Topic outline

  • Syllabus

    Ceramics – Topics

    Introduction to Ceramic Surfaces


    Fall 2013                                                                               

    Instructor: Megan Mitchell

    ART2342 – 3 credits                                                      

    Tues. and Thurs. from 10:30am – 12:50pm                                                  

    Office hours: Wed from 9am – 12pm or by appointment, lower Appletree                                                            

    Course description and objectives

    The aim of this course is to decipher the unique language of the ceramic surface. Students will study clays, slips, glazes, firing methods, and alternative surfaces to uncover their role in determining the character of a ceramic object. The course will include research of historical and contemporary approaches to the ceramic surface, as well as studio experimentation, concluding with an independent research project. We will also investigate possibilities for incorporating drawing, painting and printmaking methods on clay. Students will use handbuilding and wheel throwing techniques for studio projects, and the course is intended for beginning and intermediate students.



    Mandatory: Sketchbook, plastic bucket, tool kit (available from book store) exacto knife, ruler and tape measure, plastic bags, scissors.

    Additional materials may be required for some projects.


    Lab Fee: $95. This fee covers all clay, glaze materials and firing costs.


    Course organization

    This course will be divided into five units. Each unit will consist of lectures, independent research and studio work. Studio projects are designed to test our research and give an opportunity for creative expression. Students will give two presentations during the semester, one in conjunction with the final project, and one that relates to one of the other units.


    Unit 1 Clay

    Consider clay a canvas – a base layer which will affect the character of the finished piece. During this unit, we will examine the chemical and physical properties of clay, and make small batches of clay to achieve different colors and textures. These clays will be used to make pinch pots to further identify the working properties of the clay.

    Unit 2Glaze

    We will examine historical precedents of glazes, and achieve an understanding of basic glaze chemistry. Our investigation will cover both making our own glazes and exploring decoration through glaze. This unit will also include an introduction to throwing.

    Unit 3Slips 

    The introduction of slips allows for a wide variety of surface decoration techniques. This unit will cover formulation of slips and engobes, and will largely focus on methods of using slips, stains and underglaze, including brushing, dipping, resist methods, drawing with stains, sgraffito and mishima.

    Unit 4Printing on clay

    This unit will cover relief printing, silkscreening and lithographic processes, as applied to clay. We will investigate methods for transferring digital imagery to ceramics.

    Unit 5Independent Project

    The course will conclude with an independent project of your choice. This project is open to a wide range of interpretations, from reproducing an historic glaze, transferring painting or drawing skills to clay, or creating a trompe l’oeil surface. We will devote the last month of the semester to this project, but I encourage you to start your research now. You will give a presentation to the class about your final project, and also be required to turn in a bibliography of source material.



    Your sketchbook is an integral part of this course. Document all of your research! This can take the form of drawings, notes, photocopies, photographs and virtual galleries, and hopefully all of the above. As well, all of your technical research in the studio should be carefully recorded.



    This course consists of 100 points, which will be divided as follows:

    Attendance, class participation and presentations: 25 points

    Unit 1: 10 points

    Unit 2: 15 points

    Unit 3: 15 points

    Unit 4: 15 points

    Unit 5: 20 points


    Within each unit, the grade will be judged on the following criteria:

    -    Research as documented in sketchbook/ virtual sketchbook

    -    Completion of assigned tasks

    -    Attention to detail and quality of craft

    -    Development of a personal interpretation of the project


    Attendance is extremely important for this class; more than two unexcused absences will negatively affect your grade. If you will miss class for religious, family or medical reasons, please notify me in as far in advance as possible.


    Participation in this class requires cleanliness and good studio etiquette. Please be considerate of others who use the studio. Students will be assigned cleaning chores on a rotating basis. Cell phone use is not permitted during class; computers are allowed for research only.

