ARTS271 Beginning Ceramics, Lisa Nocentini, Fall 2019 | SACI College of Art & Design Florence

ARTS271 Beginning Ceramics, Lisa Nocentini, Fall 2019

Course Description 

The aim of the course is to guide the students through a progressive understanding of the complex nature of the ceramic medium. Ceramics deals with materials and processes that are quite complex and the nature and behavior of clay, glazes and temperature need to be fully understood to be able to express one's creative ideas freely.

All the basic techniques of clay forming will be explored including some instruction on the potter’s wheel. We will glaze and decorate our fired pieces using various techniques (underglaze decoration, overglaze decoration, majolica painting etc.).

The program of the course includes a series of practical demonstrations, lectures on essential theoretical information on the nature of clay and of glazes and on firing clay, slide shows on historical and contemporary ceramics and field trips to visit museums and ceramic studios.

Tentative Schedule

Week 1

Tuesday, Sept 10
- What is ceramics: a brief intro with slides; general information on materials being used in the studio

- Preparing clay for work: wedging and kneading
- Pinched pots: a bowl form, simple handles

Thursday, Sept 12
- The kiln, studio rules, common terminology, health and safety issues, etc
- Modeling solid clay: An animal head

Week 2

Tuesday, Sept 17
- FIELD TRIP: Visit the room of the Majolicas at the Bargello Museum

- Hollowing solid forms (continue An animal head)

Thursday, Sept 19
- Working with leather hard slabs: A place where you can be yourself

Week 3

Tuesday, Sept 24
- Lesson: What is clay? Its origin, physical and chemical characteristics
Continue work on leather hard slab project
- How to texture clay

Thursday, Sept 26
- How to use colored slips

- Finish leather hard slab project

Week 4

Tuesday, Oct 1
- Lesson: Different types of ceramics (with slide show)
- Working with coils: Start a Rounded pot
- Start wheel practice

Thursday, Oct 3
- Continue work on Rounded pot
- Continue wheel practice

Week 5

Tuesday, Oct 8
- Session on silk-screening (serigraphy) techniques
with Prof. Kathy Knippel

Thursday, Oct 10
- Continue work on Rounded pot
- Continue wheel practice

Week 6

Tuesday, Oct 15
- Lesson: Drying and firing clay

- Continue work on Rounded pot
- Continue wheel practice

Thursday, Oct 17
- Glazing techniques: How to apply a glaze, how to use underglaze decoration
- Glaze first projects
- Continue work on Rounded pot
- Continue wheel practice

Week 7

Tuesday, Oct 22
- How to make a simple plaster mold for tiles

- Finish Rounded pot

Thursday, Oct 24
- Midterm critique


Week 8

MIDTERM BREAK (October 26 - November 3)


Week 9

Tuesday, Nov 5
- Lesson: The origins and development of Raku

- Work on Raku pieces

Thursday, Nov 7
- Finish Raku pieces
- Research and start final project

Week 10

Tuesday, Nov 12
- Lesson: What is glaze?

- Continue work on final project

Thursday, Nov 14
FIELD TRIP: Raku firing at La Meridiana in Certaldo

Week 11

Tuesday, Nov 19
- Continue work on final project
- Glazing

Thursday, Nov 21
- How to use overglaze decoration (majolica technique)
- Continue final project
- Glazing

Week 12

Tuesday, Nov 26
- Continue work on final project
- Glazing

Thursday, Nov 28
- Continue work on final project
- Glazing

Week 13

Tuesday, Dec 3

- Continue work on final project

Thursday, Dec 5
- Lesson: Glaze faults and how to cure them
- Trim, finish final project
- Glaze projects

Week 14

Tuesday, Dec 10
- Glaze final project

Thursday, Dec 12
- Final glazing
- If time allows, field trip to visit a local ceramics studio

Week 15

Tuesday, Dec 17
- Review for final test

- Final firings and studio clean up

Thursday, Dec 19
- Final test and final critique

(The order of subjects may change during the semester at the teacher's discretion.)


Students will have to take two tests based on the theoretical information given during the lectures: one before the mid-term break and one during the final examination week.


It is essential that students come to class ON TIME. Important information will be given during the first few minutes of each class. Demonstrations, slide shows and lectures will take place at the beginning of class. Two latenesses are equal to one unexcused absence.

Work Outside of Class Hours

Students are requested to finish all assignments given in the assigned time. You are required to spend a minimum of 3 hours per week in the studio outside of class hours. In any case, consider that your success in developing studio skills will be directly proportional to the time spent in the studio outside of scheduled class times.

We will regularly make work that requires drying time between various stages (such as waiting for a pot to be “leather-hard” before applying a handle). This means coming into the studio outside of class to cover or uncover work to control drying and finish work begun earlier.


You will be required to keep a sketchbook for class. Its purpose is to document your ideas and artistic development. You’ll find that it can be your most useful tool in helping you to work out your ideas and plans before starting your projects, and during them. Bring your sketchbook to every class. It should also include all class information, all handouts including this syllabus, notes from class lectures. They will be checked on a regular basis.

