MOUNTAIN pottery // Neolithic Pot / Black Firing

It has been sooo long between blog updates and I finally have the chance to post now. A lot of things have been going on, but I have sorted it all out, and I am very happy to say that I now have made the time to update much more often, yay! Although now I have a mountain of post to catch up on first…

Besides the fact I am now on tafe holidays and I have finished my semester of ceramic history, which has lessened my work load enormously, I have been able to rearrange my school work in a way that suits me much more, where I make a lot more pottery and do a lot less essays. It makes sense to me.

So what have I been doing in the last few months besides not updating my blog? I have done hours and hours and hours of research, written essays and made less pots that I would have like to.

I also had my 28th birthday and my very cute Justin, got me a very cute – Arnold the bunny, to keep my best friend – Mack the pug, company while we are working, but I will post on that another day.

In a previous post fair while ago now, I was talking about staying inside on a cold day, hand-building a pot for my ceramic history class, and finally here is the results!

As you can read in my previous post, this was made for an assignment in my ceramics history class, where we had to copy a – Neolithic period (first people to settled and farm, after the hunter gather period) pot. We chose a form we liked and remade it, and had to decorate it in our own style.

I hand-built it from coils of clay smoothed and stretched out the body. I used Northcote Terra Cotta clay, this took me quite a while because I had to build it in stages so the form didn’t collapse on itself. So I built about a third, left it wrapped up loosely to stiffen up for a couple of days, then added the next third, and repeated. Then I made the head in one long session. Hand-building is not really my thing, I really prefer the speed of the wheel, I like to get things done quickly, not rush things, but just work fast paced, really I like to do most things quickly and efficiently, for a – learning, and if you ask my sister – walking, we used to walk to primary school together up two huge hills (this area is all old volcanos), and she used to get so annoyed that I walked so fast, but people walk way to slow for me. I like to be quick and get where I need to be, then have more time to rest when I’m there!

Anyway I digress, so I very much like the idea of hand building, it’s so organic and primitive, but it’s just not my area. And I was glad to be finished with it. I got to the point where I didn’t even want to look at it any more, I defiantly fell out of love with it, but later you will see I fell back in love with it in the end.

As I mentioned in the previous post, I chose to remake this 5000-9000 year old Bulgarian ritual burial vessel.

It took me so long to decide on a decoration, I loved the original decoration and it was so perfect for the form, that nothing else I came up with came close to improving it in any way. I also had to make the design sympathetic to the form which was a real challenge. The original design was incised line of a stylized man, he had a cap, a mustache, and was wearing a scarf, how great, you can’t beat that! I decided to come up with a luna theme, that related to the goddess worship of the time, the phases of the moon wrapped around the body and the circles made to accentuate the roundness of the pot. His beard referring back to the original with a mustashe but by a happy accident, gave him a more wizard like appearance in the end. Above is the pot completed, dry burnished and decorated in an unfired state.

Here is the pot after a low bisque firing of 980 degrees celsius. It has gone from a yellow/brown clay to rich terra-cotta.

Here is my pot loaded into the next kiln for the black firing, along with the rest of the classes work. Some of the other clays people were using were RGH (fine iron red stoneware) and porcelain.

To seal the kiln we put a mixture of fire clay and water to the consistancy of a goopy paste, and made coils to stick the kiln lid on with.

we smoothed over the seal and blocked up the cracks with more fire clay mixture.

lighting the gas burner

heating the kiln to approximately 600 degrees celsius as the final temperature

placing split up fence palings to make a charcoal bed for the sugar to be placed on, which will burn and smoke like crazy! This smoke (carbon) gets trapped into the clay body at this low temperature and turns the clay black.

we made up parcels of sugar wrapped in newspaper to be burnt in the kiln. I think we used 2kg of sugar (it was so long ago now, I really wish I had have had time to do this post when it was all fresh in my memory). These parcels where place on a fence paling, 3 in a line on the paling, that is why the parcels are long and skinny, so they fit on the paling. This paling was then passed through the hole at the front of the kiln, where the sugar parcels where tipped onto to bed of coals, one load after the other. I missed this most important bit because I was remixing up glazes for another assignment, whoops!

After all the sugar was in quickly, it starts to burn and smoke leaks out of the kiln, (the gas burner is off at this stage and the firing is complete), you want to trap all the smoke in, as much as possible,  so you work like mad bogging up all the cracks with more fire clay mixture. While at the same time suffering major smoke inhalation : ) hold your breath, it stinks!

This is the sooty result after the kiln has cooled right down in a day or two.

Then you get the fun part of wiping off the soot with a rag and polish up all your hard work.

like black magic!


About MOUNTAINpottery

Mountain Pottery is designed and handmade by Deanne Sarita Smart. The studio is located in a small town of Sassafras in the Mountains of Australia. This pottery is made to be collected, loved and used everyday as some of your most treasured belongings. Each piece is unique and made to order. Aside from being beautiful and functional objects, each collection has an underlying meaning, message or intention. All the vessels are inspired in some way by myth, nature, and symbolic language. About this blog // This blog is designed to be a place of inspiration to others with the same interests and point of view, as well as a look into the creation of Mountain Pottery.


  1. Thanks for showing the process for the creation of your blackware. It was great to see the pictures and your explanation of the ancient process.

  2. my pleasure, thanks for reading : )

  3. marycheshier

    Reblogged this on Travels with Mary and commented:
    Very Nice! I would love to try this. I have done wood firing and Raku.. black firing is now on my to-do list. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Marc

    Beautiful! I received a gift of black-fired pottery from Lithuania. But I wonder, is it safe to drink from bowls and cups made this way? I wonder because they are not really glazed.

    • sorry for the super late reply! thank you for your comment 🙂 … I’m not sure of the exact chemical composition and effects, but I can hypothesize that as the black is just trapped carbon in the clay, therefore “shouldn’t” be any health risks. And also ancient civilizations have been making and cooking with these types of pots for thousands of years and I haven’t come across any pieces of information suggesting these people had ill effects caused by their food prep in these type of vessels, although that doesn’t really prove anything, only that it is tried and tested, and seems to be fine 🙂 ***disclaimer – as you have done 🙂 always keep in mind the safety of any product you use, do your research, or ask an expert (chemist)

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