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Clay Words

Follow the steps of making a vase in order to learn about the words of clay


The artist starts with a lump of clay.

clay: earth or soil that is very fine-grained. It's soft when moist, brittle when dry.
The artist wedges the clay.
wedge: to knead the clay so that air bubbles are removed. Wedging also makes all of the clay the same, so that it doesn't have wet and dry parts, but equal.
The clay is formed into a ball. The artist throws the ball onto the potter's wheel.
potter's wheel: a round disk that spins as an artist works clay into a shape.

The artist works with the ball so that it is exactly centered on the wheel.


She/he uses the thumbs to make an opening on top. The artist uses various techniques to work the clay into a vessel shape.




The vessel is removed and allowed dry until it is leather hard.

leather hard: a stage in drying clay. It is hard and strong enough to pick up and handle.
The artist adds handles to the vase by scoring the joining parts, and using slip. [photo here]
scoring: scratching the surface of a clay piece where another clay piece will be joined. Scoring makes the surface rough.

slip: clay mixed with water so that it is creamy and smooth. Slip is applied to a scored surface and acts like glue between two pieces of clay.


The vessel dries fully, until it is bone dry, or greenware. [photo here]
greenware: air-dried clay.


The artist paints a few designs on the vase, using underglaze. [photo here]
underglaze: a type of coloring for greenware.

The vessel is fired in a kiln. It becomes bisque. [photo here]
fire: firing is like baking or heating a piece of clay so that it becomes permanently hard.

kiln: a special oven that uses very high heat, sometimes as high as 1,300 degrees Celsius...that's very hot!

bisque: clay that has been fired for the first time. You can no longer change the clay's shape (bisque sounds like bisk).

The artist coats the vessel with glaze. [photo here]
glaze: a mixture of minerals that turns into a glassy finish when fired.

The piece is fired in the kiln again. When the vessel comes out of the kiln, it is a beautiful work of ceramic art.
ceramic: a human-made work of art that has been fired in a kiln.

Clay Parts

Can you guess the parts of a vase? You have some of these parts too, such as a belly, neck, foot, and shoulder. Move your mouse over the vase to see what each part is called.



Clay Shapes


As you were learning new words in the Clay Words section up above, you were also reading about how a vase is made by thowing it on the wheel. There are other ways of making a vase:

Coil: The clay is rolled into rope-like pieces. Each piece is joined, or coiled on top of the previous piece. Round and round, up and up, the artist coils the clay, until a vase takes shape.

Pinch: The clay is formed into a ball. The artist uses his or her thumb to make a hole. The artist pinches and squeezes the clay up and out into a shape.

Slab: The clay is rolled out so that it is flat. The artist cuts the flat clay into pieces of any size or shape. The pieces are joined together. The joint marks are smoothed over, and then you have a vase.

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