websites

Kate Malone hand building

Mike Eden demonstrates a range of making techniques

Paul Scott demonstrates hand building and printing on clay

Common ceramic terms explained

Making techniques

Slab building: rolled out flat pieces of clay which can be joined or placed in or over a mould.

Pinching: hollowing forms by hand.

Modelling: using hands and tools to add and take away clay.

Coiling: building up forms with coils of clay.

Carving: subtracting material from a block of clay.

Throwing: making a pot on the wheel.

Turning: cutting away unwanted clay from a thrown pot.


Clay body: the name for the unworked clay in its raw state. Clays are mixed by suppliers to ensure consistency of plasticity (workability) and firing temperature.

Earthenware clay: usually a red clay which can be fired to around 1100 degrees. To be fully waterproof earthenware clay must be glazed.

Stoneware clay: clay which matures at higher temperatures than earthenware but which becomes fused or fully water proof without a complete glaze covering; usually fired to between 1150 to 1260 degrees.

Porcelain: fine white clay which when worked finely and fired sufficiently high becomes translucent.

Leather hard: state of drying clay when it is hard enough to turn, carve or decorate without bending.


Slip decoration: slip is a thick solution of coloured clay which can be applied to a leather hard object by any of the techniques below.

Sgraffito: involves cutting through a slip to reveal the colour of the clay beneath.

Slip trailing: using a special tool, a slip trailer, to flow lines and dots of slip over a surface, leaving a raised finish.

Marbling: mingling wet colours on a wet slip base.

Printing: applying patterns or texture with sponge or chosen tool.

Transfer Printing: decals can be bought or made, and are applied over dry slip or glaze.

Resist (non removable): wax emulsion or paraffin wax burns away during firing.

Resist (removable): newspaper or latex laid over slip layer and then carefully removed.

Inlay: brushing slip into carved patterns on leather hard clay. When slip is leather hard, the excess is scraped back with a metal kidney. A softer version can be done when slip is still wet, wiping excess slip off with a rubber kidney.

Glaze: a coat of a glass forming coloured solution that must be fired to produce a water resistant surface.

Glaze can be painted or sprayed on the work. Brightly coloured "brush on" glazes especially made for painting and use in schools are widely available.

Dipping is a traditional method of glazing pots. First the inside is filled with glaze and is immediately emptied. The piece is then held by its base and is dipped rim first in the glaze, held for a few seconds and withdrawn.

Metal oxides: used to colour slips and glazes, are mixed with a clear or opaque white glaze. Mixed thinly they are used to paint over a white glaze – the technique of Maiolica.

Under glaze colours: ready mixed colours used in the same way, which are more stable.


Biscuit firing: the first firing of a clay object so that it can take a glaze. The kiln temperature must rise very slowly to enable all moisture in the work to be expelled, and to prevent the work cracking, usually to 1050-1100 degrees centigrade.

Glaze firing: the firing of the glaze onto an object, usually after it has been biscuit fired. The kiln temperature can rise more quickly, but care must be taken to reach and maintain the right temperature for the glaze to mature.

Raw glazing: the glaze is added to the leather hard pot and fired once only – this requires skill and is not usually done in school.

Oxidising Firing: a firing, as in a normal electric kiln, where glazes from with access to oxygen.

Reduction Firing: a method which excludes oxygen from the glaze surface changing the quality and colour of the glaze.

Raku firing: is a form of firing where glazed pots made of strong clay are fired rapidly up to about 1000 degrees and removed from the kiln, plunged into a reducing medium such as saw dust, enabling the metallic qualities of the oxides used to colour the glaze to develop. An exciting process which enables students to see how glaze melts in the kiln and the effect of different firing environments on glazes.


Potters Connection, Staffs Tel: 01782 598729
PO BOX 3079 Stoke-on-Trent, ST4 9FW

Bath Potters Supplies, Bath Tel: 01761 411 077
Unit 18, 4th Ave, Westfield Industrial Estate, Midsomer Norton, Radstock, Avon BA3 4XE

Potclays Ltd, Tel: 01782 219816
Brick kiln Lane, Stoke-on-Trent, ST4 7BP

Potterycrafts Ltd Tel: 01782 745000
Campbell Road, Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire ST4 4ET

Clay specialists

Spencroft Ceramics, Tel: 01782 399990
Fulford Road, Fulford, Newcastle, Staffordshire, ST11 9QT.

Tools, Materials and Equipment

Top Pot Supplies, Shropshire Tel: 01952 813203
Celadon House, 8 Plough Lane, Newport, Shropshire, TF10 8BS

CTM Potters Supplies
Unit 8, Broomhouse Lane Ind Estate, Edlington, Doncaster, DN12 1EQ. Tel: 01709 770 801
Unit 10A, Mill Park Industrial Estate, White Cross Road, Woodbury Salterton, EX5 1EL. Tel: 01395 233077

Kiln Manufacture, Installation, Service, Repair (also second hand equipment)

Northern Kilns, Lancs. Tel: 01253 790307
Pilling Pottery, School Lane, Pilling (Nr. Garstang) Lancs, PR3 6HB

Ceramics Specialist websites

Studio Pottery: an excellent and wide ranging resource with makers' biographies, technical information and networking opportunities. Links to galleries and current events. commercial site with a good range of makers work to view.

Ceramic Review, the international magazine of ceramics. site with many UK potters.

New Ceramics: European ceramics magazine.


Practical Ceramics Guides
There are many guides to pottery making

Casson, Michael The Craft of the Potter A classic Guide to pottery making.

Mattison, Steven (2003) The Complete Potter: The Complete Reference to Tools, Materials and Techniques for All Potters and Ceramicists Quarto.

Quinn, Anthony (2007), The Ceramic Design Course. London: Thames & Hudson.

Research and Development

Genders, C. (2002), Sources of Inspiration. London: A∓C Black

Genders, C. (2009), Pattern, Colour & Form. London: A∓C Black

Malone, K. & Jackson, L. (2003), Kate Malone: A Book of Pots. London: A∓C Black


Cooper, Emmanuel (2010) 10,000 Years of Pottery. British Museum press

Cooper, Emmanuel (2009) Contemporary Ceramics. Thames and Hudson


Ceramic Review: International Magazine of Ceramic Art

New Ceramics: European Ceramics magazine

Ceramics collections and displays in museums and galleries

Many local museums contain ceramics that reflect the availability of resources nearby and the history of the locality. So visit a museum near you...

Some outstanding collections include:

Aberystwyth University Ceramics Archive, Wales.

The Potteries Museum, Stoke on Trent, A vast historic collection and contemporary exhibitions.

Wedgwood Museum in Stoke on Trent, historic collection, tours and contemporary exhibitions.

Victoria & Albert Museum: fabulous new ceramics galleries, contemporary and historical exhibitions.

The famous Leach Pottery, now a museum and studio.