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February 19, 2017
From the days, even before our history began, pottery has been used as a medium for artistry and aesthetic expression. Clay has been used to express social and religious ideals. Discovery of “Gila- Lazwart” also known as cobalt oxide did wonders to the earthen pots. It was used in glazing and painting pots which when heated turned a deep blue colour. This soil can be found in a small village called Goojar which is close to Teheran. Gila- Lazwart is made into balls and then sold to the chemist who heats the balls and when Gila- Lazwart balls gets cool, grinds them into a fine powder which is further passed through a very fine sieve. Blue Pottery is well known in China. The Chinese discovered porcelain and celadon but without the vibrant blue colour the pottery looked dull and lifeless.
Abdul Quasim Qasani In 1301 AD wrote a book on the art of evolving colours and painting on pottery. Chinese learnt ever thing they could about Gila- lazwart from the Iranians they were even prepared to pay the price of gold for this marvellous element. In 1587-1620 Iranian ruler Shah Abbas invited 300 artists from china. They found that the soil of Iran was unsuitable for making porcelain. Along with their Iranian counterparts found and new way and thus ‘Blue Pottery’ was born. The title Blue Pottery was given by the British. In Iran, it is known as ‘Sangine or Aatike’ which means made out of stone. This art crept into Afghanistan and then to Multan, Lahore Delhi and Agra.
From the ages, Indo-Pak subcontinent has been famous for its multi-dimensional cultural history. Multan, the traditional window to the heritage of Pakistan is a famous city for its artwork and craftsmanship and is living proof of our ancient ties with Turkish and Persian cultures. The origin of blue pottery dates back to the time of successful Muslim excursions into the Indus basin. The specialty of Multan that provides it fame all over the world is due to mesmerizing art of blue pottery. Blue pottery actually depicts the art in which blue ceramic designs are painted on the mud pots of various design by the skilled painters. Ceramic painting or blue pottery is an important cottage industry of Pakistan. The artwork is appreciated and purchased not only in Pakistan but it is also famous all over the world. The skill of creating blue pottery is called Multani Kashi or Multani pottery work which was introduced by the local craftsmen of the Multan region. This craft is originally influenced by the Persian, Central Asian and Mongolian art and has originated from the city of Kashgar, in western China. Royal patronage, lucrative business and attraction of living monuments led many artisans and craftsmen to cement the name of Multan for its indigenous and marvellous designs of blue pottery work that reciprocates the Multan’s Artwork. In 1985, Punjab small industries corporation established an Institute of Blue Pottery Development to save the art from extinction. Blue pottery of Multan is at display in president’s house, prime ministers secretariat, culture missions of Pakistan in different countries and British Museum London.
The art of making blue glaze pottery came to Rajasthan from Kashmir. The name Blue glaze pottery comes from the eye-catching blue dye which is used to colour the clay. The Jaipur blue pottery is made out of and Egyptian paste which then glazed and low fired. This pottery is opaque and decorated with animal and bird motifs. It is fragile and easily chipped so it is fired at low temperature. Blue pottery is Turko-Persian in origin but nowadays it is known as the craft of Jaipur.
The making process of blue pottery product is very tedious and time-consuming. It involves various stages. The whole process can be divided into following main steps;
1. Making of the Dough
2. Making of the Molds
3. Casting of the Products
6. Attaching the Base
9. Colour Making
Making of the Dough
The raw materials like quartz powder, Multani Mitti, scrap glass, Katria Gond, and Saaji are used to make the dough for Blue Pottery. Firstly, Multani Mitti, scrap glass, Katria Gond, and Saaji are broken and ground into a fine powder. The mixture is kneaded properly to prepare non-sticky dough which is kept for at least 7-8 hours before using it.
Making of the Molds
Artisans develop molds in Plaster of Paris (POP) to caste the desired shape and size of the blue pottery products. The dough used in blue pottery lacks plasticity due to which they can’t be hard-pressed on wheel to make large products. The products break as the dough is pulled up. Therefore, the products are casted in to the molds. These molds are made in all desired shapes and sizes and then dried. One mold can be used for number of times if properly maintained. Small and easy product can be made in one mold, whereas complex items may involve more than one or two molds to make a final product. For example, a vase is made up in four parts. The central part is made out of two hemispherical molds while the neck and the base of the vase are turned on the potter’s wheel. All these four parts are joined together using the dough and the surface is smoothed.
