Key Terms Every Potter Should Know

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Pottery Techniques


  • Pinch Pot: A hand-building technique where a pot is created by pinching and shaping a ball of clay with the fingers and thumbs.
  • Coil Building: The process of creating pottery by building it up with coils or ropes of clay, typically in a spiral fashion.
  • Slab Building: A technique where flat sheets or slabs of clay are cut and assembled to create pottery forms, often using templates or molds.


  • Centering: The initial step in wheel-throwing where the potter aligns the clay on the pottery wheel’s center, preparing it for shaping.
  • Throwing: The act of shaping clay on a spinning pottery wheel to create cylindrical or rounded forms.
  • Trimming: The process of refining and shaping the bottom and foot of a thrown pot using cutting tools while it’s still on the wheel.
  • Pulling Handles: Creating handles for pottery by pulling a piece of clay into the desired shape and attaching it to the vessel.


  • Coiling: A hand-building technique where long ropes or coils of clay are stacked and joined to form pottery shapes, often used for larger vessels.


  • Slipcasting: A technique where liquid clay slip is poured into a mold, allowed to set, and then removed to create pottery forms.


  • Glazing: The process of applying a liquid glaze (a mixture of minerals and water) to pottery to provide color, texture, and a protective layer when fired.
  • Brushing: Applying glaze to pottery using a brush, allowing for more controlled and artistic application.
  • Dipping: Immersing pottery into a container of glaze to coat the entire surface evenly.
  • Spraying: Using an airbrush or spray gun to apply a fine mist of glaze to pottery for a smooth and even finish.
  • Wax Resist: Applying wax to specific areas of pottery before glazing to create designs or patterns, preventing glaze from adhering to those areas.
  • Underglaze: Colored decoration applied to pottery before glazing, typically used for intricate designs.
  • Overglaze: Additional decoration applied on top of the glaze after the initial firing, often used for detailed painting or luster effects.


  • Bisque Firing: The initial firing of pottery at a lower temperature to remove moisture and make it more durable before glazing.
  • Glaze Firing: The second firing of pottery at a higher temperature to melt and fuse the glaze, creating the final, glossy finish.
  • Oxidizing Firing: A firing process in an oxygen-rich atmosphere, resulting in bright and vibrant glaze colors.
  • Reducing Firing: A firing process in a reduced oxygen atmosphere, often used for specific glaze effects and altering clay colors.

Types of Pottery

  • Earthenware: A type of pottery fired at low to moderate temperatures, typically porous and often glazed for decorative and functional purposes.
  • Stoneware: A type of pottery fired at high temperatures, resulting in a dense and durable ceramic with a wide range of uses, from tableware to art.
  • Porcelain: A high-quality ceramic known for its translucency, whiteness, and strength, fired at very high temperatures.
  • Terracotta: A type of clay-based pottery, typically reddish-brown in color, often left unglazed or used for decorative purposes.
  • Raku: A type of pottery characterized by rapid firing and cooling, often resulting in unique glaze effects and colors.
  • Bone China: A type of porcelain made with bone ash, known for its delicacy and translucency.
  • Majolica: Earthenware pottery decorated with colorful lead glazes and often featuring intricate designs.

Pottery Styles

  • Ancient Pottery: Refers to pottery created by ancient civilizations and cultures, reflecting their artistic and functional traditions.
  • Contemporary Pottery: Modern and current pottery created by today’s artists and potters, often influenced by traditional and innovative techniques.
  • Traditional Pottery: Pottery that adheres to the long-established techniques, styles, and cultural influences of a specific region or community.
  • Decorative Pottery: Pottery primarily created for aesthetic purposes, often featuring intricate designs, patterns, and artistic elements.
  • Functional Pottery: Pottery designed for everyday use, such as tableware, cookware, and other utilitarian objects.
  • Sculptural Pottery: Pottery pieces that prioritize artistic expression and sculptural qualities, often straying from traditional forms.
  • Folk Pottery: Pottery that reflects the cultural and regional traditions of a specific community or group, often handmade using traditional methods.

