from soft clay to a vitrified, functional vessel.. with a little handcrafted intervention

Making a mug, from start to finish, can take between 3-5 weeks. Each mug goes through at least two kiln firings, three if they have a bit of sparkle (gold!), and reach temperatures over 1200 degrees C. 

Of course, it isn't all science and numbers (although there is a LOT of science and numbers in pottery, but more on that later), it is, after all, a handmade craft. Each mug is different, each piece made by hand, no mass production here.




Clay comes in a bags, usually 12.5kg. I first cut some with a wire, then I have to wedge it - basically knead it a bit like bread dough- to ensure the clay is consistent throughout and make sure it doesn't have any air bubbles. It then gets weighed (for consistent sizes) and formed into balls ready for the wheel.

the wheel


A ball of clay is then thrown on the wheel to form the shape. This is the bit of making I enjoy the most, creating the form with my hands. Once it's what I want, I wire it off the bat, and it is left to dry for a few days until 'leather hard', hard enough to hold it's shape but not too dry that it can't still bend and be trimmed. The pot is turned upside down on the wheel now and I trim the base.



I get to skip this part if making a vase, which I love because, to be honest, I hate making handles. They can be made a number of ways, but because I'm just so rubbish at them, I cut them from slabs. {Purists will call it pottery blasphemy!} They are attached with a clay slurry, called slip, and it is crucial to get the join right, or else the handle could pop off!

Pots are then slow dried for several days, often under plastic or in a plastic tub to stop them drying to fast. If parts dry faster than others (like the handle or rim) it can cause the pot to crack and end up in the reclaim clay bucket! It can take weeks to dry in wet weather, but once they are bone dry - that is, very, very dry- they are ready for the kiln. If there is any water in the pot, it will quickly turn to steam in the kiln, which wants to escape and will cause the pot to explode, taking out anything in the kiln with it. So even, thorough drying is a must!




kiln fire

Once I'm sure they are dry, they go into the kiln for a bisque fire. This is their first fire (of up to three), to turn clay to stone. Up until this stage, if something is wrong with the pot, it goes into reclaim clay bucket to be made into something else. After this fire, the mug is no longer clay. This one helps them absorb glaze better and makes them less fragile. They are fired to 1000 degrees Celsius, which takes about 7 hours, then another 14-18 to cool down. I have to wait until they are cooled below 100 degrees before opening the kiln, otherwise they could all crack from thermal shock.



Once they have been sanded and inspected, I wax the bottoms of the pots to protect them from getting any glaze on them (melted glaze will cause the pots to stick to the kiln shelf).  They are then glazed by hand, either by painting it on with a brush, or dipping it in a bucket. My glazes are a mixture of commercial (pre-mixed) glazes and my own recipes I mix from raw materials (this is where the chemistry and numbers comes in). After they are glazed and dry, they go back into the kiln for a second fire, this time to over 1200 degrees Cesius.

At this stage, they are finished and ready for photographing for the website, unless they need a bit of sparkle (gold).



If they are getting any lustre, this is done last. Gold is painted {very CAREFULLY} by hand, and then the pots go in for a third firing to 780 degrees Celsius.

Pots with gold on them are more expensive because they have a third firing and also the lustre is real gold! It comes in a 5g bottle, which I once spilled on the table and painstakingly trying to clean up with a knife blade and get back into the bottle...

Find me on instagram: @studioLPceramics 


2020 Copyright Lianne Peel | Photography credits: Peel Photography & Emma Mitchell