Diy | Giving

A Complete Guide To Everything Terracotta and how to make Terracotta Products

Apr 26, 2022 | Nandini Jagetiya

What is Terracotta? The term Terra-cotta comes from the Italian dictionary meaning “Baked-earth,” ceramic Pottery. It is made out of a fairly coarse, porous type of clay that is high in iron oxides. Terracotta clay is easy to sculpt into various products such as vases, kitchen utensils, tile, planters, sculptures, bricks, etc. Once shaped, the dry clay is baked in a kiln or atop combustible material in a pit at a typical firing temperature of around 1,000 °C (1,830 °F), though in historical and archaeological cases, it may be as low as 600 °C (1,112 °F). After the baking part, the glaze has been applied to the product by which it gets its red color, although the actual raw clay can be brown, maroon, green, or red. Such clay can be easily found near the pounds, and generally, when these pounds get dry, the artisan collects this clay.

History of terracotta

Terracottas history can be traced from the Prehistoric art era; favorite products found in history were The Venus of Dolni Vestonice (c.26,000 BCE), The Thinker of Cernavoda (5000 BCE), and The Chinese Terracotta Army Warriors (246-208 BCE). It has been a great part of Chinese Pottery (from 10,000 BCE), Greek Pottery (from 7,000 BCE), and Mesopotamian and Egyptian arts and sculptures. They were also seen in Minoan art from Crete and Italian Etruscan art

Typically terracotta was used in making decoration (architecture), sculptures of gods and goddesses, terracotta reliefs, and human figurines. Due to its lightweight nature, it has been extensively used for architectural purposes worldwide.

Types of clay

Based on its origin, clay can be divided into two categories. The first is our organic clay extracted from natural minerals, and the second is artificial clay made out of polymer.

Types of organic clays are:-

  1. Earthenware - Clay, which is used for making terracotta. It is found impure in its basic state and then refined to make products out of it.
  2. Kaolin - It is a soft white clay known as china clay. The natural state of kaolin is smooth powder consistency, white color, and consists of mineral kaolinite in it.
  3. Stoneware - After earthenware, crockery came into frame. It is non-porous, liquid-resistant, and more durable than any other pottery.

How to make terracotta products

1. Collect the clay

From nearby ponds or wetland , clay has been dug out using the hands or spade shovel. It is not compulsory to get the clay in wet form only as this factor changes from place to place and their surroundings. To determine if it is just the soil or clay, you can check its consistency; clay will be smooth in texture and have smaller particles than mud. Dry clay can be restricted by crumbling it or mixing it with some water. 

2. Refining the clay for a smooth texture

Some water is mixed into the clay to give it a fluid consistency. While pouring the water, keep mixing the clay to avoid any big chunks of clay and keep the mixture smooth. As you achieve the liquid surface, it's time to rest or leave the mix to settle down the clay for some hours.

After that, to achieve the smoothest consistency of clay, it is refined with the help of a sieve. Keep repeating the process until you get the best result. 

          To prepare the clay to mold, firstly, it is kneaded with a hammer, legs, or hands to remove the air bubbles from it. Such clay can be stored in plastic bags until you are ready to use it to create something out of it.

3. Throwing process

Now we will start with the fun part of terracotta product making. This hero of the story will be a potters wheel where all the action will occur. Prepared clay will be placed on the potter's wheel and will start the revolution with the help of a stick to give it a motion. In modern-day solutions, electric pottery wheels are also available in the market, and for some reason, you cannot get any of these to make your DIY pottery wheel at home. With the help of our hands and some good skills, we will start to mold the clay into whatever shape we want to achieve from the clay.

                                   To achieve a smooth surface, wet cloth is used on the outer shell and gives it texture or other details tools like Sculpting tool, Scraping tool, Cutting tool, Fine Detailing tool, Smoothing tool, Shaping tool & Trimming tool are used. Once the object gets its shape and texture, they are dried out for two to three days in son, or in some cases, they are dried out inside to avoid excess dry out or cracks on the surface of the object.

4. Firing the clay objects

Dried objects are baked in a kiln or atop combustible material in a pit to make them permanent and hard. Such kilns can run on natural or propane gas, wood, coal, and electricity. Some people fire their work in pits in the ground. They layer the pots with hay, seaweed, or other combustibles. The fire burns from top to bottom over a day or two. The chemicals in the grass, or other chemicals added to the fire, are absorbed into the pot and create colors in the clay. But this is not the only factor that affects the color of an object; to get the different colors and properties of terracotta, temperature derives. During this process, some things can get destroyed.

