Ceramics is a popular artistic medium for expressing ideas in three-dimensional form. It is one of the world’s oldest crafts - in prehistoric times clay pots were moulded and then dried on hot sand.


Clay is the raw material used in ceramics. It is a very versatile material that can be transformed into a wide variety of shapes. When heated to high temperatures in a kiln, it hardens and permanently sets in shape. This makes it ideal for creating functional everyday items such as pots and vases as well as imaginative sculptural pieces.

Stages of clay

Wet clay

Wet clay is clay in its natural form. It is easy to work with and manipulate.

At this stage clay is still soft. This makes wet clay ideal for sculpting and adding pattern or texture to its surface.

Hands preparing a lump of wet clay
Wet clay is malleable and easy to work with. Mint Images Limited / Alamy Stock Photo

Leather-hard clay

Leather-hard clay is clay that has dried for a few hours. It should feel slightly cool to the touch.

Clay can be easily handled at this stage without the danger of it being damaged or losing its shape. It is still soft enough to make alterations. This is the best time to carve into clay or join slabs.

Leather-hard clay is not dry enough for firing in a kiln. If put into the kiln at this stage, it might explode.

An example of slab building with a textured surface
Leather-hard clay is firmer than wet clay, making it ideal for detailed carving work.


Greenware is the name for clay that has dried and is ready to be fired in a kiln. Usually clay should air-dry for about a week before being fired. The exact drying time depends on the thickness of the piece.

This is clay in its most fragile and brittle stage. Avoid over-handling if possible to prevent damage or cracking.

Greenware pots ready to be fired
Greenware is clay that is dry enough to be fired. Zitarik Phonography / Stockimo / Alamy Stock Photo