    • Unit 1 Assignment

      Ceramics – Topics, Fall 2013

      Unit 1: Clay

      Sept 5 – Sept 18


      Unit Assignments:

      1. Read Part I of Clay and Glazes for the Potter, by Daniel Rhodes, with particular attention to Chapter 5, Kinds of Clay, and Chapter 7, Clay Bodies. Below, I have listed materials that you should know; use this sheet to take notes on them.
      2. Familiarize yourself with possible surfaces for clay through investigation in the library as well as online research. and are two good online sources for contemporary ceramic work. By Wednesday, Sept 11, turn in a brief response (two or three paragraphs) to your initial research – surfaces/ time periods/ artists that interest you and why.
      3. On Sept 11, we will begin the process of mixing test clay bodies. This is intended to be extremely experimental and give us a broader understanding of the materials used in clay. Working in groups, we will mix small batches of clay to be shared. By Sept 18, you should have at least 10 pinch pots made from at least 5 different clay bodies.


      Types of clays:




      -Ball clay



      -Fire clay






      Other materials in clay




      -Flux (feldspar, nepheline syenite)



       Other terms:

      Reduction firing


      Oxidation firing

      • Resources

        Smithsonian Museum – especially Freer Sackler Gallery

        Metropolitan Museum of Art – check out the Timeline of Art History

        Asian Art Museum

        Victoria and Albert Museum

        Gardiner Museum

        American Pottery Festival

        St. Croix Pottery Tour

        International Ceramics Directory

        • Unit 2 Assignment - glazes

          Unit 2: Glazes



          - Understand the basic chemistry of glazes, and categories of glaze materials

          - Develop a series of tests to further this understanding

          - Overview of surface techniques utilizing glaze



          1. You will be assigned a category of material to research. We will discuss this research in class on Monday, Sept 23. For the glaze materials, I find Out of the Earth, Into the Fire to be more useful than Rhodes.
          2. This unit will be divided between glaze testing and decorative techniques. You will try both, but can weigh the unit more heavily towards one or the other according to your interests.  Within testing, possibilities include:
            1. Choose an existing class glaze, and test it with variations such as eliminating ingredients or substituting ingredients in the glaze for similar materials
            2. Find an existing base glaze and test it with different colorants
            3. Develop your own base glaze

          By Monday, Sept 23 please be ready to choose avenue of testing to pursue.

          1. You should expect to complete a range of 5 – 20 glaze tests, and 3 – 8 decorated pieces (depending on your focus). Test tiles and green pieces should be bone dry by Sept 27, and ready to glaze fire by Oct 3.



          Wed. Sept 18 – Introduction to glazes; pick one clay test to fire over weekend

          Mon. Sept 23 – Review student research; decide on direction for testing; make test tiles/ pieces for glaze decoration

          Wed. Sept 25 – Glaze mixing, finish pieces for bisque

          Mon. Sept 30 –  Decorating with glaze - discussion and demonstration.  Glaze mixing, glazing

          Wed. Oct 2. – Student presentations on glaze, glazing



          • New presentation schedule

            Revised presentation schedule – 9/18

            The syllabus for this class states that you will give two presentations. Upon consideration, I have decided to transform one of the presentations into a series of smaller reports. You will still give a more in depth presentation in congruence with the research for your independent project. The impetus for this is to encourage you to maintain an ongoing investigation of surfaces of interest to you. Please note that these reports are not intended to be lengthy or extensive  - between 4 – 8 images should be sufficient.


            Sept. 23 – Report on category of glaze material (to be assigned Sept 18)

            Oct 2 – Glaze presentation – an artist/ historical period utilizing glaze for primary surface effect

            Oct 16 – Slip presentation – an artist/ historical period utilizing slip for primary surface effect

            Dec.2 / Dec. 4 – Presentations on independent research (this should be a longer talk – 10 – 15 minutes in length, and accompanied by a biography of sources)

            Additionally, we will continue to present one new source material, on a rotating basis through the class. For the near future this means:

            Sept. 23 – Liza

            Sept. 25 – Ayla

            Sept. 30 – Barbara

            Oct. 2 – Adeline

            Oct. 7 – Jim

            Oct. 9 - Maya




            • Unit 3 Assignment

              Unit 3: Slip AND Glaze and slip application methods

              Overview: This unit will be primarily focused on methods for applying slip and glaze, and less on materials and research. Class time will be divided between demonstrations and work time. We will also discuss ceramic pieces by describe design and compositional elements of surface and form.

