adrian sassoon, kate malone

[Image above] Kate Malone, A Pair of Summer Rain Atomic Bottles, 11 in. (28 cm) in length, crystalline glazed stoneware, 2014. Image: Courtesy of Adrian Sassoon, London.

This article was excerpted from “Science for Potters,” which is available in the Ceramic Arts Network Shop.

Many people think that science is a subject that is at the opposite end of the spectrum from art. But ceramic artists know that ceramics IS science as much as it is art. Trouble is, science is a subject that does not come easily for some. That is why Linda Bloomfield, who was trained as a scientist before becoming a potter, wrote “Science for Potters.”

“Science for Potters” covers those aspects of science that are useful to potters and that help to give a deeper understanding of ceramic materials and processes. By gaining a deeper understanding of materials, their structure, composition, origins, and how they interact, potters can have greater control over and new insights into their craft.

Credit: Linda Bloomfield, Ceramic Arts Network

In honor of Mother’s Day, you can save 30 percent when you order “Science for Potters” with the promo code MAMALOVE, valid through Thursday, May 16. Some of the things you can expect to learn from this book include

  • the basics of chemistry in clear and simple terms,
  • how the chemistry and structure of clay bodies affects their working properties,
  • what makes a stable glaze,
  • how materials interact in a glaze,
  • glaze faults and how to correct them,
  • substitutions for glaze materials that are no longer available,
  • and the glaze unity molecular formula and why it is so important.

The basics and beyond. Bloomfield begins the book with a discussion of atoms, and covers the structure of the atom, how atoms combine to make compounds, and why some compounds can be used to make colored pigments and glazes.

Diagram of network structure in silica. Each oxygen atom is joined to two silicon atoms. Image: Elin Barrett

Geology and the potter. Bloomfield focuses on the aspects of geology, chemistry, and materials science that are relevant to potters. The properties of clays are explained by examining their chemistry and structure, and the various rocks and minerals used in glaze making are explored.

Line blend of rhyolite and basalt. Left rhyolite, 75:25, 50:50, 25:75, right basalt. The rocks were crushed, then ball milled, and fired to cone 12 [2,286°F (1,252°C)] in oxidation. The glaze with 75 percent rhyolite and 25 percent basalt is an oilspot glaze, where iron oxide has released oxygen during firing, which has bubbled through the glaze. Image: Matt Fiske

Glazing and firing. Making sure a glaze fits the clay body is something that cannot be ignored by potters, and Bloomfield dedicates a chapter to glaze fit. She explains glaze faults and how to correct them, and she also includes a clear explanation of the changes that clay goes through during firing to become ceramic.

Emma Williams’ tall bowls, press-moulded black earthenware clay, barium and crawl glazes, 3 in. (8 cm) in height, 2014. Image: Courtesy of the artist

Appendixes. Useful appendixes include a glossary, ceramic materials list, Orton Cone Chart, Phase Diagram for silica-alumina-calcia, materials analysis charts for both U.S. and U.K. frits, clays and feldspars, a complete Periodic Table of the Elements, and an index.

Learn more about “Science for Potters” at