TYPES OF CERAMICS
Artistic and functional ceramics have taken many forms.
We explain the different types of ceramics.
Present in art, religion and utilitarian objects. We have as many classes as we have combinations of times, places and inhabitants.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
DIFFERENT TYPES OF CERAMICS
Ceramics is one of the oldest industries and many of the types of artistic ceramics that have been used since its inception are still identical today.
In remote antiquity, the pieces served two purposes:
- functional, usually containers in which to hold foodstuffs and other
- ritual, such as the first figures of small goddesses modeled by hand.
Throughout history, depending on the type of clay used and the advances in firing methods, different shapes evolved.
The most common types of ceramics are:
- Earthenware: The oldest, fired at low temperatures (around 1100º F), it is the most porous.
- Stoneware: Subsequent to earthenware, it is fired at around 2200º F, which vitrifies the surface and makes it much less porous.
- Porcelain: The most modern in the West, it is made with white clay, with a high content of the mineral kaolin. It is fired at a higher temperature than stoneware.
We will explain their differences in more detail below.
And you will learn about a fascinating Japanese technique that is becoming more and more widespread in the West.
Both within the functional and ritual creation, the craftsmanship, the direct contact with the material and the connection with it generated a taste for the aesthetics of what was being done, creating different shapes and decorations, combining volume and color, generating endless possibilities that were later also taken to the artistic and decorative world. In this sense we could talk about two types: functional and artistic, which we will talk about later.
The different kinds of artistic ceramics arise from the connection between the human spirit, creative by nature, and clay.
Observe a Neolithic cardial pottery vessel of globular shape carefully decorated with the impression of a shell, swim among the dancing tentacles of octopuses painted on Cretan vessels, jump with the acrobats delicately rendered on Greek pottery.
This connection results in ceramic art.
Original piece by Ceramicaespiral
In another field we would have the repetitive production work, designed to supply objects of daily use, production that was facilitated by the appearance of the lathe and work by means of molds.
This mass production does not prevent the craftsman or craftswoman from leaving part of his or her personality in them, so we find different types of traditional ceramics all over the world, each with different characteristics and style.
The art of ceramics gives the possibility to work both the shape, the volume, and the color through the use of other clays and glaze, giving much play during the artistic process combining the three-dimensional art with the two-dimensional.
HOW MANY TYPES OF CERAMICS ARE THERE?
According to its application, artistic ceramics (to which we dedicate a section) or industrial ceramics. According to the materials and firing, we speak of stoneware, earthenware, porcelain, raku, etc. And according to its historical origin: primitive, pre-Columbian, Greek, Roman, etc.
In reality there are as many varieties as there are combinations between: applications, materials used, styles (in the case of artistic ceramics) and periods.
There are many classifications depending on the criteria taken into account.
A differentiation is usually made between the so-called “traditional ceramics”, which would include artistic ceramics; and the rest of them, where sanitary ware, refractory materials, tiles, vitrified ceramics, etc. are included. Here you have a classification following this criterion, let’s say that it would be a way of ordering the types of ceramics according to their utility, applications or the industrial sector to which they belong.
Another way to classify would be based on their composition carbides, nitrides, sulfides, oxides, etc. This way of sorting by materials is clearly from an industrial point of view.
Another criterion used to discriminate between different types is the properties they possess: electrical (insulating, conductive or even creating superconductors), thermal (heat insulating or not), mechanical, or even optical.
In addition, clay is an affordable and abundant material, which is why it has been used in all areas and has been differentiated in many ways and styles.
Ceramics, being so versatile, offers many more options and different approaches beyond the artistic one, which although we will inform you about them, we will not dedicate too much space to them.
In our site we focus on the art in this type of material. So let’s first define a little bit what it consists of.
WHAT IS ARTISTIC CERAMICS?
It is created mainly for aesthetic and decorative purposes. Composed of single pieces or series of minimum quantities. Its functionality can be dispensed with, the pieces may have no practical use.
The term studio ceramics is also often applied, implying that the ceramist herself produces the works from start to finish. Ceramic art does not exclude the use of machinery, however its production is usually mainly handmade, with no industrial equipment involved.
Another matter would be the copies made from a first artistic piece or mold. However, what gives value to the works is the fact that they are unique and made directly by the ceramist in a handmade way, which is sometimes called author’s ceramics.
The format of the works produced can range from miniatures made by the artist, large format creations or ceramic murals formed by the conjunction of different tiles that form the figure.
