Earthenware, Porcelain, Stoneware, Bone China -- a brief introduction

by Joan Berkwitz of the Pour Horse and Marcher Ware

All four materials... earthenware, porcelain, bone china, and stoneware... have their good points and their bad points. None is superior to the others, it's just a matter of what you personally like.

Earthenware is the easiest to use, for those of us who are casting ourselves. The slip is fairly easy to make. The materials are readily available for most people. You can also buy the slip from many places, although the homemade has the advantage of being even cheaper. And you can control the quality. I prefer the old Loza recipe, ball milled and refined. It's a beautiful thing. But earthenware can craze. No doubt about it. Crazing occurs because the glaze is glass, and doesn't expand or contract. However, the earthenware clay-- being porous-- does expand and contract. If the earthenware is properly prepared and fired, it is less likely to craze, but under some circumstances it will. But I would ask, what is the real problem with crazing? From a historical point of view, crazing is not detrimental. Many, many pieces of historical earthenware are crazed. Unless they are being used for eating or drinking, it doesn't affect their integrity. Sometimes we look for crazing, as it is one of the hardest things to mimic. A beautiful crazing on an old piece gives assurance that the piece isn't a recent forgery. Earthenware has been used for many thousands of years, and pieces that are thousands of years old are not uncommon. I personally love the crazing on some of my older HRs. But then, I'm weird.

Porcelain is a whole different matter. It's harder to pour, clean, and fire. It requires propping so that it doesn't warp. So a good porcelain maker can put out an excellent product, but a person who struggles will have a lot more to lose. Also, it doesn't seem to take well to our underglazes and glazes. I can't speak for homemade pieces, but the commercial pieces that I have fired have had inherent flaws. Mostly it comes from the fact that porcelain shrinks at a different rate when cooling, than our glazes do. Our glazes are formulated for earthenware. If you can use a porcelain glaze, and then china paint over the top of that glaze, super! That's the ideal. If you want to use our underglazes and our glazes, you may come into difficulties. My admittedly limited experience with porcelains makes me suspect that, using our underglazes and glazes, eventually crazing will occur. And unlike earthenware, the crazing will be from a bad glaze fit and may involve pieces of glaze popping off (shivering). A slow cooling period helps with this, but may or may not actually solve the problem in the long run. So porcelain is really best for those people who want to do china painting, and are willing to learn the stilting.

Bone china has the best attributes of any of the materials. It is easier to pour (but difficult to buy in the States). Although it does take some stilting, it doesn't seem quite as involved as porcelain stilting. It takes to our underglazes and glazes better. It doesn't seem to craze at all.... since it isn't porous, it doesn't craze like earthenware... and since it shrinks at a similar rate, it doesn't shiver like porcelain. You can use both underglazes and china paints on it.

Stoneware has a much heavier feel. It requires stilting, if it is being brought to temp, but possibly not the same kind of stilting as porcelain or bone china. (Can't say for sure, except that Laurilyn's stoneware stilting seemed to be quite different than Mark's) Stoneware tends to come in brown toned colors, at least as far as I have seen. It's much denser and heavier. I've never tried to underglaze or glaze on stoneware. I do have a piece here for sale, if someone wants to try it. The Maureen Love Indian on a horse. It's a buff colored stoneware, but has only been fired to 04. Asking Laurilyn about stoneware would be your best bet.

These are my experiences.... your mileage may vary. :-) But for beginners, I prefer using earthenware to teach people how to cast and fire. I would love to get into bone china myself, but am a little intimidated by the learning curve. Maybe someday. Meanwhile, importing the bone china is a great alternative if you want to try painting on that clay body.

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