"Earthenware is the most fragile," says potter Nan Hamilton on his website. Both stoneware and porcelain are more durable; however, unlike earthenware and stoneware, porcelain is a "manufactured clay, never found in nature." It is smoother than the others, yet trickier to handle.
But along with pottery's different types of clay, there are many different types of techniques and styles that go into making and designing pottery.
Aside from using the cheapest tool, your hands, there are several other tools you can use to create and design your pottery pieces, including the potter's wheel; a myriad of shaping, rolling, and texturing instruments; and a kiln.
- "A ball of clay is placed in the center of a turntable, called the wheel-head, which the potter rotates with a stick, or with foot power…or with a variable speed electric motor," says Wikipedia.org. "During the process of throwing, the wheel rotates rapidly while the solid ball of soft clay is pressed, squeezed, and pulled gently upwards and outwards into a hollow shape."
- According to Hamilton, "Learning to throw is like learning a sport or to play a musical instrument. It takes a while to get coordinated, and lots of patience is needed…Practice counts."
- A heavy duty clay cutter: this tool consists of a 26" cutting wire with two handles on either end. It "is ideal for slicing large blocks of clay or platters and bowls from large bats," says an article on continentalclay.com. "For undercutting pot bottoms and creating delicate profiles," use a four-way trimmer, created out of wood and shaped with a slanted edge.
- Rolling pins: create different textures with a 6" long rolling pin that makes "either…flat or pointed impression[s]" depending on the pin's design.
- Chinese brushes: use these fine point brushes made from goat hair for "glaze/underglaze decorating, detailing, or banding."
- Rubber texture comb: a nice alternative to wood or metal, this three-sided combed tool can be used to texturize and decorate clay.
- "Kilns may be heated by burning wood, coal, and gas, or by electricity…Modern kilns powered by gas or electricity are cleaner and more easily controlled than older wood- or coal-fired kilns and often allow shorter firing times to be used."
Whether you create pottery as a hobby or for business, each potter has a unique style. Form and function also vary among artists. And for one potter, Steve Salisian, teapots are his niche.
"It is a passion, fascination, and challenge," he says about his 25 years of teapot making. "I use both stoneware and porcelain clays, and forming methods include both wheel throwing and hand building. Surface decorations are often derived from natural objects such as shells, pine cones, seed pods, ferns, and fossils."
Salisian continues, "I attempt to combine the teapot body, spout, handle, neck, and lid into both a decorative and functional object. Many are variations on a basic shape, but no two are alike. Special emphasis is placed on the ornate design of the handle, but strength and comfort are also important."
While Salisian uses natural objects to stylize his pieces, potter Nan Hamilton first sketches out his designs in pencil before adding underglazes to the pot. Hamilton's finalized pieces look like beautiful paintings wrapped around vases and bowls.
Other styles of pottery include bowls made by the Ashuar, an Amazon tribe who "pit [fire their pottery], [decorate them] with natural clays, and [glaze them] with the sap of a tree," according to an article on hands-around-the-world.com. Pottery from the Indian village of Atzompa is left natural, while Talvera pottery, made in Mexico, is colorful and intricately detailed.