How are artwork and pottery created with soil?

Our lives are rooted in soil! Soil is all around us and artwork is no exception. From the clay molded and used in pottery to beautiful paintings, soil has always played a big role.

Many of the materials used in the making of traditional artwork are found in the earth’s crust. These include soil for color pigments used in paints, dyes, and inks; rocks for sculptures; sands and minerals to create glass; ores for metalwork; and clay for ceramics. Soils are also critically important in growing plant materials for textiles and wooden objects.

Soil scientist and artist Ken VanRees creates his paintings with soil.

Soil scientist and artist Ken VanRees creates his paintings with soil. Credit: Van Rees

In the Stone Age, natural pigments like red and yellow ochers and magnesium oxides were used for pottery, houses, and body paint for rituals. One Dutch painter, Hieronymus Bosch, used earth and soils as the main subjects of his paintings to evoke deep religious symbolism and meanings. His most famous and controversial piece is the triptych Garden of Earthly Delights, which portrays people living off the bounty of the earth. More recently the Land Art Movement began in the 1950s focused on soil. Soil profiles can show stark contrasts in colors, layers, and textures, making for beautiful art.

Porcelain has been used to make delicate figurines and dishes for centuries. Credit: Morguefile

Porcelain has been used to make delicate figurines and dishes for centuries. Credit: Morguefile

In pottery, specifically, there are three general types of clay that are used. Porcelain has as its main ingredient a clay type called kaolin. Although it is durable, it can show signs of wear if not careful. Day-to-day plates for dining are made from stoneware clay. Earthenware clay contains a wide variety of minerals, including things like iron oxide.

-by Tom Rice and the IYS October team

To view SSSA’s Soils and the Products we use video, visit https://youtu.be/oVce_FBvS3Q.

More educational materials can be found on various SSSA websites:

http://soils4teachers.org/  (K-12 Lesson Plans and Activities)

http://soils4kids.org  (Just for kids!)

http://soils.org/iys (International Year of Soils, with a coloring book and monthly ideas for teachers and scientists!)

Subscribe to SSSA’s Soils Matter blog posts to get monthly answers to common soils-related questions: https://soilsmatter.wordpress.com/

Become a Friend of Soil Science (no charge) at: https://www.soils.org/membership/friends-of-soil-science/

Dig in further with a free trial membership at https://www.soils.org/membership/become-a-member/trial/

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