Casting of the Products
For the casting of the products, the desired amount of the prepared dough is taken and rolled over the base stone. It is then flattened using a flattening tool on the stone base till is gets a round shape like chapatti with an approximate thickness of 4-5 mm. This round shaped chapatti is then carefully placed in the mould. The mould is continuously wiggled so that the dough sets properly inside the mold. Once the dough is partially placed in the mould, the mould is filled with raakh (burnt wooden dust) and is pressed gently so that the dough takes the exact shape of the mold. The extra edges of the dough which comes out of the mold are cut using a knife. After this the mold is turned upside down and removed, then the prepared product along with raakh is kept for 1-2 days for drying.
After the product is dried and has taken the shape of the mould it is turned upside down and the raakh is removed from it. The extra raakh stuck on the walls are brushed off using a koochi (small broom). Generally while placing the dough in the mould the dough achieves an uneven thickness making the walls of the product non-uniformed. To create the walls of uniform thickness the product is sprinkled with a small amount of water to make it leather hard. After that, with the help of Patti (iron knife) the extra material is scooped off making the walls even. The product is dried again for a few hours through the day.
The dried product now undergoes several stages of the finishing process, firstly the rough edges of the product are removed by rubbing it on the stone base. This process is done gently and carefully by hand. After that, the product is rubbed with regmaal (sandpaper) to remove the major grains, which occur due to raakh and scrubbing.
Attaching the Base
The products are added with a base wherever required. Generally, vases, small cups stand, etc. are provided with base to give them stability. The base is mainly fixed on the product (if round in shape) on the potter’s wheel. The product is turned upside down over the potter’s wheel and the base is sprinkled with water so that it gets leather hard. A small amount of dough is used along with some water to make the base. Once the base is made, the finished product is again left for drying for 1-2 days.
The dried product with base now goes through another finishing process which is mainly focused on smoothing the surface for painting. Therefore products are coated with a coat of dough mixed with water to fill the major holes and dried. Once dried it is rubbed with regmaal (Sand paper) to smoothen the surface. The second round of coating is done once the product is rubbed. This time the product is dipped in the slurry, prepared by mixing quartz powder (10 kg), powdered glass (3 kg), Maida (edible flour, 2kg) and water. The process is done by hand in a way that the coating is done evenly. After drying the surface is again rubbed with regmaal and made ready for painting.
Once the surface smoothing process is completed the product moves to design development process. Artisan makes designs from his imagination and seldom uses a tracing. All products are individually painted by hand. Designing starts with making the outlines on a dried coated surface of the product. If the product is circular in shape it is placed on the potter’s wheel and the brush tip is touched on the surface while the wheel is rotating and thus the outline is made. The further intricate designs are made by hand using brushes of different sizes.
The colours used in Blue Pottery are mainly oxides and sometime Ferro metal. These oxides are available in the market in the form of small lumps. The lumps of oxides are mixed with edible gum and made into powdered form by grinding. Edible gum acts as a binding agent.
The designs/outlines made on the products are now filled with oxide colours using fine brushes. The main colours used in Blue Pottery are blue, green, yellow and brown. The product is kept for drying once the painting process is completed.
After the paint is dried the product is glazed. A special glaze is prepared using different raw material in definite proportion. A mixture of powdered glass (21kg), Borex (17 kg), zinc oxide (1 kg) potassium nitrate (2 kg) and boric acid (7 kg) is prepared and heated till it melts. The mixture is allowed to cool and lumps are obtained which are again grounded into fine powder. This powder is further mixed with Maida(flour) and slurry is prepared using water. The final products are dipped in this solution in a way that it gets an even coating. The product is finally dried in sun.
The products prepared so far taken for firing in a closed kiln. They are stacked inside the kiln one on top of the other, separated by patiya and nali. The stacking is done with utmost care so that no two products stick to each other, there is proper circulation of heat within and the kiln is uniformly packed. If products stick to each other there are possibilities of them turning black. After stacking the kiln is closed from top. Heating is done from below using wood and charcoal. The temperature goes up to 800-850 degree Celsius. The firing process takes almost 4-5 hours. Thereafter, the kiln is left for slow cooling for 2-3 days. Any drastic change in temperature may lead to develop cracks in the products. Once the kiln is cooled, it is opened and the products are taken out and checked. In case of rejection, the pieces are separated. The final products are cleaned and are packed for the market.
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