Ceramics Essentials will teach you the fundamentals of casting plaster and hand building with clay. The course starts below by taking you through some basic steps you need to learn to start using the lab.

Once you've learnt these steps, you'll be ready to come down to the Lab for the practical part of the course. We'll demonstrate how to mix plaster to the correct consistency and also some essential principles of building with clay by hand. Please be sure to concentrate when you go through the following points, as you'll need to pass a short quiz before you can book a place on the practical part of the course.

The booking form immediately follows the quiz - IF you get enough of the answers right!
You should only need about 5 minutes to go through the points, and 5 minutes to complete the quiz.

Before you can use the ceramics Lab you need to know what you can use the lab for. The ceramics lab is where you can cast plaster and concrete, use Mod-Roc and model using clay. These are the three main materials that the ceramics lab is used for and these can be purchased from the Lab Shop. Silicone and resin cannot be used in the ceramics lab. Silicones and resins must be used in the Spray Room. Other materials such as papier mache are suitable but please check before using.


Are you dressed appropriately, according to the Lab Dress Code?

safety glasses

Are you wearing safety glasses, and any other PPE if required?

Are you allowed to use the machine, according to the Traffic Lights?

To use the lab, hand over your student card at the lab shop and explain what you want to do. (for example cast plaster or model with clay) in return the Lab Assistant will loan you the tools you require and the number of the bench you can work at. These tools must be returned cleaned after use. Before you enter the room. Put on protective glasses and an apron.

If using plaster help yourself to two plastic trays next to the sink. These will capture any mess and help you keep the area clean.

If using clay help yourself to a wooden board. This will give you a flat surface to work on. Place the cotton from you kit on top to stop the clay sticking.

The Hazards involved in the lab are from the materials used rather than the machinery.


  • Small volumes of plaster will always be safer and cleaner. Larger quantities (more the 3kg) should only be used with staff assistance.
  • When curing, plaster creates an exothermic reaction. Do not leave plaster in prolonged contact with skin – temperatures as low as 45°c can burn. There is also slight shrinkage when setting which can increase pressure and temperatures as high as 60°c. So do not cast your body parts in plaster.
  • Wear gloves if you have sensitive skin.


  • Clay when wet is a very safe material.
  • When dry the dust is hazardous to your lungs so do not sand or scrape dry clay.
  • Once the clay has dried it gets fired in a kiln. Which means you can not add anything to the clay as this will burn in an unpredictable way.


  • Concrete is the most hazardous material to be used in the Ceramics lab.
  • It is an irritant to your skin, eyes and lungs. Therefore you must wear heavy duty gloves that we provide, wear glasses at all times and avoid making the dry material airborne.

Step 4: Two basic processes
Process 1. Casting plaster -
Limitations: Casting single objects that require more than 3kg of plaster will require assistance. Not suitable for casting thinner than 10mm.

  1. Design your object
  2. Design the mould. This is the negative form that will contain the positive casting.
  3. Make your mould, it must be watertight and securely held together (avoid glueing as it will need to come apart).
  4. If you have made your mould from a porous material such as plywood or mdf you should seal it to create a waterproof barrier.
  5. Once built you are ready to use the ceramics lab. Go to the lab shop to buy materials and ask to use the ceramics lab.
  6. Before casting most materials (except silicons and alginates) need a release agent. Apply a thin coat of the appropriate release agent.
  7. You are ready to mix and pour
  8. Once finished pour any waste plaster into the bucket in the sink NOT DOWN THE DRAIN
  9. Ready to de-mould within one hour (if mixed correctly) fully cured in 24 hours.
  10. Return all equipment cleaned to the Lab Shop

Process 2. Slab Building with clay:

Limitations: We can not fire solid lump forms as they explode in the kiln anything larger than a tennis ball needs to be hollow. Clay shrinks by about 10% when fired so not dimensionally accurate.

  1. Design your object
  2. Cut out paper templates.
  3. Go to the lab shop and buy clay and loan the tools you will need.
  4. Roll, Cut and assemble your clay object.
  5. Leave on the shelf to dry.
  6. Return all equipment cleaned to the Lab Shop
  7. Once bone dry it can be fired in the kiln. Place in the bisque firing 900C box before Monday evening.
  8. Collect Wednesday
  9. Glaze (optional)
  10. Place in the Glaze firing 1220C Box before Wednesday evening
  11. Collect Monday.


If you think you need to, go back and review these 5 stages and 15 points. If you are sure you've taken them all in, then please now proceed to the Quiz to see if you've got it!


If you want to progress further please register first!