How Turkish Ceramics Are Made
Turkish ceramics, known as çini in Turkish, is an age old process that is an integral part of Turkish heritage and their aesthetic tradition. What makes Turkish ceramics so highly coveted throughout the world? The answer is a history of consistent craftsmanship dating back to the early Ottoman Empire. There are three main Turkish cities that are renowned for their ceramics around the world which are Iznik, Çannakale, and Kütahya. Some Turkish ceramic pieces can sell for over a million U.S. dollars because of the unreplicable process that was handed down by artists from generation to generation.
The process of creating a ceramic piece starts with the base, known as ‘the biscuit,’ which is a combination of clay, ground quartz, and silica from the local area. The biscuit is dried for seven to ten days and then carefully covered with a quartz and clay underglaze. The biscuit is dried for another ten days and baked in a large kiln at 950 °C. This process hardens the loose clay base into a much stronger structure so that the artist can work on their intricate designs.
Patterns for Turkish ceramics are traditionally based on natural themes like water, birds, trees, or flowers like tulips. The design is drawn on sketch paper so that all of the details are accurately depicted. The finished drawing is perforated with a needle and covered in charcoal dust over the biscuit to transfer the design to its surface. Charcoal dust is used so the outlines can be traced with black dye. The design outlines are filled in with metal oxide colors. The metal oxide is often made with copper since it is abundant in Turkey, which produces a deep cobalt blue. Turkey is also known for the distinctive red color produced by iron. Ceramic art can be adorned with many colors but Turkish ceramics are best known for their rich blue and red designs.
Glazing is the final step of the ceramic-making process and it contains a trade secret that has been passed down orally since the 14th century. Once the paint is on the biscuit it is coated with a mixture of quartz, metal oxides, and a special glaze called sır which means “secret” in Turkish. The final coating adds a silky smooth finish to the piece, makes the colors appear much deeper, and protects it from the elements so that it is nearly indestructible. The last step of the process is to air dry the piece and put it in a kiln for twelve hours. The final step ensures that the pale hues of the paint will form more vivid colors once the final product comes out.