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Why Porcelain?

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#1 CarlCravens

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Posted 06 June 2014 - 08:43 PM

It's a simple question from a relatively inexperienced potter who has only thrown stoneware and earthenware... don't want to stir up a "which is better" debate or anything like that.

 

Why porcelain?  In general, and then specifically, why do some functional potters who cover all but the foot in semi-opaque glaze choose porcelain, considering that it's expensive and finicky (from all I hear).

 

When I go to art fairs, none of the functional potters work in porcelain (I ask about clay and glazes, of course).  But online and in the magazines, I see functional potters who work primarily in porcelain, when they could work in a white stoneware and only other potters or "serious" customers would notice (because of how they finish their pieces).  I don't understand this choice.  (Maybe because I've never tried working with porcelain.)


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#2 Tyler Miller

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Posted 06 June 2014 - 09:00 PM

I think it's because there's literally nothing stronger when done right, nor is there any clay body more versatile for decoration.  A good throwing body just feels nice, too.

 

I don't think it's really as finicky as people say.  I've had more trouble from talc bodies than my limited work with porcelain(less than 6 kiln loads worth).  Talc bodies are the work of the devil. ;)

 

Great question, though, I'm eager to see other people's thoughts on this.



#3 neilestrick

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Posted 06 June 2014 - 09:10 PM

I would rather throw porcelain than anything else. After working with it for so long I actually find it easier to work with than stoneware. Nothing feels like it. The lack of plasticity is a wonderful thing once you get used to it. There is a rubbery resistance to a good throwing porcelain that feels nothing like any other clay body.

 

I don't think white stoneware clays have any real relationship to porcelain with the exception of the fact that most white stonewares are smooth and kind of whitish. Their makeup is totally different, and therefore they feel nothing like porcelain. Most white stonewares are really high in ball clays, and therefore are overly plastic in my opinion, and the fine grain of the ball clay actually makes them more prone to cracking in some instances. White stoneware does not look like porcelain when you put them side by side. Porcelain is whiter and glassier. Glazes behave differently on the two, also. The high silica content of porcelain makes it react with glazes in some very unique ways.

 

Porcelain takes in water faster, so you can't work too slowly with it, but it also dries faster which can be a godsend when you're in a hurry to get some work finished. Contrary to popular belief, it can handle fast drying as long as your pieces are well made. I often speed dry pieces in the kiln, even large ones.

 

It's just a joy to work with once you get used to it. Get a few boxes and go for it!


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#4 Biglou13

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Posted 07 June 2014 - 05:30 AM

Does a Porcelaneous body with some ball clay, say 15 to 25 % still count as porcelain.
One of the classic formulas is 25 porcelain 25 ball 25 spar 25 silica.
Does helios have a greater than 15% ball clay?

I want to make sure I get the whole porcelain experience. I have yet to make a porcelain with less than 15% ball.
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#5 Chris Campbell

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Posted 07 June 2014 - 11:15 AM

Porcelain is an addiction for me.

I love the white translucence. I love the glassy texture. I love how it amps up the colors in my patterns.

 

However, when I want to play with textures I tend to move down the temperature range to more forgiving, playful clay bodies.


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#6 Mark C.

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Posted 07 June 2014 - 11:30 AM

For me Porcelain makes the glazes POP-yes POP -very bright with depth that most other clays only dream of.

The durability of the finisneds product is tough as heck.

I can as Neil said speed dry my production. I can throw a non handled form and dry and bisque it same day if necessary.

My customers have come to love its toughness and wonderful flashy glazes.

I also am not a white stoneware fan-its porcelain for me.

99.9% of what I do is with porcelain

I do love the earthtones of stoneware but thats an old love affair.

Mark


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#7 David F.

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Posted 07 June 2014 - 02:34 PM

I just bought a bunch of standard 181 wht stoneware. Neil and Mark, You're making me think I should have gone with a porcelain. I have been using a buff stoneware, so I just went with familiarity / assuming this will throw/behave more like what I had than porcelain. I wanted to try white because some of my glazes look better on it. 


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#8 Mark C.

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Posted 07 June 2014 - 02:46 PM

I just bought a bunch of standard 181 wht stoneware. Neil and Mark, You're making me think I should have gone with a porcelain. I have been using a buff stoneware, so I just went with familiarity / assuming this will throw/behave more like what I had than porcelain. I wanted to try white because some of my glazes look better on it. 

If you are a stoneware person who likes the earthtone look than stick with it.

Porcelain for me is also easier to make a living with snappy glazes and pots that are stronger.

Mark


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#9 njabeid

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Posted 07 June 2014 - 02:53 PM

While porcelain users are looking this way, I have two questions.