Historical Periods

  • Neolithic Pottery: Pottery created during the Neolithic period, characterized by the emergence of pottery as a significant technological and cultural development.
  • Ancient Greek Pottery: Pottery produced in ancient Greece, known for its distinct styles, including black-figure and red-figure pottery.
  • Ming Dynasty Pottery: Pottery created during the Ming Dynasty in China, known for its high-quality ceramics and intricate designs.
  • Victorian Pottery: Pottery produced during the Victorian era, reflecting the artistic and cultural influences of the time.
  • Arts and Crafts Pottery: Pottery created during the Arts and Crafts movement, characterized by handcrafted and often simple yet elegant designs.

Glazing and Firing

Glaze Types:

  • Glaze: A coating applied to ceramics before firing, which when fired, forms a glassy and protective surface.
  • Underglaze: Decoration applied to unglazed pottery and covered with a glaze.
  • Majolica Glaze: A tin-glazed earthenware glaze often characterized by colorful overglaze decorations.
  • Crackle Glaze: A glaze intentionally crazed (formed minute cracks) for decorative effect.
  • Celadon Glaze: A glaze containing iron that produces green, grey, and grey-blue colors in reduction firing.
  • Lustre Glaze: A glaze decoration technique that leaves a thin layer of metal on pottery, creating an iridescent appearance.
  • Matte Glaze: A glaze with a dull surface and no gloss.
  • Transparent Glaze: A glaze that allows the underlying clay body to show through.

Kiln Types:

  • Kiln: A furnace for the firing of ceramics.
  • Gas Kiln: A kiln that uses natural gas or propane as a fuel source for firing pottery.
  • Electric Kiln: A kiln that uses electricity as a heat source for firing ceramics.
  • Wood-Fired Kiln: A kiln fueled by wood, known for producing unique effects on pottery due to ash deposits.
  • Raku Kiln: A specialized kiln used in raku firing, a rapid and often dramatic firing technique.

Firing Techniques:

  • Firing: The process of heating pottery in a kiln to bring the glaze or clay body to maturity.
  • Bisque Firing: The initial firing of pottery before glazing, which makes the clay hard but porous.
  • Glost Firing: A firing to convert the unfired glaze surface to a glassy coating.
  • Reduction Firing: Firing pottery in an oxygen-deficient atmosphere, which can affect the colors and textures of the glaze.
  • Oxidation Firing: Firing pottery in an oxygen-rich atmosphere, often resulting in bright and consistent glaze colors.

Pottery Tools and Equipment

Pottery Wheel:

  • Potter’s Wheel: A rotating platform used by potters for shaping clay into pottery forms.
  • Kick Wheel: A type of potter’s wheel operated by a foot pedal.

Clay Kiln:

  • Kiln: A furnace used for firing ceramics.
  • Gas Kiln: A kiln that uses natural gas or propane as a fuel source for firing pottery.
  • Electric Kiln: A kiln that uses electricity as a heat source for firing ceramics.
  • Wood-Fired Kiln: A kiln fueled by wood, known for producing unique effects on pottery due to ash deposits.
  • Raku Kiln: A specialized kiln used in raku firing, a rapid and often dramatic firing technique.
  • Kiln Furniture: Refractory ceramic articles used to support ware during firing.

Pottery Tools:

  • Pottery Tools: A wide range of tools used by potters for various tasks in clay shaping and decoration.
  • Rib Tool: A handheld tool used to shape, smooth, or scrape clay surfaces, made of wood, rubber, plastic, or metal.
  • Sponge Tool: A tool used for smoothing and shaping clay surfaces, often made of sponge material.
  • Wire Tool: A tool with a wire for cutting or slicing clay and pottery.

Pottery Clay:

  • Clay: The primary material used by potters for forming pottery.
  • Ball Clay: A secondary clay known for its high plasticity and dry strength.
  • Kaolin: A type of clay, also known as China clay, used in many pottery bodies, particularly in porcelain.
  • Terracotta: A type of clay used for pottery, often reddish in color and unglazed.
  • Stoneware Clay: Clay used for stoneware pottery, fired at higher temperatures than earthenware.

Pottery Forms


  • Vase: A container, often decorative, used for holding flowers or other items.


  • Bowl: A round, open-top container used for serving or holding food, liquids, or other items.
  • Mixing Bowl: A bowl used in cooking for mixing ingredients.


  • Plate: A flat, typically round dish used for serving food.

Cups and Mugs:

  • Cup: A small, handleless container used for drinking liquids.
  • Mug: A larger, typically handle-equipped cup used for beverages like coffee or tea.


  • Sculpture: Three-dimensional artwork created by shaping or carving a material, often clay in pottery.