CONTEMPORARY ARTISTIC CERAMICS
From modernism (end of the 19th century, beginning of the last century) to the contemporary, we have witnessed the transgression and breaking of many limits, also as far as ceramics are concerned.
A utility is totally dispensed with, and the material (fired clay) becomes part of any artistic creation, combined with other different ones. It comes to the liberation of the sense of why or what for to evoke sometimes confusion and strangeness. Modern artistic ceramics began to free itself from utilitarianism, culminating today in works that open a completely new door to other worlds of perception.
The materials for contemporary artistic ceramics range from traditional clays to mixtures with other materials such as fabric, metal, rope, creating compositions that are already part of an avant-garde sculpture that transcends what would be exclusively ceramic.
DIFFERENT TYPES OF CERAMICS
According to STYLES, APPLICATIONS AND MATERIALS.
We will now apply these three criteria and, sticking to them, we will see what different kinds of ceramics have been produced over time. However, as the different varieties are always a combination of these three elements, we will talk about the best known ones later on.
STYLES OF ARTISTIC AND FUNCTIONAL CERAMICS ACCORDING TO TIME AND PLACE:
They are usually determined by:
- Ceramics made in a specific area or workshop
- Stylistic influence from other fields
- Personal work
- The interaction of all these elements
The different schools and ceramic types, besides being imbued with a style within certain guidelines, are linked to the place and time in which they were founded and developed.
Types of Neolithic pottery:
We start from 6,000 BC. At some point the clay began to be worked on the ground, or using it as a mold, previously digging the desired shape and volume. Also by means of what today is known as “churros technique”, the piece was being shaped.
The pieces were smoothed and polished and then decorated by pressing them with different tools, including fine-pointed incisions. It is known that some pieces were painted.
This pottery included pieces with religious, decorative (such as the zoomorphic and anthropomorphic figures we know) or functional motifs.
The use of molds was very frequent, the surfaces were polished to achieve smoothness to the touch and the decoration was mostly geometric.
In America, for example, pieces such as the “aribalo” large pitcher with a long neck which is an Inca version o f the Greek aryballos, or the “queros” (these were vessels made of different materials, not only ceramic, such as wood) are still preserved.
Inca aríbalos (National Museum/UFRJ)
Fortunately we can enjoy exact replicas of the works that were made in pre-Columbian times, not only the tradition is maintained, but you can also acquire works like those made more than five hundred years ago.
Below are two stunning examples.
Types of Greek pottery:
The best known ceramic styles of antiquity are those made in Greece (in fact the word ceramic comes from Greek), mostly focused on the creation and painting of vessels, from the oldest to the most modern would begin around the III and II millennia B.C., with the Minoan stylereaching the 4th and 3rd centuries BC. Attic pottery (named after the Greek region where it was produced) is an emblematic ceramic style of the time.
As for the types of style, the best known and the first that come to mind are the black and red figures.
If you want to learn more about this exciting artistic period, you can read our article on Greek pottery.
Types of Roman pottery:
It has more than 1,000 years of history. It includes a variety that goes from tableware, kitchen utensils, lamps, amphorae, etc.
A well-known example of tableware is the so-called terra sigilata, of a characteristic reddish, shiny color; its pieces were sealed (hence the name “sealed earth”). They were high quality pieces that were made throughout the empire, including the Iberian Peninsula.
They applied almost all of the traditional methods that are preserved today: cutting, burnishing, the use of slip in reliefs, molding, etc. and, of course, painting.
Oil lamps were common and have maintained their fame today, of which there are artists who make replicas of the original figures by creating molds that are then filled in other materials.
Replica of Roman piece made by Rustic Home Portugal
Types of Iberian ceramics:
Since the Roman Empire there have been different types of ceramics that have survived until today. For example, pieces are still made recreating the types of ceramics made in the XIV century of the Mudejar school, with a style rich in geometric lattices that were made by Muslim artists in the peninsula.
Later, between the 15th and 17th centuries, it spread to the town of Toledo, where styles that have fortunately survived to the present day germinated.
You can read our article about this period and take a tour of the fascinating Iberian pottery.
And if you are interested in learning about all the styles that continue today and the most important schools, we recommend the guide to Spanish pottery.
TYPES OF CERAMIC APPLICATIONS:
We could make two groups, although in reality, they often “overlap”:
Industrial ceramics: A basic purpose of ceramics has always been in construction, where we find its use in bricks, floor elements, roof tiles, etc. There are also many types of ceramics in the kitchen: from pots, pots, plates, cups, etc. to the tiles themselves. Its industrial applications are almost infinite (electrical insulators, vehicle cladding as armor, thermal protection, etc.).
