Terracotta Pottery

Terracotta pottery is one of the oldest and most traditional forms of pottery that is still practiced today. The most basic form of pottery, terracotta pottery is about using clay to create wares, but not glazing it to get the final product. The final product has characteristics that are extremely unlike anything that you will see in regular clay pottery as the clay combines the characteristics of a number of different kinds of "impurities" that are a part of this unique building material.

Terracotta is extremely easy to sculpt with and that makes it quite popular. They are fired at an extremely high temperature and are known to end up with a red or orange colour, leading into a shade of brown. They have been used, for centuries, as decorative pieces as well as for carrying oil. Terracotta, in itself, has been used to make ovens and that was an indication of the versatility of this fantastic pottery material.

The History of Terracotta Pottery

The first evidence of terracotta pottery came out in the 3,000 BC, when the first human civilization, in Mohenjo-Daro came into existence. Plaques from the Mesopotamian era still exist in museums today, indicating, amongst other things, the popular use of terracotta for things other than pottery. Sculpture and figurines, made of terracotta, were equally popular at the time, a process that went into the ancient Greek manufacturing process for Tanagra figurines. The Greeks were known to mass-produce this huge army of terracotta figurines, something that was found in China to have a more literal sense.

In 210 BC, Chinese emperor Qin Shi Huang decided to build a massive army of terracotta human and horse figurines, and ended up with 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots, 520 horses, and more, with soldiers varying in size depending on the rank they carried. There were other figurines, of non-combatants, present amongst the soldiers.

The form even spread all the way to Africa, where terracotta was used extensively to create figurines. Terracotta pottery, as always, remained popular in all cultures as a means for the common man to create utensils and ware for daily use. In terms of handicrafts, terracotta pottery has been one of the oldest and most widely pursued forms that the world knows today. Even though the actual form may have been around in a more rustic and unorganized format since 7,000 BC, terracotta is an essential part of our life.

Characteristics of Terracotta Pottery

Terracotta pottery is extremely convenient and simple to learn for even the most novice of potters. The clay is extremely sticky, making it one of the best options for getting moulded into shapes and maintaining them. This clay is derived, in its natural form, from river beds, the bottom of lakes, ponds and more. It is, then, cleaned of major impurities like rocks, leaves, grass and more. However, the clay is still riddled with chemical impurities, like iron.

Due to many chemical impurities, terracotta has a colour that leans on red and orange. It's not uncommon to find terracotta clay in grey or brown forms either, all of which depends on the kind of impurities it contains. It is quite porous when set, but the cohesion of the molecules can be easily broken down with water. So, once your terracotta pottery ware has dried up, it will become hard. However, if you want to recover the clay, you can simply add water to it to make it elastic once again.

As terracotta is easy to obtain as well as cheap to buy, it is commonly used as a utilitarian product in its finished state. You are likely to find these pottery wares used as utensils for water or oil storage, storing grains or other food products and even as flower pots for the garden.

Most pottery courses and classes will teach you the basics of pottery using terracotta clay. They are the easiest to use without causing wastage and every time you make a mistake, all you need to do is simply mash it up and start all over again. The clay is always soft and easy to handle, ensuring that you can work on it for hours on end, without worrying about pain or problems with your hands.

Terracotta pottery is something that doesn't have too much scope, in terms of creativity. The highly porous clay does not leave you scope for applying a glaze and the most that you can do is use a simple oil-paint & brush to put on a few layers of paint and decorate your ware. However, you need to remember that a lot of the paint will get soaked up and if you end up with duller colours than you started with, don't be surprised.

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