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Making Greek vases

In ancient Greece, the phrase "to make pottery" meant to work hard. This video from the Getty Museum reveals how the typical Athenian potter prepared clay, threw vases, oversaw firing, and added decoration or employed vase-painters. Created by Getty Museum.

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  • starky ultimate style avatar for user Charis Gao
    Why do they use their feet to mix the clay?
    (10 votes)
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    • piceratops tree style avatar for user Arthur Smith
      that wasn't mixing, it was wedging - to get air bubbles out. And it's the most hardcore wedging I've ever seen. Usually you just wedge a little bit of it at a time with your hands. You have to get the air out of it, because air expands when it's heated. Any air bubbles would cause a ceramic to explode in the kiln.
      (39 votes)
  • piceratops tree style avatar for user Hoon Kim
    At , the potter attaches the handles but how would he smooth the wet clay out? The vase itself is a bit dry and isn't moldy and does not move with the moving surface.
    (5 votes)
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    • female robot ada style avatar for user Janet Leahy
      The rough bits created when the handles are attached can be easily smoothed out by hand, without using the wheel. After the wet clay has dried somewhat, the potter could also touch it up with a wet sponge. The cup bowl is sturdy enough at this stage that neither method would cause it to bend or disfigure.
      (5 votes)
  • female robot grace style avatar for user TJudd
    Could you make a cup that is just as uniform as one made on a wheel without a wheel?
    (4 votes)
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  • stelly blue style avatar for user Julian Delgadillo Marin
    he shows how the vases were made by a rotating machine in the video, greeks clearly did not have one of those with a motor on it, They had to keep that thing rotating by hand, or someone else?
    (2 votes)
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  • piceratops ultimate style avatar for user Ross
    The video shows black figures on a red background. What about red figures on black backgrounds? I know they exist but how do they make them?
    (3 votes)
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    • leafers ultimate style avatar for user amateur
      They would just reverse the painting process. I'll use the vase made in the video as an example to explain this. If you want a red dolphin on a black vase instead of a black dolphin on a red vase, you would do the following: instead of painting the dolphin itself in the paint that becomes black when the vase is fired in the kiln, you would paint everything except for the dolphin itself. That way, the background becomes black when the pot is fired, while the dolphin remains red.
      (4 votes)
  • hopper happy style avatar for user happycappy23
    At the video demonstrated wedging. In art class we knead our clay by throwing it onto the table. Are these the same thing or same idea or are they unrelated? Also, is the potter doing that just because he's making a vase or did potters do that for clay every time, no matter what they were making?
    (2 votes)
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    • piceratops tree style avatar for user Arthur Smith
      Potters do it every time to get the air out, no matter what they're making. When air bubbles heat up in a kiln, the air expands, cracking the vessel, often causing an explosion that can damage other vessels. And yes, the video shows someone wedging the clay, just on a much larger scale.
      (4 votes)
  • purple pi purple style avatar for user haley296
    where is that piece of pottery from?
    (2 votes)
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  • purple pi purple style avatar for user karinaburbank
    Alright, I'm confused. He implies that Ancient Greek potters would be able to use a pottery wheel to form the clay vases. However, Ancient Greeks clearly didn't have the electricity which makes wheels move today. How could they possibly make the wheel turn?
    (1 vote)
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  • piceratops ultimate style avatar for user Nicholas Cardot
    Beginning at about , the narrator explains the three-stage firing process. On average, how long is the vase subjected to each stage before it is removed from the kiln or migrated to the next stage? Were the stages 5 minutes long, or 5 hours long?
    (2 votes)
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    • winston default style avatar for user emilyjbeck
      I know that in stage 1, which is kindling (or oxidizing), typical firing took place at a temperature of 850 to 975 degrees Celsius. It took about 8 to 9 hours to reach this temperature, and at a temperature of 500 °C, after 6 or 7 hours, true firing of the now red-hot vessels began.
      (the time of the first stage was about all I could find, so I hope this helps)
      (3 votes)
  • duskpin ultimate style avatar for user Eleanor
    at , what tool did the potter use to sketch the outline of the dolphin?
    (2 votes)
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Video transcript

- Greek vases were made of terra cotta or baked clay. Before the clay could be used for pottery, pebbles and other impurities had to be removed. First, the potter mixed the raw clay with water in large outdoor pools to make a thick, silty liquid. This liquid clay stood until the heavier impurities had settled to the bottom. The refined liquid was then drained off into a second pool. The potter repeated this settling process several times. The pool was then left to evaporate in the sun, leaving behind the refined clay. The final step in preparing the clay for potting was called "wedging". The potter systematically compressed and folded the clay, making it more malleable and mixing together any parts that may settled into layers. The clay was now ready for use. Most Greek vases were thrown or formed on the potter's wheel. The complex shapes of Greek pottery often required that a vase be thrown in pieces and then assembled. For example, to make a kylix or cup the potter first centered the clay on the wheel. When it stopped wobbling the potter began a central hole. Pressure from the potter's fingers inside the hole gradually widened this opening and formed the bowl of the cup. Aside from the wheel, the potter's main tools were his hands. Although a wet sponge was often used to smooth the surface. To make the foot of the cup, the potter again centered the clay, drew it up, and then hollowed out the stem. The next day when the formed pieces had dried slightly, the bowl of the cup was trimmed with a metal shaver and received a final smoothing. The potter used wet clay to bond the separately made bowl and foot, and then smoothed over the join. Next, the potter stretched out lengths of clay and bent them into handles. Again using wet clay the potter attached the handles to the bowl. Often roughening the joining surfaces to increase the bond. The vase was now ready to be decorated. Athenian vase painters experimented with a number of different methods of vase decoration. To create a vase in the black figure technique, that is, with black figures against a red background. The vase painter first sketched the outline of the design, in this case a dolphin, onto the surface of the vessel. Then, using a highly refined liquid clay as paint the vase painter filled in the outline, creating a silhouette. When applied, the clay paint was almost the same color as the surface of the vase. But with firing it would turn black. The vase painter next used a sharp point to scratch internal details through the silhouette. The vase was then ready for the kiln. The contrasting red and black color scheme of Athenian pottery was the result of a difficult three stage firing process. Using wood-fired kilns or ovens, vases were heated to about 800 degrees centigrade in an oxygen-rich environment, causing the whole vase to turn red. Next, the potter closed off the vents of the kiln and added green wood and leafy branches creating an oxygen poor environment. As a result, the whole vase turned black. At the same time, the kiln temperature was raised causing the thin painted layer of decorative clay to become glossy and nonporous. Finally the kiln was allowed to slowly cool, and the potter reopened the vents letting oxygen into the kiln again. In this stage the unpainted areas of the vessels returned to their warm red color. But the glossy areas, which could not absorb oxygen, remained black.