Artistic: Here the predominant aspect is aesthetics, the ceramic object must be decorative.
There is a spectrum from ornamental objects that fulfill a function, such as a beautifully decorated and painted vase, in which case we would have the functional and artistic facets overlapping, as we said before; to others that are already sculptures on the plane of the abstract and that are made of fired clay.
Let’s take a look at each of them.
Clay in general is one of the most widely used ceramic raw materials in industry. It is found in great abundance and is popular because of the ease with which objects are made from it. These range from structural products (bricks, tiles, sewer pipes) to white ceramic products (porcelain, earthenware, pottery, etc.).
Industrial ceramics are very special due to their properties. They usually have high melting points, low electrical and thermal conductivity values and high compressive strength. They are usually hard and brittle, with very good thermal and chemical stability. Industrial ceramic materials can be classified into traditional ceramics and advanced ceramics. Classical ceramic materials are defined as traditional ceramics and are usually made of clay, silica and feldspar. As the name suggests, traditional ceramics do not have to meet strict properties after firing, so they do not have to use such expensive and precise technologies as advanced ceramics.
TRADITIONAL INDUSTRIAL CERAMICS:
The traditional pottery industry originated longer ago than we think. Thousands of years ago it was a well-established discipline in many parts of the world. Today there are many divisions of this industry: pottery, tableware, sanitary ware, tiles, structural clay products, refractories and electrical ceramics are all products of traditional industrial ceramics.
Common materials used for most industrial ceramic products are ball clay, silica, feldspar, dolomite, dolomite, talc, nepheline and calcite, among others. Each raw material contributes a certain property to the ceramic body, such as dry strength, plasticity, shrinkage, etc. Therefore, through a careful selection of materials, the desired properties are acquired for the final product.
The preparation of ceramic powder is an important consideration in the industry. Surface area, particle size and distribution, particle shape, density, etc., each have their effect on production.
This powder must be prepared to meet particle size and shape, as well as other requirements depending on the type of use. Grinding is performed to achieve the desired particle size. Unlike in the advanced ceramic industry, the purity of the ceramic powder is not an issue in traditional porcelain.
Within this type of sector we find different materials:
They are defined by their ability to withstand high temperatures without melting or decomposing, and therefore their resistance in extreme environments. Thermal insulation is also an important characteristic of refractory ceramics.
Glasses are a familiar group of ceramics for containers, windows, glasses, mirrors, etc. They are non-crystalline silicates that have other oxides, which influence their properties and color. An important property of glasses in industrial applications is their response to heating. There is no constant temperature at which the liquid transforms into a solid as is the case with crystalline materials. The glass transition temperature or false temperature, based on viscosity, is the temperature above which the material is called a “supercooled” liquid or liquid, and below which it is called glass.
Abrasive ceramics are used for grinding, abrading or cutting other materials. Therefore, the main requirement for this group of materials is hardness and toughness. As they may also be exposed to high temperatures, they must also exhibit a certain refractoriness. Diamond, silicon carbide, tungsten carbide, aluminum oxide/corundum and silica sand are some typical examples of abrasive ceramic materials.
The characteristic property of these materials is that when mixed with water, they form a slurry that subsequently sets and finally hardens. Cement, gypsum and lime belong to this group of ceramics. With this unhardened mixture it is possible to make almost any shape, which will remain in place after hardening. They are also used as a bonding material, for example between building bricks.
Advanced ceramics is a recently developed field, has extremely important applications and has shown rapid growth. It is of growing importance to industry and is a sector with increasing investment.
It is a special type of ceramic used mainly for electrical, electronic, optical and magnetic applications. This sector differs from traditional ceramics in that the preparation of the ceramic powder is very important. Sophisticated processing techniques are used to ensure that the resulting ceramic powder is of sufficient purity. Typically, chemical reactions are used to produce such ceramic powder, such as sol-gel processing (production of solid materials from small molecules) and liquid-gas reactions. Most of these methods are expensive. Therefore, powder preparation is always an important resource in the advanced ceramics industry.
Advanced ceramic applications:
In electronics and the electrical industry, some advanced materials (such as barium titanate), piezoelectric materials and semiconductor materials are widely used to produce ceramic capacitors, oscillators, temperature sensors, etc. The materials used for these types of applications are called functional ceramics.
Ferroelectricity is one of the properties of materials such as barium titanate, which is used for sensors, sonars, microphones, etc.
There are also other applications found in other areas. Magnetic ceramics are another type of advanced ceramic material used for the production of antennas and inductors.