  • Teapot: A vessel with a spout, handle, and lid, used for brewing and serving tea.


  • Tile: A flat, often square or rectangular piece of ceramic used for covering surfaces or as decorative elements.

Pottery Surface Decoration

  • Sgraffito: A decorative technique where a top layer of slip or glaze is scratched through to reveal the contrasting color or texture beneath.
  • Underglaze Painting: The process of painting designs or patterns onto pottery using underglaze colors before the final glaze is applied.
  • Slipware: Pottery decorated by applying colored slips (liquid clay) onto the surface to create designs or patterns.
  • Mishima: A technique where a design is incised or carved into the pottery’s surface, filled with contrasting colored slip, and then scraped or sanded to reveal the design.
  • Decals: Decorative designs or images transferred onto pottery using ceramic decals, which are water-slide transfers.
  • Lusterware: Pottery with a metallic glaze that creates a shiny, reflective surface, often with iridescent or metallic colors.

Cultural and Regional Pottery

Japanese Pottery:

  • Raku: A Japanese pottery technique known for its low-firing process and distinctive glaze effects.
  • Hagi Ware: A type of Japanese pottery known for its rustic appearance and use in traditional tea ceremonies.
  • Imari Porcelain: Highly decorated Japanese porcelain known for its vibrant colors and intricate patterns.
  • Bizen Ware: A style of Japanese pottery originating from Bizen, known for its unglazed clay and wood-fired kilns.
  • Kutani Ware: A type of Japanese porcelain with a long history, often featuring detailed hand-painted designs.

Chinese Porcelain:

  • Ming Dynasty Porcelain: Chinese porcelain produced during the Ming Dynasty, known for its exquisite craftsmanship.
  • Qing Dynasty Porcelain: Porcelain produced during the Qing Dynasty, known for its diverse styles and glaze techniques.
  • Blue and White Porcelain: Chinese porcelain characterized by blue painted motifs on a white background.
  • Famille Rose: A style of Chinese porcelain known for its colorful, pink-toned enamel decoration.

Native American Pottery:

  • Hopi Pottery: Pottery created by the Hopi people of Arizona, often featuring intricate geometric designs.
  • Acoma Pueblo Pottery: Pottery produced by the Acoma Pueblo people of New Mexico, known for its thin walls and fine painting.
  • Navajo Pottery: Pottery crafted by the Navajo Nation, often incorporating traditional Navajo symbols and designs.

African Pottery:

  • Zulu Pottery: Pottery made by the Zulu people of South Africa, known for its distinctive patterns and shapes.
  • Berber Pottery: Pottery created by the Berber people of North Africa, often featuring earthy tones and tribal motifs.
  • Ghanaian Pottery: Pottery from Ghana, known for its use in various cultural ceremonies and rituals.

Mediterranean Pottery:

  • Majolica: A type of Mediterranean pottery with colorful, tin-glazed earthenware, often featuring intricate patterns.
  • Cretan Pottery: Pottery from the island of Crete in Greece, known for its Minoan and Mycenaean influences.
  • Talavera Pottery: A style of Mexican pottery with origins in Spain, characterized by vibrant hand-painted designs.

Pottery History and Notable Potters

Historical Figures:

  • Bernard Leach: A pioneering British potter who played a significant role in the development of studio pottery in the 20th century.
  • Lucie Rie: An Austrian-born British studio potter known for her elegant and functional ceramics.
  • Josiah Wedgwood: An English potter and entrepreneur who founded the Wedgwood pottery company and is known for his contributions to ceramics and pottery design.
  • Maria Martinez: A renowned Native American potter from the San Ildefonso Pueblo in New Mexico, known for her black-on-black pottery style.
  • Shoji Hamada: A Japanese potter who influenced studio pottery both in Japan and internationally, collaborating with Bernard Leach.

Contemporary Artists:

  • Grayson Perry: A contemporary British artist known for his ceramic art, often addressing themes of identity and society.
  • Edmund de Waal: A British ceramic artist and writer, known for his minimalist and poetic porcelain vessels.
  • Claude Conover: An American sculptor known for his large-scale ceramic sculptures inspired by ancient cultures.