 

I am in West Africa, far, far away from any other potters or materials suppliers, but am learning happily, mainly thanks to internet and books. I am using locally dug clays, and having major trouble fitting glazes. However, I have found raw kaolinite, and have wet it, ground it and thrown a few bowls with it (pure, no additions) to try it out. I also mixed some with my other clays, with nice results, but all are pink or red and I love white. As Neilestrick says, it has a sumptuous texture, and although soft and floppy seems to behave well, particularly for a first trial run, so I assume it is far from being pure kaolin. But I have nothing white to add to it.

 

Now I am going to fire these test bowls.

 

Question 1 : is raw kaolinite porcelain? Is it used like this? It is cheap, so price is not a problem. 

 

Question 2 : what firing temperature (electric) should I aim for? More importantly, what happens if I decide to fire it to only cone 6 and it does not mature completely?



#10 David F.

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Posted 07 June 2014 - 03:23 PM

I have been using stoneware for years and more recently started using some white stoneware for teeth and eyeballs on face jugs. Then I started throwing some swirl ware pieces since I had some white clay and brown. Over time I have been increasing the percentage of white clay on hand as I like the way some glazes look on it. I now have about 60% white verses a couple of years ago it would have been 90% brown and 10% white. So there is a chance I may completely switch to white and maybe porcelain. 

 

I also have added some horse hair firings and so far, can use the same white stoneware.


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#11 neilestrick

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Posted 07 June 2014 - 09:14 PM

I just bought a bunch of standard 181 wht stoneware. Neil and Mark, You're making me think I should have gone with a porcelain. I have been using a buff stoneware, so I just went with familiarity / assuming this will throw/behave more like what I had than porcelain. I wanted to try white because some of my glazes look better on it. 

 

I do not like 181 at all. Too much ball clay, prone to cracking, etc. If you want white but don't need it totally smooth go with 182, which has a bit of fireclay in it which makes it much nicer to work with and much more forgiving. For cone 6 try 240 for totally smooth, 630 has fireclay.


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#12 neilestrick

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Posted 07 June 2014 - 09:16 PM

Does a Porcelaneous body with some ball clay, say 15 to 25 % still count as porcelain.
One of the classic formulas is 25 porcelain 25 ball 25 spar 25 silica.
Does helios have a greater than 15% ball clay?

I want to make sure I get the whole porcelain experience. I have yet to make a porcelain with less than 15% ball.

 

IMHO, if it has ball clay it's not porcelain, it's white stoneware. That's the dividing line. People add ball clay to make it more plastic and supposedly forgiving, but ball clay ruins everything that makes porcelain so unique and wonderful. Helios is a true English grolleg porcelain, no ball clay.


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#13 bciskepottery

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Posted 07 June 2014 - 09:32 PM

Why porcelain? After reading, at John B's suggestion in another thread, "The Arcanum" by Janet Gleeson, I'd offer the fascination began because porcelain was a secret held in China and not available to the West. Porcelain was limited to those who could afford its steep prices until the West figured out how to make its own porcelain clay bodies. Many folks stopping at my booth ask if the white items are made from porcelain, to which I explain, no, I use a white stoneware. But no one stops and asks if I'm using a white stoneware. So there seems to be a perception among the public that porcelain is preferred, better, whatever. When I started out learning to throw, I was given a speckled-brown stoneware; later on, if I was good, I could graduate to white stoneware or even porcelain -- but that was for the real potters and masters.

#14 oldlady

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Posted 07 June 2014 - 11:48 PM

when I grow up I want to work in porcelain.  I love it, have several hundred pounds of tom coleman porcelain from aardvark.  the only problem is that though my kiln, electric, will go to cone 10, it is not a fuel burning kiln and I will not get the same results that reduction potters do.

 

if someone else will glaze and fire, I volunteer to throw!


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#15 CarlCravens

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Posted 09 June 2014 - 04:08 PM

if I was good, I could graduate to white stoneware or even porcelain -- but that was for the real potters and masters.

 

I've wondered if this has been part of it... porcelain is "hard to work with," i.e. not for beginners.  I had gotten the impression that many consider working with porcelain was a badge of honor, a mark that one is "real" artistic potter.  Most of the responses in this thread boil down to "I just like it best."


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#16 Rebekah Krieger

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Posted 09 June 2014 - 05:23 PM

When I first started throwing I told myself that i didn't like the aesthetic of "typical stoneware pottery" (brown, chunky, drippy glazes etc) I wanted to make thin, elegant, and light looking pieces.  (which is strange because now when I look at pots, I tend to like ones that are creamy, thick stoneware, and wood fired)  I have found it personally easier to make thin and elegant with porcelain.   One of my biggest sensation pet peeves that grosses me out the most is the feeling of un glazed porcelain…. it's just horrifying!!!) But it seems like the complete opposite when throwing.  

 

The sensation of throwing a pot on the wheel feels amplified with porcelain clay. (I use a mid fire cone 6 body)  It's the fluidity and control that I like.  

 

 

My preference is purely emotional/ physical not based on the clay's actual capabilities. 


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#17 Mark C.

