Ceramics and Pottery – What’s the Difference?

Since they are both made using the same methods, there is physically no distinction between ceramics and pottery, but the two terms technically mean different things. While both ceramics and pottery go through a process that includes forming, firing, glazing and re-firing before completion, each term has its own specific meaning.

The basics of ceramics

Ceramics are items made from materials that are permanently changed when heated, according to About.com. For instance, clay has chemically bonded water in it that causes it to slake down or disintegrate when a dried clay object is put in water. Once heated, the clay is converted to ceramic and will never dissolve again.

Ceramic materials include all clay and glazes, as well as industrial ceramics, including materials such as silica carbide and zirconium oxide.

Decorated PlatesThe basics of pottery

Generally, pottery is a subset of ceramics, and is considered to be containers made from clay. The word “pot” describes any number of container forms, with modern pottery divided into two categories: commercial pottery and studio pottery.

Studio pottery is produced by individual craftsman and proves diverse. Production potters make large quantities of ceramic wares like plates, platters, dishes, bowls, etc., throwing the same form of clay for all products. However, these potters also create unique, one-of-a-kind pieces.

In addition to items such as bowls and storage containers, clay is also used as a sculpting medium to create works of three-dimensional art.

Commercial pottery simply refers to ceramics produced in factories. This is most common for mass-produced flatware, bowls, mugs and cups.

Types of ceramics and pottery

Earthenware, stoneware and porcelain are the three main types of pottery. Earthenware is porous and typically more fragile than other types of pottery. Stoneware is waterproof and frequently used to make dishes. Porcelain is similar to stoneware but proves more opaque and may appear translucent under bright light.

The mixing of clay begins the creation of ceramics and pottery. Artists use special clay comprised of different ingredients to form the “clay body,” and form the mixed clay into the desired shape using a pottery wheel or mold, which is left out to dry. A kiln may also be used to fire or bake the clay to make it ready for decoration and finish.

What’s in a name?

According to wiseGeek, people often refer to ceramics to describe the art form as a whole, including pottery, while others use the word pottery to describe the creation of both. However, in artistic circles, pottery tends to be for amateur artworks and creations, while ceramics are thought of as pieces of high-quality, fine art. Thus, professional sculptors prefer that their work be considered ceramic instead of pottery due to the difference in sophistication associated with each word.

Hunakai Studio offers a number of pottery and sculpting classes for those who prefer to create physical and tangible works of art by hand. Summer session spaces are still available on a limited basis for students of all ages. Contact us today for more information!