Master Ceramic Experience
Master Ceramic Experience
Marvel at the skills on show in our crafts demonstration area. Take the opportunity to see how it is done at close quarters and talk to the artisans at work. They will be happy to answer your questions and you will come away with a wealth of knowledge. The skills demonstrated by these elite craftspeople are truly breathtaking. Whilst the skills that are on show vary from day to day we regularly have demonstrators showing the skills of hand painting, ornamenting, potting, figurine painting and more. Some of the processes they use remain unchanged since the days of Josiah Wedgwood I.
Here are some of the skills you may see demonstrated. Click on one to find out more.
Throwing or potting is the process of transforming a ball of clay on a rotating wheel into an object which could be a vase or a bowl or any number of other items. After all the air has been removed from the clay (by ‘pugging’, ‘wedging’ or ‘kneading’) it is thrown onto the centre of a potter’s wheel. The potter works the clay by compressing and extruding the clay in their hands to get it to the shape they require. The pots or other shapes are all made taller, wider and thicker than need be because they will be turned once they are cheese-hard (the clay state after the item has been allowed to dry naturally for a period of hours or days depending on the piece). Clay also shrinks about 15% during the production process as water evaporates so the potter has to allow for that when throwing the item.
Just as wood and metal can be shaped on a lathe, the cheese-hard Jasper clay can be turned and cut into perfectly symmetrical items using a variety of tools. The process remains unchanged since Josiah Wedgwood’s time although the lathe is now powered by electricity. The variety of patterns that can be ‘diced’ and cut into the ceramic items is huge and the final piece can be covered in complex patterning or the item can very simply be shaped on the lathe.
The bas reliefs that characterise Wedgwood Jasper ware are made in small plaster moulds. A small quantity of clay is placed in the mould and it is firmly pressed into the mould to ensure that every tiny detail is transferred to the ornament. Whilst the ornament is still damp, the figure maker uses gentle pressure from a spatula to ease the clay out of the mould without distorting it or losing any of the detail.
After the cast item has been dried to cheese-hard, it can be decorated with the figures and ornaments that make Jasper unique. These bas reliefs are very thin and delicate and a steady hand is needed to avoid damaging them. The ornamenter keeps them moist on plaster bats until they are ready to use them. The item to be decorated is first moistened with water from a paintbrush and then the ornament is applied to the item and gently but firmly pressed down, making sure there is no air behind it. The decoration of some items can take two days’ work with as many as 450 ornaments on a single piece.
Although most of the decoration on fine bone china is applied in the form of transfers some items are embellished by the use of enamel, a very hard and intensely coloured paint, that has to be painted on with a fine sable hair brush. A good eye is needed as small amounts of enamel paint are dropped onto the item to be decorated and then gently pushed into place with the brush. The brush itself never actually makes contact with the item being decorated.
The coloured patterns for fine bone china items are printed onto transfers called lithographs. These are made of plastic, with a paper backing sheet. Each transfer is soaked in water before sliding it off the plastic and carefully applying it to the item. This is delicate work - all air bubbles must be removed and the transfer must be free of creases and in exactly the right position. Any mistakes and the item is ruined.
After a figurine has been cast and fired then it is ready to be ‘brought to life’ and hand painted. Visitors to the Wedgwood Visitor Centre can order a figurine and choose the specific hair, eye and dress colour and can even nominate the name to be painted on the base of the figurine.
Hand painting onto ceramic is an art form. At the Wedgwood Visitor Centre you can commission your own bespoke hand painted Wedgwood piece as a memento or gift. Bring a photograph or sketch with you and the Wedgwood hand painter will produce a piece that is unique to you.