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Posted 09 June 2014 - 11:05 PM

 

if I was good, I could graduate to white stoneware or even porcelain -- but that was for the real potters and masters.

 

I've wondered if this has been part of it... porcelain is "hard to work with," i.e. not for beginners.  I had gotten the impression that many consider working with porcelain was a badge of honor, a mark that one is "real" artistic potter.  Most of the responses in this thread boil down to "I just like it best."

 

Its not that I just like it best-its what makes my living as a potter work . Thats because the glazes look fantastic on it and they buy that look-its thats its more durable and they like that as they are used for daily use and getting broken is not good.

Yes its harder to work with costs more and has a high loss rate but its worth that for me.

None of the negatives matter to me only the positives .

When I tried to make a living strictly with stone ware it was harder-I use to do both and made a complete switch to 100%porcelain in the mid 80's

Never looked back

I still throw stoneware salt pots and like those earth tones but do not make a living with brown clay anymore.

Mark 


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#18 neilestrick

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Posted 10 June 2014 - 08:48 AM

Why porcelain? After reading, at John B's suggestion in another thread, "The Arcanum" by Janet Gleeson, I'd offer the fascination began because porcelain was a secret held in China and not available to the West. Porcelain was limited to those who could afford its steep prices until the West figured out how to make its own porcelain clay bodies. Many folks stopping at my booth ask if the white items are made from porcelain, to which I explain, no, I use a white stoneware. But no one stops and asks if I'm using a white stoneware. So there seems to be a perception among the public that porcelain is preferred, better, whatever. When I started out learning to throw, I was given a speckled-brown stoneware; later on, if I was good, I could graduate to white stoneware or even porcelain -- but that was for the real potters and masters.

 

The public is terribly uneducated about clays. Most won't even know what white stoneware is. This weekend I had someone ask if my pots were 'earthenware or ceramic'. I also often get asked if they are 'porcelain or clay'. They also don't get that stoneware can be thin and light, and porcelain can be heavy and chunky- their experience with stoneware has been hand made pieces, and their experience with porcelain has been factory produced slip cast pieces. But they assume porcelain is better because it is advertised as such, and all the most expensive, fanciest commercial pots are made of it.

 

Porcelain is harder to work with, and I would never put a beginner on it, but I don't think it's any better than stoneware. It's just different, and I prefer it. One does not have to work with porcelain to be a great potter. Skill is skill, regardless of the clay body.


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#19 CarlCravens

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Posted 10 June 2014 - 01:51 PM

The public is terribly uneducated about clays. Most won't even know what white stoneware is

 

This is what I was thinking, which makes me surprised to hear Mark say he can't make a living in stoneware because his customers are informed enough to have a preference for porcelain.

 

As I said in the original post, I can tell the difference, most of us here can tell the difference, and some discerning customers can tell the difference... but in the art fair crowd, the average Joe doesn't know white stoneware from porcelain, and wouldn't prefer one over the other, everything else being equal.

 

Mark C, I wonder what your customer base looks like.  Lots of repeat clients who are well-informed about pottery?  Do you live/sell in an area where the average Joe knows more about pottery than most other areas?  I've mostly thought of porcelain as an "art" medium (sculpture, decorative vases, etc) and didn't realize that potters used it to make functional ware until relatively recently... and even then I didn't know there were advantages to porcelain in functional work until you listed them here.  (I knew porcelain fired "hard" but it didn't occur to me that it could make more durable functional ware than stoneware.)

 

Still not enough to sway me at this point... I can't afford to play with porcelain when I'm still in the "throw 100 cylinders as practice for making identical pieces" stage.  It's enough work reclaiming stoneware scrap.

 

I love the look of porcelain, and in stoneware I prefer a buff or cream clay... I'm not fond of "brown" stoneware for the most part.  There are a few styles where I like brown or heavily speckled clay, but they're not styles I want to work in at this stage.  (I met someone at the local community studio that's into reproducing medieval forms... I might get involved with his crowd, and then I'd certainly be giving up my B-Mix 5 for something a bit more on the brown side for that kind of work.  He's headed to a workshop where a medievalist group is going to dig and process clay using only tools available from a medieval time period.  Sounds like fun.)


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#20 neilestrick

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Posted 10 June 2014 - 03:00 PM

 

The public is terribly uneducated about clays. Most won't even know what white stoneware is

 

This is what I was thinking, which makes me surprised to hear Mark say he can't make a living in stoneware because his customers are informed enough to have a preference for porcelain.

 

 

 

His customers may not have a clue why, but they prefer the look of his pots being made of porcelain. When you look at the pots at an art fair, the majority are made of stoneware, and have that stoneware look to them- matte/semi matte glazes, iron spots, earthier tones, etc. Porcelain pots stand out, and that helps sales. I have a lot of customers at art fairs who love that I use glossy glazes, and they tell me they have a really hard time finding glossy pots. Porcelain looks great with glossy transparent/translucent glazes, not so much on dark stoneware.


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