Finally: bioceramics, such as alumina, of high density and purity, are used for dental implants, hip and knee prostheses, etc., are some of the applications of these bioceramic materials.
ARTISTIC APPLICATION OF CERAMICS:
Here the predominant aspect is aesthetics, the ceramic object must be decorative.
A beautiful example of this are the murals that were made in ancient Persia.
Within the types of artistic ceramics, we find from the small Paleolithic goddesses, the findings of ancient Greece through the terracotta warriors found in China belonging to the Qin Dynasty, Qin Shi Huang, in 210-209 BC, or, up to contemporary art and its use in performance as “Paso Doble” by Miquel Barceló.
Ceramic is a material resistant to weathering and the passage of time, so its use is not relegated to the interior space, but also goes outdoors. An example of this are the beautiful artistic ceramic murals.
The applications of pottery should not always be separate and exclusive; the functional can also be artistic or decorative and vice versa.
An example of this is one of the fields in which ceramics has focused the most, which is the world of bowls, different containers, vessels and tableware for different uses and within all social classes, from a jug to a Chinese porcelain cup.
Original piece by Lucinda Clay
TYPES OF CERAMIC MATERIALS:
The industrial use of ceramics has given us an infinity of types of products composed of different minerals looking for some properties or others. In addition to the traditional compounds based on feldspar and silica together with clay, there are other types classified into:
- Carbide-based ceramics: include titanium carbide, silicon carbide and tungsten carbide.
- Nitrides: such as silicon nitride, resistant to very high temperatures and used in rocket engines.
- Or the well-known glass-ceramic
WHAT ARE THE MOST COMMON TYPES OF CERAMICS USED?
Well, to be more specific and to start being more concise, here we have chosen to leave aside the whole range of varieties, applications and industrial utilities.
We are going to focus on traditional ceramics, which use clay as the main element, and on the best known types of artistic or more functional ceramics.
Let’s take a look at some of them.
It has been used since Neolithic times.
It is a porous material
A large number of different clays can be used to make it, it usually has iron in its components and its most common color is brownish or reddish as in the case of terracotta.
It is cooked at temperatures from 1110º F, but not more than 2200º F.
Earthenware used in tableware, being a porous material, is waterproofed during firing by applying a glaze that includes different components (such as silica, minium, etc.).
Read more about EARTHENWARE
High quality German stoneware cup by Lucinda Clay
One of the differences between stoneware and earthenware is that it is fired at temperatures of around 2012º-2370°F.
Less porous and more resistant than earthenware. For this reason it has been used more in kitchens, although its greatest utility is in tiles, pavements, etc.
Read more about STONEWARE
Pieces decorated in blue (XVII-XVIII century, China)
A differentiating element of porcelain is its high kaolin content, which also gives the pieces their characteristic light tone.
More difficult to work than other ceramic clays. The difference between ceramic and porcelain is often mentioned, even though it is ceramic. Porcelain is the one that absorbs less water, has very little porosity, has more resistance and hardness, and is more difficult to scratch.
It is fired at a higher temperature than stoneware, between 2200 º and 2550 º F. The clays from which it is made, plus the high firing, make it vitrified and non-porous. This makes the pieces of this material, in addition to possessing great beauty, ideal for use in food.
Originally from China, from the 2nd century A.D., the passage of time has given us different types of porcelain: a well-known variety is the porcelain white and blue.The result of his trip to Iraq, where it was decoratively treated with cobalt oxide (due to its resistance to high firing temperatures) giving it its characteristic blue color.
The first to be made in Europe is believed to be Meissen porcelain.
Read more about PORCELAIN
Beautiful handmade tea cup by Wild Clay Works
Its origin is usually attributed to the 16th century in Japan, for use in the tea ceremony.
The pieces are fired at a temperature of around 1600º F. The characteristic of these pieces is that once they are fired, they are taken out very hot and placed in contact with wood, paper or other combustible material; when they catch fire, the reaction between the smoke and the consumption of the oxygen present in the oxides of the material causes them to acquire unique tonalities.
After a few minutes it is quickly cooled with water. This process results in unique and fascinating pieces, no two are alike.
Raku has had a lot of appeal in the West because of the technique by which it is made that gives those beautiful and unpredictable results that are obtained randomly.
Go to the RAKU page
Mud, clay, is a gift from the Earth, our planet, which offers us so generously, let’s enjoy it and be grateful for it.
(*) Article and images with the collaboration of Arantxa de Ceramicaespiral
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