               Assignments: By Monday, October 7, be prepared to discuss the terms listed below.   Please read Chapter 8 in Clay and Glazes for the Potter. You will need to consult other sources; I suggest The Potter’s Dictionary and/ or internet sources.

              By October 9, you should have a variety of bisqued, bone dry and leather hard pieces to work with. We will load another bisque on October 6.

              During this unit, we will complete the glaze unit through the application of glaze to 3-8 bisqued pieces (along with continued glaze testing depending on your emphasis). Additionally, you should finish 6 -12 pieces using at least three different slip techniques. Quantities depend on your credit amount, and the amount of detail in the slip application. Please note that these finished pieces should reflect an editing process, in which you set aside practice pieces and submit those that represent some facility with the techniques. These are due as greenware on October 23.



              Oct 7: Discuss clay and glaze tests, review slip terminology


              Oct 9: Demonstration:  glaze and slip application – dipping, pouring, resist techniques, trailing


              Oct 14: Demonstration: slip application – brushwork, slip transfer


              Oct 16: Demonstration: slip inlay and sgraffito


              Oct 21: No class (Hendricks Day)


              Oct 23: Slip projects due (greenware). Student presentations on artist/ historical period with slip as primary surface technique. Introduction to printmaking on clay


              List of terms:



              Terra sigillata





              Vitreous engobe


              Leather hard slip vs greenware slip vs bisque slip



              Specific gravity


              Source presentation schedule:

              Oct. 7 – Jim

              Oct. 9 – Maya

              Oct 14 – Liza

              Oct 16 – Ayla

              Oct 23 – Barbara

              Oct 29 - Adeline


              • Unit 4 assignment

                Unit 4: Printing on Clay

                This unit will provide an overview of techniques for using printmaking methods on clay.

                By Monday, November 4, be prepared to discuss the genres of printmaking listed below; as well, consider connections between these printing methods and surface processes we have already discussed. The books in the studio belong to me; please treat them kindly.

                Assignment: Most of the work for this unit will be completed during class time, due to the technical nature of printmaking. You should plan to complete 6-8 pieces using at least three printmaking processes. We will look at them as greenware on December 2. I encourage you to continue to practice other slip techniques by combining them with printmaking. Attendance and participation are particularly critical for this unit.

                Printmaking terms:








                November 4: Discussion of printmaking methods. Demo of relief and silkscreen printing.

                November 11: Work day – relief and silkscreen. Preparation: images for silkscreen, carved relief block, slabs and/or leather hard forms.

                November 18: Demo and discussion – lithography, intaglio, monoprinting, decals

                November 15: Work day – all printing methods.

                A reminder that Wednesdays throughout November will be work days for your final project. Use your time well!


                November 13 – load bisque

                November 18 – load glaze


                • Final project

                  Ceramics – Topics

                  Final Project

                  Overview: Your final project should be a focused exploration of a type of surface or a surface process. You may choose from any of the material or methods we have studied in class, or focus on a process that we have not covered. The project will include a ten to fifteen minute presentation on historical and contemporary uses of the surface, a bibliography of sources, a write up of recipes or other technical research, and a body of work using the surface. The scope of this work will be determined on an individual basis. We will fire at least twice during the project time, so plan to have some work completed by the first firing. Surfaces which require a different firing temperature or clay body are acceptable pending my approval.


                  Wednesday, October 30: Proposal due. Your proposal should describe the focus of your project, your plans for any technical research, and an outline of the making component. I will respond to the proposal by the end of the week.

                  November 13: Load bisque

                  November 20: Load glaze kiln

                  December 2 and December 4: Presentations

                  December 5: Load bisque

                  December 11: Bibliography and technical research due

                  December 12: Load glaze

                  Finals: Critique of final project (date tba)


                  • Topic 9

                    • Topic 10

                      • Topic 11

                        • Topic 12

                          • Topic 13

                            • Topic 14

                              • Topic 15

                                • Topic 16