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Terra sigillata is a very smooth, lustrous coating of clay which resembles a glaze and is virtually waterproof. The name means "sealed earth" and has been used to refer to the Classical Greek Attic black-figure and red-figure painted pottery.

These days, the name terra sigillata is used to refer to an especially fine coating of clay applied to a ceramic piece.

For centuries the secret of making terra sigillata was lost and only in the middle of this century was the true nature of this material, the technique of its creation and use rediscovered.

I make my own terra sigillata from a white clay and the same red clay I use to make the pots.

The silkiness and shine of terra sigilatta is due to the plate like shape of the clay particles and the use of only the smallest particles. Polishing this surface with your hand or a soft cloth lines up all the clay ‘plates’ and gives the surface its shine.

It takes much time and care to get the right effect but the warm shine and silky texture of the terra sigillata as well as the subtle sense of fire and smoke brought out in the firing are some of the reasons that make it worth the effort.

Forming

My pieces are all formed using hand-building techniques using coils, slabs, drape molding and carving. I don't use a potter's wheel.
The medium sized plates are formed by placing a piece of clay on a convex mold and beating it into shape. This makes for a very strong yet light plate.

The small, covered boxes are made by forming a block of clay, letting it harden slightly, cutting it in half, carefully carving out the insides and adding a collar to fit the lid.

Bisque Firing and Decoration

After forming and drying, all pieces are bisque fired to 1000° C. in an electric kiln to harden them. After this they receive up to four coats of the white terra sigillata and are again fired to 1000° C to harden this layer. They are then decorated with the red terra sigillata using various techniques.

Each layer is polished with a soft cloth or with my bare hand to bring out the shine. They are then fired again to 1000° C. to harden and slightly seal this layer. More layers may be added and fired again, depending on the effect I'm trying to achieve. Each pot is fired at least four times.

Smoke Firing

My pieces receive their final coloring from the reaction of the terra sigillata to the heat and the smoke of the fire.

The pieces are "smoked" by wrapping each piece in newspaper, sealing it inside an envelope of aluminium foil and refiring it in the electric kiln to between 500° C. and 750° C. The amount of newspaper, the temperature used and the amount of time in the fire decide how the pot will look.

Finally, each piece receives a light coating of oil or bee’s wax. No other treatment is used.

Care

These pots are meant to be handled. The tactile aspects, the feel of the surface, how it fills your hand, the weight and balance of a pot, are as much a part of the experience of pottery as the visual aspects and the function.

However, unlike a glaze, which is a coating of hard glass on the surface of a pot, terra sigillata is a soft coating of clay which can be scratched by a hard, sharp object.

The surface is also very slightly porous and may absorb some liquid if left for a long time.

Treat them gently.

- Wipe with a damp cloth or hand wash gently in warm water, no soap. Dry thoroughly with a soft cloth and let stand for a while until completely dry.

- If the color or the blacks start to fade a bit; apply a small amount of a good olive oil to a soft rag and polish. The surface, being very slightly porous is a bit thirsty and has absorbed all the oil or wax that was applied after they were finished.

 

 

 

 

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