Pottery for beginners: caring for your clay

July 29, 2015

Clay has to be kept under the right conditions to maintain malleability — it has some properties that can render it unworkable. Follow these guidelines to help you take proper care of your clay so it lasts a long time.

Pottery for beginners: caring for your clay

The good news is that even dry or completely dried out clay can be salvaged; the bad is that it's not easy to do — as such, it's key to take care of your clay so that it stays damp. The air temperature, the heat of your hands, the stiffness or dryness of the clay and the amount of handling it takes all affect its workability. Overhandling the clay can result in your masterpiece collapsing. (If this happens, dampen the clay and leave it well wrapped for a day or so — it can then be used again). With proper care, clay should remain in a workable condition indefinitely.

1. Optimal storage for clay

Clay dries out very quickly when exposed to air and heat. Therefore, when storing keep it tightly wrapped in strong plastic and out of direct sunlight. Once a bag of clay is opened, the clay should be rewrapped and placed in a dark, sealable plastic bag or a storage container with an airtight lid, depending on the quantity.

2. Dealing with dry clay

  • If your clay has become quite dry, but has not dried out completely, it will need to be re-dampened.
  • If you have a lot of leftover scraps, use a wet sponge to add water and press the pieces together to form a lump, trying to avoid air pockets.
  • Dampen the inside of a plastic bag, put the clay inside and seal it tightly. In a few days the clay should be ready to use again.

3. If your clay has dried out

  • If the clay has dried out completely, break it up and add water to make a thick paste.
  • Dry it out to the right consistency by hanging the clay from the clothesline in an old pillowcase and checking it regularly.
  • This "resuscitation" procedure is time-consuming, so try to avoid it by keeping some spare damp clay on hand when working.

These basic tips will help you keep your clay in optimal conditions so it maintains malleability.

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