5. Finishing process

This step is more of a choice as the terracotta products can be glazed or unglazed according to their final use. To beautify the product, the artist can also paint the object by using some white color and make some good motifs to decorate the product.

                                                                            How to make Terracotta products 

Types of terracotta

1) Porous terracotta:

To prepare porous terracotta, sawdust or ground cork is added to the clay before the shaping stage. When the particles of such clay are burned in a kiln, the organic particles burn and leave pores in the particles. Porous terracotta is a fireproof and soundproofing material. It can be easily sawn and nailed with nails, screws, etc. It is lightweight but structurally weak.

2) Polished terracotta:

Polished terracotta is also known as fine terracotta or earthenware. To obtain this variety of terracotta, the items are fired at a lower temperature of about 650°C. The first burning is known as biscuits. Items taken to the cake stage are removed from the oven and allowed to cool. They are covered with a glazing compound and fired again in the oven at about 1200°C. Earthenware is available in various colors and indicates the superior quality of the terracotta.

What are the benefits of making and using products out of terracotta?

It is a strong and durable product if effectively made and used; it is a good choice even for short-term use. For example, this product can replace disposable cups as it is cheap and recyclable with minimum steps. Eating or drinking in earthenware can be a healthy step towards your health; it also increases the flavour of food without any harm. If we talk about aesthetics, it can be a good choice in the world of plastic everywhere. It will always keep you in touch with the beautiful, comforting environment.

                      A pretty good amount of color choices are also available in this material. It is cheaper than another ordinary finely stoneware products. Clay is one of the most versatile materials that can be molded into anything our creative minds imagine. It became one of humankind's favorite materials for creating products. It is a fireproof material, which can also be used with RCC work. Terracotta products are light in weight. Thus, it can be easily used anywhere and are easy to install. Terracotta does not get affected by atmospheric agencies, acids, and weathering actions compared to any other stone material.

Innovation and evolution in how to use terracotta products 

  1. Architecture - People use terracotta in architecture very creatively since it is lightweight and keeps the surroundings cool. It is a great choice of material in architecture. The complete house can be constructed out of it. With the making of traditional tiles out of terracotta, new tiles are also being built; you can see some innovative tiles designed on Nuvocotto Jaalis. They have positioned clay tiles from mere a functional product to the first choice of creative designers and architects across India and UAE. Some architectures also develop a Biomimicry cooling system to replace the central cooling system. Designed an air cooler made out of clay inspired by beehive structure and customized through advanced computational analysis and modern calibration techniques.
  2. Home appliances - A fridge has been made out of terracotta clay. It keeps food 8 degrees cooler than the outside air, but it doesn't need any electricity to run, just some water to use the porous property of clay to make it cool. It is cost-effective, environmentally friendly in all ways, and full-feeling all the requirements simultaneously. 
  3. Home decorPlantaires made of terracotta are the best choice for growing plants. Some artists are making very creative vases and planters in the shape of human body parts, giving them a very fresh modern, and artistic touch. To add some earthy tone to home interiors, a terracotta candle tea standtable toppers, 3D wall paintings (wall relief mural), pen stand, and showpieces are great choices.
  4. Terracotta jewelry - Even in the fashion world, terracotta can be used. Artists have been using terracotta to make some very beautiful statement jewellery pieces out of it. Businesses can also try to make terracotta jewellery by giving it a modern look inspired by modern forms and shapes. After the baking part, it can be beautified by using colors and stones.
  5. Kitchen utensils and cutlery - After the pandemic, everyone is trying to live a healthy life, and people are more aware of what they are eating, where they are storing their food, in what utensils they are eating. Terracotta pans and cutlery can be a good choice for it. Studies show that storing food and liquid in terracotta utensils makes the food more nutritious. Keeping the drinking water in terracotta pots and bottles keeps it cool and contains minerals.
  6. Chillum (Smoking pipes) - People are interested in smoking their tobacco and weed in the best way possible. Terracotta chillums can be a great option. It infuses that earthy flavour into your stuff and makes the experience more lightful. Terracotta chillums, hookah, and pipes can be used.

A step towards a better world A eco-friendly world

We talk every day about how global warming is increasing and how the environmental conditions are getting worse day by day. But, we are just talking; we don't even take a little step towards the betterment of nature. So, start with a little effort. It can be anything: switching a plastic mug with a terracotta mug or keeping your plants in terracotta pots (even they will start to feel more lively to you). Terracotta is the best option for a healthy environment and living style. It comes out of the soil and easily emerges in the ground with some easy steps. The Recycling ratio of terracotta is very high as well as it is a very affordable material to use and make products out of it. Still, many creative milestones can be achieved by creating innovative products out of clay. So, what are you waiting for?

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