Research 8 – Ceramics

Research 8 – Ceramic Art

Using ceramics as a surface for image making


The oldest clay pot fragment is said to be from China, approximately 20,000 years ago.  We had assumed that the earliest hunter-gatherers didn’t use pottery, but this discovery reversed that assumption.  The earlier forms of clay were often carved into objects such as fertility objects and ritual objects.  Although painting and decorative forms were found on clay objects and ceramics, it wasn’t until the Chinese invented a wheel for grinding and develop radial symmetry in objects. This is most evident in he Greek period where radial symmetry became more obvious in objects and they were adapted to become more of a sophisticated form of decorative art.  Earlier containers had decorative features depicting people and uses.  The Greeks depicted a narrative on ancient myths and legends, with a particular focus on illustrations around Hercules.  But it was the glazing and firing of pottery during the Greek period that was considered the apex of ceramic pottery.  These forms were adapted by the Romans. 

So we can see that illustrations did appear on earlier clay pots and depicted their use, the person using it, the function of it or perhaps the event it was used for.  In Japan, some earlier primitive clay structures appear to depict ghost like figures to indicate where their dead are buried.  They’re not painted on but sculpted into a figure.

We are so used to using plates and cups that we most likely rarely think of the origins of such a functional object.  However, it has taken a long time to go from a clay pot to the common kitchen dinnerware.

In terms of illustrations, there are ways in which these can be expressed on ceramics:

  • Brushwork – painting directly onto the surface
  • Hakeme – white slip over and sometimes red oxide can be used to create an illustration
  • Impressing – using a stamp for colour or repeat pattern
  • Pressing – using a stamp to imprint onto the clay
  • Sgraffito – covering and then scratching the surface to reveal a colour under the clay.

During lockdown Grayson Perry Art club was on Channel 4 and it became a mental health stop point for me and my husband.  We loved seeing how he worked, connecting with a range of people working during lockdown and trying to create as a way of helping themselves to deal with the pressure, stress and anxiety that the Pandemic was creating.

During one of his shows, he began the process of pottery and his artwork was anchored in research on how ceramics tell stories through the images on the pottery.  His interpretation of it was beautiful and surreal as I felt that he tapped into the ancient form of creating ceramics but his own modern interpretation of it made it relevant to today.

image sourced from wikipedia – Grayson Perry contemporary vase illustration
image sourced from wikipedia – Grayson Perry contemporary vase illustration

His sequential art expresses current news and relevant stories that feature at that time.  It is a social commentary on things that he finds are relevant in the everyday news and things that the public are focused on or find important.  His art is created with the intention of the art being used and enjoyed rather than revered and observed.  He uses a variety of techniques for creating his work, often using brushwork, stamping and sgraffito.  He has stamps that are pressed into the clay to create a repeat pattern with a raised edge.  Carving away a layer with sgraffito, reveals another colour underneath.  He often uses brushwork to add further colours to his work.


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Ancient Chinese Pottery (2012) The Guardian

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Youtube (2017) Ai Weiwei in Turkey

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Youtube (2015) Ai Weiwei Ceramics

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How to make a pot like Grayson Perry (2021)

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Lowri Davies (2021) Illustrations on ceramics

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Youtube (2011) Pottery is my gimmick

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