Innovations in Pottery:

  • Maiolica Technique: An Italian Renaissance technique involving tin-glazed pottery, known for its vibrant colors and intricate decoration.
  • Salt Glazing: A pottery firing technique where salt is introduced into the kiln, creating a unique glaze effect.
  • Raku Firing: A Japanese pottery firing method characterized by rapid heating and cooling, resulting in distinctive surface patterns.

Pottery Care and Maintenance

Cleaning Pottery:

  • Dust and Dirt Removal: Gently wipe or brush off dust and dirt from the pottery’s surface.
  • Hand Washing: Clean pottery by hand using mild soap, warm water, and a soft sponge or cloth.
  • Avoid Abrasive Cleaners: Refrain from using abrasive cleaning materials that may scratch the pottery’s surface.
  • Glaze Care: Take care when cleaning glazed pottery to avoid damaging the glaze finish.
  • Stain Removal: Use appropriate methods to remove stains or residue, depending on the type of pottery and the nature of the stain.

Storing Pottery:

  • Display Shelves: Use sturdy and well-supported display shelves to store and showcase pottery.
  • Cushioning: Place soft materials or padding between pottery pieces to prevent them from touching and potentially getting scratched or chipped.
  • Avoid Direct Sunlight: Store pottery away from direct sunlight to prevent fading of colors and glazes.
  • Temperature Control: Maintain a consistent and moderate room temperature to prevent extreme temperature fluctuations that may harm pottery.
  • Humidity Control: Monitor humidity levels to prevent cracking or warping of pottery.

Repairing Pottery:

  • Epoxy Resin: Use epoxy resin to mend broken pottery pieces, ensuring a secure and durable repair.
  • Kintsugi: A Japanese art of repairing pottery with lacquer mixed with powdered gold, silver, or other metals, often emphasizing the mended areas as a form of artistic enhancement.
  • Clay Paste: Create a clay paste to repair minor cracks or fill in small chips in pottery.
  • Professional Restoration: For valuable or antique pottery, consider professional restoration services to ensure expert repair and conservation.

Advanced Pottery Terminology

  1. Alumina: A major component of the chemical composition of clays, clay bodies, and most glazes.
  2. Ark: A large tank used for the storage of slip. To prevent sedimentation, it is gently agitated by slowly rotating blades.
  3. Batt: Less commonly known as a “batterboard,” it’s a thin slab of wood, plaster, or plastic used to support ware during shaping. Also, a flat piece of kiln furniture on which ware is placed in a kiln.
  4. Batt Wash: A thin refractory coating, often calcined alumina, applied in slurry form to batts. Used to reduce the adherence of ware during firing.
  5. Bentonite: An extremely plastic clay rich in montmorillonite, which can be added in small quantities to clays or clay bodies to increase plasticity.
  6. Biscuit: Pottery that has been fired but not yet glazed. Occasionally also called bisque.
  7. Biscuit Firing: The first firing prior to glazing and subsequent additional firing.
  8. Bloating: The permanent swelling of a ceramic article during firing caused by the evolution of gases.
  9. Blunging: The energetic mixing of ceramic raw materials, especially clays, with water to produce slip or slurry. Undertaken in large tanks called blungers.
  10. Body: The structural portion of a ceramic article, or the material or mixture from which it is made.
  11. Bone Ash: Calcined animal bone used in the production of bone china. Synthetic alternatives are available.
  12. Bone China: Vitreous, translucent pottery made from a body of the following approximate composition: 45-50% calcined bone, 20-25% kaolin, and 25-30% china stone.
  13. Bone-Dry: The final stage of greenware dried to a near or fully dry state and ready to be fired. In this state, the article is very fragile, non-plastic, and porous.
  14. Brongniart’s Formula: A mathematical formula developed by Alexandre Brongniart of Sèvres Porcelain, which is used to determine the dry material content suspended in a clay or glaze slip.
  15. Bullers Ring: A type of pyrometric device. Is measured using a Bullers ring gauge.
  16. Calcine: To heat a material such that certain temperature-dependent changes occur, examples being oxidation, reduction, phase changes, or the loss of chemically-bound water. Ceramic raw materials which are calcined include clay, bone, and talc.
  17. Candling: The lower temperature stage of some firing cycles used to complete the drying of the ware.
  18. Carbonizing: The permanent staining of a ceramic material by the introduction of carbon particles during firing.
  19. Casting: Slip casting.
  20. Celadon: A glaze originating from China containing iron which produces green, grey, and grey-blue colors in reduction firing.
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