The creation of majolica is a complex “five-step” creative process that has not changed in 500 years.
Step 1: Moulding the clay
A potter creates a piece by hand shaping and hand turning it on a wheel using a lump of refined local clay. Sometimes a mould or press will be used to shape the clay. The moulded clay is then placed in the open air for natural drying for up to 3 days. When it dries it becomes light grey in colour and it is ready for its first firing in the kiln.
Step 2: First Firing
The dried piece is cleaned and sanded to remove small imperfections or bumps, then loaded onto large racks and wheeled into the kiln. The first firing is done at about 1000 degrees Celsius. After the firing, the kiln must remain closed for hours to allow the temperature to cool gradually, as a dramatic change in temperature could cause cracking. It is during this firing that the piece, now referred to as “Biscotto” (bisque or biscuit), acquires the typical terracotta red colour.
Step 3: Glazing
Once cooled, the bisque is dipped into a bath of fast drying liquid glaze, typically white or cream. The bisque, now wholly covered by the powdery glaze, is ready for painting. This fine powder prevents the colours from spreading and blurring into each other during the painting and will bond with the subsequent coloured glazes during the final firing.
Step 4: Painting
The artist may paint a decoration freehand, or complex designs may be transferred to the piece using a paper stencil - carbon sticks are tapped onto the stencil, marking more complex designs through holes pierced in the paper. The glazes used to produce the colours are in some cases quite different from the colours that emerge after the final firing.
Step 5: Second Firing
The painted item is loaded again into the kiln for a second firing at around 950 degrees Celsius. This delicate process requires great care to avoid scratching or touching any item to be fired. The final firing may take up to 24 hours with more than 12 hours of constant high heat. Like the first firing, it is necessary to let the kiln cool down naturally to avoid the potentially devastating effects of “thermal shock”.