Porcelain Production in Jingdezhen

Ceramics have been produced for over 1800 years in Jingdezhen, China. Emperor Zhenzong decreed that Changnanzhen, as the city was know then, should produce all of the porcelain used by the imperial court during the Jingde Period (1004-1007). The industry continued to develop there during the Song, Yuan, Ming, and Qing Dynasties. Today Jingdezhen is a recognized center of porcelain production.  Although electric wheels and electric and gas kilns are used today in the factories, ancient throwing and decorating techniques and wood-fired kilns can be seen as well.

Old working methods and Qing Dynasty kilns can be seen at the Jingdezhen Ceramic History Museum:

The potter's wheel is spun counter-clockwise with a stick. A dry bowl is trimmed to make it paper thin. Greenware is glazed by dipping and pouring.
 

Firewood is specially stacked to dry it and protect it from the elements. The front of a small wood-fired saggar kiln Saggars with fired bowls in the Shanghai Museum
 

Inside a large kiln (50' long x 20 high') with saggars on sides and chimney in rear  The chimney of the  kiln is being rebuilt. The kiln is shaped like an egg, with the narrower part located near the chimney in the back.

Production techniques used in Jingdezhen today:

Porcelain is mined, powdered, mixed with water, slaked, squeezed, then pugged. Porcelain is press molded at the Sculpture Factory to make an edition of figurines.
 

Vessels are slip cast, then trimmed. Some are cast in several parts that are luted together.
 

Sections of large vessels are thrown, dried, trimmed, then joined. A pot is trimmed in the foreground, while clay is prepared for throwing in the middle ground and centered in the background. Several young men join forces to throw a large pot on an electric wheel.
 
Uneven surfaces and cracks mark some of the places where thrown sections were joined on these Ming porcelain vessels from the Shanghai Museum.
 

The surface of a multi-sectioned pot is sanded to create a smooth profile at the Imitated Antique Porcelain Factory  Hutianjingdezhen (IAPFH). A stencil is often used to lay out the pattern on the greenware at the Jingdezhen Jiayang Ceramics Company. Underglaze is then painted over the stenciled lines, which burn off during the firing.
 
Brushes designed specifically for underglaze and overglaze painting are manufactured in Jingdezhen. These photos were taken at Shengji bi hang.

One of the first steps in making a brush involves sizing and lining up the bristles. The tip of the finished brush is checked by wetting the point, then painting a small circle on the hand. Unwanted hairs are pulled out.
 

Silk screens for making overglaze decals.  Decals are cut, placed on dry lids, moistened with water, then the paper is removed after the underglaze has transferred to the greenware. A stripe is then painted around the edge on an electric banding wheel.  These fired cups are decorated with decal-transferred underglaze flowers. 
 

Painting cobalt underglaze on greenware at the IAPFH. A bronze statue demonstrates the old method of spraying clear glaze over underglaze onto greenware. Today a compressor and spray booth are used.
 

Although electric and gas kilns have replaced coal and wood-burning kilns, smokestacks from abandoned coal-burning kilns can still be seen.  This gas car kiln with a dolly to move the car onto the track is typical of the kilns used today. Most ware is once fired. Only pieces with overglaze are fired several times.
 

A wet overglaze stencil is removed after it has transferred the pattern onto a fired glazed pot. This overglaze painter does not use a stencil, but is inspired by a painting in a book at the Sculpture Factory. Red overglaze is painted free-hand onto a fired underglaze blue plate. Silkscreened overglaze decals are used to create inexpensive repeat patterns.

A pilgrimage to Jingdezhen, the birth place of high fire ceramics, is definitely worth the effort. Short-term residencies for international students and artists are available at the Jingdezhen Sanbao Ceramic Art Institute and the Sculpture FactoryYou may also enjoy reading my Made in China article in the July/August 2008 issue of CERAMIC REVIEW.

LINKS:
Traditional Dunzi Production in Yaoli, China
The Pottery Workshop in Shanghai
Cloisonne enameling in Beijing
Printing in China
Capelo Ceramics of Mexico
Mexican Ceramist, Angelica Escarcega Rodriguez
Mexican Ceramist, José Luis Méndez Ortega
Guevara Ceramics of Mexico  
Ceramics of Ubeda, Spain   
Tiles and Ceramics of Seville, Spain  
Tiles and Ceramics of Talavera de la Reina, Spain  
Monje Ceramics of Lora del Rio, Spain
Earthenware Tiles of Portugal  
Majolica Ceramics of Caldas da Rainha, Portugal

Pottery of Western Cameroon
Roof Tiles in Bali, Indonesia  
Carol Ventura's Home Page 

The Traditional Crafts of Porcelain Making in Jingdezhen, by Bai Ming, Jiangxi Fine Arts Publishing House, 2002, ISBN 7-80580-887-2, is excellent, but difficult to find outside of China.

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Photographs, web page, and text by Carol Ventura.