The Miracle of Creating Handcrafted Ceramics

All products created by firing clay are called ceramics. Currently, the use of ceramic has spread far beyond pottery. It is widely used in architecture, construction, plumbing, medicine (for example, in dental prosthetics), science and, of course, in various fields of art. This article focuses on church utensils, dishes, decor items and other art pottery created by our artisans. Today we are sharing with you some facts related to manufacturing and decorating such products by hand.

A Bit of History

The history of ceramics begins tens of thousands of years BC with the discovery of clay and using it to mould thick-walled dishes. Unfired earthenware had low moisture resistance and absorbed about 20% of water. The later invention of firing techniques made it possible to reduce the degree of moisture absorption. The technology of glazing products before firing them is believed to be dated from ca 3000 BC. (around the same time the potter’s wheel was invented). Due to the high price of glazing materials, for a long time they were replaced by animal fat and other available substances, applied on ceramics before firing. 

Since then, ceramics have been gradually developing alongside other life spheres of mankind. Today, there are several known types of clay and many types of ceramics, from majolica to porcelain. The technologies for decorating ceramics are even more versatile. We use three different manual methods.

The Process of Making and Decorating Ceramics in Our Workshop

Our ceramics are the result of scrupulous manual work of many craftsmen. Although we do use specialized forms to create dishes and utensils, almost all finishing and decorating work is done by hand. 

The very first stage is developing the shape of the future product, creating the prototype model and the plaster molds.

Then a solution of ceramic clay is poured in these forms, consisting of two closely fitting halves. After a certain time, depending on the desired wall thickness of the final product, the excess is drained.

At the following stage, the solidified ceramics are removed from their molds, and the excess is cut off.

The products are then polished. In some cases, handles and other elements are glued to them (many cups are molded already with handles). 

After that, the ceramics are placed in the kiln for the first firing at very high temperatures. At that stage our ceramics, acquiring a characteristic pinkish tint, become tested for cracks that are now clearly visible. Cracked products are rejected and cannot be restored. 

After this stage, the processing and decoration of the products will differ, depending on the chosen technique. The products to be decorated with decal are covered with white glaze and sent to the kiln for second firing. After that, they take on their final shape and appearance, becoming durable, smooth, white and shiny.

Cup before the first and after the second firing

Then a decal is applied to them manually, with a special yellow varnish coating, burning out completely during the final third firing.

After the third firing, the ready-made bright tea sets, vases and sets for storing holy water and prosphora are taken out of the kiln.

Holy water and prosphora set decorated with decal

After the first firing, the future hand-painted items are transferred to the decorating department. Some of them are then painted in the wet(alla prima) technique, using glaze mixed with refractory paints. The rest are decorated with relief patterns, cut out manually, and then painted with colored opaque glaze (enamel). This technique makes the products voluminous and vibrant, while the surface itself becomes pleasant to the touch. 

A product with a relief decoration. Work in progress VS the finished product.

After that, both types of products are fired once more. Often such dishes and decor items contain golden elements to give them a special shine. Lines of solution with gold are applied to the product after the second firing and then again subjected to heat. Finally, after the third firing, we have a finished work of ceramic art. 

Hand painted tea set with poppies
Church shaped candle holder with relief decoration

When developing decal and hand-painting designs, our artists are inspired by Byzantine motifs, traditional Russian painting and landscapes, as well as scenes from Russian fairy tales.

Ceramics is a rather unpredictable material that can deform, crack, or even explode in a kiln at different processing stages.  Before embarking on the creation of ceramic products, it is important to study this material well in order to feel and control changes in its properties and process it properly during all production stages. 

Interestingly, the properties of ceramics sometimes result in the appearance of new designs. For example, the contortion during the manufacturing process once inspired our ceramists to create a  popular non-conventional shape for our tea sets.

Cup and saucer set in our Catalog

Handmade ceramic tableware is an excellent choice for those who wish to reward themselves with an exclusive product or need a great gift idea. For example, our church shaped candlesticks and tea sets with winter motifs create a fabulous winter atmosphere, while our Christmas product line serves as a beautiful reminder of the upcoming important Holiday.

Christmas ceramics

Unlike many mass-production products, our ceramics are made in small quantities (or sometimes in a single copy). Many individual orders that we carry out are not represented in the catalog. Each of our products combines work, prayers and dedication of our many craftsmen. This makes us believe that our ceramics will be bringing beauty and delight to their new owners for many years.

About the author

Anastasia Parkhomchik,
Literary editor and Orthodox journalist, member of The Catalog of Good Deeds team.

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