Field Trips

Two or more field trips will take place during the semester. Participation on these trips is mandatory.


You are strongly recommended to take advantage of the ceramic books and publications (Ceramic Review, Ceramics Monthly, and Pottery Making Illustrated) that we have in the library. Most books in the ceramics section are on reserve and can only be consulted in the library. Make sure you take some time to do this.

Cleaning Up

Each student will be responsible for cleaning personal and shared areas and should make the process of recycling clay as easy as possible by following the rules posted in the recycling area. It is expected that you clean the area where you have worked even if you didn't find it clean.

You will need to put back all materials (stored in bins, jars or bags) to their original storage cabinets after use. Floors need to be left free of objects so that the cleaning staff can vacuum the studio area.

If we all do this we will have an efficient and safe place to work. A messy, dusty studio is a HEALTH HAZARD for everyone.
Being messy and not cleaning up will affect your grade.

General Safety & Emergency Instructions

Click here for a pdf of SACI's General Safety & Emergency Instructions.

Studio Rules for Your Health and Safety

Do NOT use machinery unless you have been instructed in its use by the instructor of this course. 

  • Access to the ceramics studio is allowed only to students enrolled in the class.
  • Always clean up at the end of class: do not leave without cleaning up your working space (table or wheel, tools and plastic containers), and putting away all tools and materials used.
  • Do not leave clay bags or clay bins open.
  • Dust formation should be kept to a minimum: do not let pieces of clay or clay slop fall on the floor (if this happens, clean it up immediately).
  • Do not use sand paper on raw clay.
  • Always use a dust mask if you have to sand bisqued clay or if you have to use colors and glazes in dry powder form.
  • Always use a protective dust mask and/or gloves whenever a particular glazing material's composition requires you to do so. In any case always follow your teacher's instructions.
  • Do not leave glaze bins or color containers open and always put them back in their storage area (inside the cabinets).
  • The glaze sprayer can only be used outside in the garden.
  •  Wear a dust mask provided by SACI when you use the glaze sprayer.
  • Wear gloves provided by SACI when using the kilns.
  • Do not smoke, eat or drink in the ceramics studio.
  • Do not wear flip-flops in class - only safe, closed shoes.
  • Never touch kilns unless authorized by the instructor.
  • Do not keep your cell phones on during class.

Evaluation & Grading

Work will be evaluated at midterm and a final critique will be scheduled at the end of the semester. Keep in mind that grading of studio work is necessarily a subjective process; however, the following points will give you an idea of the criteria I have in mind and their relative importance in determining a grade:
1) Generally, I will be looking for evidence of involvement with the problems presented, the dedication and effort applied to them, and the quality of their solutions.
2) In the ceramic process, problems of aesthetics and design are inseparable from the craft techniques that express them. A well-crafted work by itself does not constitute a work of art, but a great concept cannot be expressed without the adequate technical skill. Workmanship therefore is an important part of the final grade.
3) I will appreciate evidence of original thinking and of awareness of the possibilities of the medium.
4) Individual research is also a very important part of your work and will influence your grade.
5) Proper handling of studio tools and equipment and correct safety and maintenance procedures are considered. Participation in studio maintenance and cleaning up are essential.
6) Participation in the critiques and the capability to verbalize ideas and concepts are also important components of your final grade.
Two short quiz tests will be given at midterm and during the finals week dealing with the information on technical and historical issues discussed during the slide presentations and lectures.

Graduate Students
Students in MFA, MA, and Post-Bac programs are expected to complete additional assignments and to produce work at a level appropriate for students in a graduate program. They are graded accordingly and, if they successfully complete all course requirements for graduate students, receive graduate-level credit for the course.

Grading Criteria
Grading will be based on the following: Assignments/work are worth 60%, Quizzes 15%, attitude and class participation is 25% of your grade for the class. The final grade will be determined by an overall judgment of the professor.
- All assignments done on time and meeting assignment criteria.
- Attendance, participation, and attitude - excellent.
- Artistic and technical development evident in work.
- Exceptional creative energy.
- Excellent ability to verbalize concepts and ideas, participation in critiques.
- Extra hours in studio outside of class (6+ recommended).
- Participation in studio maintenance and clean up, loading and firing of kilns, clay recycling
- All assignments done on time and meeting assignment criteria.
- Attendance, participation, and attitude - good.
- Artistic and technical development evident in work.
- Good creative energy.
- Good ability to verbalize concepts and ideas, participation in critiques
- 4 extra hours in studio outside of class.
- Participation in studio maintenance and clean up, loading and firing of kilns, clay recycling
- All assignments done on time and meeting assignment criteria.
- Attendance, participation, and attitude - adequate.
- Artistic and technical development evident in work.
- Adequate creative energy.
- 3 extra hours in studio outside of class.
- Participation in maintenance and clean up of studio.
- All assignments completed, but performed below average.
- Completing too little or unsatisfactory work.
- Poor attendance.
Did not meet enough requirements for the course to pass.

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