Learning how to do ceramics is an easy and enjoyable activity that can become a truly creative pastime. All that is required is a little patience and a few simple tips to begin creating your own home furnishings and gifts. A quick guide to the art of ceramics can be the best preparation, and the end result can be a unique and personal keepsake.
The clay that is used in ceramics is actually a liquid, rather than the thick clay used for sculpting. Liquid clay hardens when it is exposed to air, which means it is important to keep the clay covered in between uses. The good news is the hardened clay can be liquefied with the simple addition of water. Ceramic clay can be purchased at most craft stores.
Ceramic molds are typically made of plaster, and they consist of two pieces. Plaster is unique in that it will hold the clay to create the shape of ceramic piece, yet will release the molded piece once the clay has hardened enough to be handled. The key to getting a good piece from a ceramic mold is to clean it before use, as dirt, dust, or even pieces of old clay left on the surface can distort the shape of the piece. Water is sufficient for cleaning.
Creating The Molded Piece
Creating a ceramic piece from a mold is simple process which includes the following steps:
1. Clean the inside surface of the mold to remove dirt and any remaining clay
2. Assemble the mold, and secure it with a band or belt. Securing the mold is an important step to prevent leaks
3. Pour the liquid clay into the mold. Be sure to fill it to the rim
4. Allow the mold to set until a rim forms around the opening of the mold. A rim of approximately 1/4 inch is sufficient for small molds, although larger ones should be allowed to thicken a little more. This can take between 30 – 60 minutes, for small molds, and may take several hours for particularly large one
5. Once the rim is formed, empty the remaining liquid from the mold. The clay that remains on the inside surface of the mold will become the ceramic piece
6. After the mold is emptied, let it set overnight to allow the clay to dry enough to hold the shape
7. When ready to remove the piece, carefully place the mold on its side and loosen the band used to secure it. Remove the top half of the mold, and then gently pull the piece out. Although the clay is firm, it is still very brittle, so use extreme care when removing the piece
8. Once the piece is out of the mold, set it aside to allow it to thoroughly dry. This can take from one day to several days, depending on the size of the piece, and the piece will appear dull when it is dried completely through
Once the piece is dry, it will need to be cleaned before it is fired. Cleaning simply means smoothing the seams and any rough edges that appear on the piece. This can be done by stroking the seams and rough patches with a sharp scalpel or scrub pad. A damp sponge may also be used, although too much water can dissolve the molded piece. Extreme care is necessary for cleaning, however, as the piece is still brittle. Once the piece is cleaned, it is ready to be fired.
Firing The Ceramics
This is done in a kiln, which can reach temperatures of up to 2500 degrees F. Kilns are often programmed to fire ceramics overnight, and most have automatic shut-offs to stop the firing once the process is complete. The key things to remember when using a kiln are:
1. Arrange pieces so that they are not touching each other, as those that touch will be fused together during the firing process
2. When opening the kiln, use gloves, as the inside is still extremely hot. Open it only a few inches at first to allow the inside to cool slowly. Cooling the pieces too fast can result in cracks, and it may cause pieces to shatter
Once the pieces are removed from the kiln, they are white bisque, and they are ready to paint.
Paints, Stains, And Glazes
The two decorating techniques for ceramics are paints and stains. Paints are solid colors that are painted over the ceramics, and is often used for pieces such as dishes and other household items. Pieces are required to be fired again to develop the colors, and the result is a finished, shiny piece. Textured paints are also available to create the look of stone or marble.
Stains, on the other hand, can be used to create artistic images such as monograms or designs on the piece, with a clear glaze applied after to give it a shiny finish. Stains work like traditional paint in creating detailed designs, although they will require two additional firings: the first after the design has been created to seal the stain to the bisque, and a second to fire the glaze over the piece. This may take more time, but the result is a truly personalized piece.
Non-fired paints may also be used, with spray sealants and glazes applied once the paint is dry.
Learning how to do ceramics is a perfect way to create personalized pieces for your home or for gifts, and each piece is a truly one-of-a-kind creation with your own personal touch. The process may take time from beginning to end, but even those just beginning in ceramics can create beautiful pieces right from the start. The best part is that learning to do ceramics is suitable for all ages, and it is a hobby that can last a lifetime.
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