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Everyone uses ceramics. Dishes, mugs, serving bowls, flower pots and vases. These items are all often made using clay that is shaped, glazed and fired to prevent it from falling apart. Usually, we use household items that have been mass produced. But sometimes, we use special, handmade bowls, unique mugs, decorate our homes with clay statues, or wear glazed jewelry. These one-of-a-kind items are made by ceramists, also known as potters. Ceramists are artisans who create beautifully interesting items that are both decorative and useful.

Along with clay, glaze and fire, ceramists create with wheels, moulds, and freestyle with their hands. They can etch in designs and patterns using small tools. Unlike some other artisans, ceramists need a large, well-stocked studio space in which to create their work.

Ceramists can make just about anything out of clay. They have so many methods for creating, from pouring liquid clay into plaster moulds to simple shaping with their fingers. They can even determine the look of the piece by controlling the temperature of the kiln, or oven. The higher the temperature, the smoother and more waterproof a piece will end up being.

Ceramists are generally strong, as the work takes a lot of muscle. They must be able to see things three dimensionally, and believe that anything is possible. They must also be determined, and have faith in their talent.

Ceramists don't only create functional items. They often focus instead on creating sculpture and other artwork with the clay. These people create art out of clay because of its versatility, and its link to nature. But even if their work is sold in gift shops and never displayed in a gallery, all ceramists have respect and skill enough to see clay as a thing of beauty.
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  Interests and Skills  
Interested in becoming a ceramist? Ceramists must be creative, and driven to create art. They should be willing to put in long, hard hours. Ceramists must be innovative thinkers, willing to try new things. They need good manual dexterity, steady hands and patience to do this work. Drawing, design and mathematical skills are also important. They should have some business sense, as well as good people skills, especially if they would like to make this their career.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Come up with original designs and pieces
  • Consult with supervisor, head designer or client about piece
  • Research current trends, historical and cultural traditions
  • Sketch ideas and plans for each creation
  • Prepare the clay for use
  • Shape pottery items using hands, a potter's wheel, moulds and other tools
  • Prepare and mix glazes (chemicals that give a shiny finish) for decorating
  • Prepare, load and fire kilns
  • Manage a shop or online business
  • The typical day for a ceramist involves meeting with clients and drawing up plans for the item. When ceramists actually get down to it, and begin making the objects, the hours can be long, and quick, accurate work is crucial. Depending on the size and detail of a piece, it can take several days for one item to be completed. Ceramists may travel around the world to exhibitions, festivals and schools to sell their work, conduct seminars, and for research, to learn about new techniques and ancient traditions.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Generally, ceramists work part-time, however, the longer they work and the more popular their creations, the more likely it is their talents can be put to work full-time. They work in studios, often in their own homes. Ceramists usually work alone, or in collaboration with a few artists. They can set their own hours, and may work nights and weekends if working on a special project or design.
  • They may sell their original work in galleries, jewelry stores, or artisans' shops, or they may create special pieces made to order for specific clients. Some ceramists find full-time work with museums and historical societies, making historically accurate re-creations or restoring antiques and artifacts, and work completing their own creations on the side.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Ceramists can become full-time artisans, and open a shop to sell their wares. They can become instructors, and write books and articles on the history and technique of their art. They can branch out into other areas of art, and become potters, silversmiths, jewelry or clothing designers or open a store or gallery for artisans to sell and display their creations.

  Educational Paths  
There is no required program to take or path to follow to become a ceramist. Often, they will study under the guidance of an established artisan, so it is a good idea to find an individual with whom you can work and learn. Some colleges and private schools offer courses in pottery, and jewelry making, as well as ceramics. For cermamists who want to start their own business it might be a good idea to complete a university degree or college diploma in fine art, design or sculpture, as well as a few courses in business administration.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_nat.htm

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