Getting Started in Pottery? Here’s How to Choose the Right Clay

For beginners, a plastic clay with high plasticity is best. It is easy to work with, has low shrinkage, and can be shaped into a wide variety of forms. Examples include: Kentucky OM4 and Tennessee B3. These clays are widely used and are readily available in many pottery supply stores.

The Essential Guide to Finding the Ideal Pottery Clay for Beginners

What Is Pottery Clay And What Is It Is Used For?

A sort of clay called pottery clay is used to create pottery, a work of ceramic art. Natural minerals, usually kaolin, feldspar, and quartz, are combined to create pottery clay. It is a flexible and adaptable substance that may be molded and molded into a wide range of objects, including bowls, plates, cups, vases, and sculptures.

Earthenware clay, stoneware clay, porcelain clay, and self-hardening clay are only a few of the different forms of pottery clay. An affordable and simple to work with pottery clay is called earthenware clay. It is frequently used to create practical or decorative objects and is normally fired at low temperatures (cone 06-04). Compared to earthenware clay, stoneware clay is a tougher and more resilient type of pottery clay. It is frequently used to create practical objects like plates or mugs and is typically fired at higher temperatures (cone 6-9). Very fine and silky, porcelain clay is a form of pottery clay. To create delicate and fine objects like figurines or tea cups, it is fired at extremely high temperatures (cone 8–10). Self-hardening clay, commonly referred to as air-dry clay, can be painted or glazed once it has dried without being fired in a kiln.

Pottery clay is frequently used by artists, potters, and ceramists to create a wide range of functional and decorative pieces. It can be shaped and sculpted by hand or using a pottery wheel. The wide range of tools and techniques used to shape and decorate pottery makes it a creative and exciting medium to work with.

My Favorite Ball Clays

Several well-known ball clay brands are used by potters. Here are my selections in no particular order:

Kentucky OM4: Because of its exceptional fluidity, small particle size, and low shrinkage rate, this ball clay is well-liked among potters for throwing and hand-building.

EPK (Kona F4): This ball clay is well known for its exceptional plasticity and fine particle size and is regularly used to create superb porcelain and bone china.

Old Hickory: Old Hickory is a polymeric kaolin-based ball clay with great throwing qualities and fine particle size.

Tennessee B3 Ball Clay: Tennessee B3 Ball Clay is a versatile ball clay that is great for casting, modeling, and throwing. It shrinks very slightly, is highly plastic, and contains microscopic particles.

Darley Dale: It is a ball clay, very similar to OM4, with excellent plasticity, extremely small particle size, and very little shrinkage, making it suitable for throwing and modeling.

What Are The Basics Of Pottery Clay That Beginner Potters Should Be Aware Of?

The following fundamentals of pottery clay should be understood by new potters:

Types of clay: Clay comes in a variety of forms, including earthenware, stoneware, and porcelain. Each kind is ideally suited for a particular form of pottery and has its own special qualities.

Moisture Content: Clay needs to be used or worked at the proper moisture content. The clay will crack if it is too dry. It will be challenging to shape and can warp while firing if it is too damp.

Wedging: Wedging is the process of kneading and combining the clay to make sure there are no air bubbles and that the texture is uniform.

Trimming and Sanding: After the item has dried, the shape and surface can be improved with trimming and sanding.

Bisque Firing: A lower temperature is used for bisque firing before glazing. It will become more stable and any lingering moisture will be eliminated.

Application of the glaze: To guarantee that the finished item is uniform and smooth, the glaze should be applied uniformly.

Glaze firing: To guarantee that the glaze is correctly fused to the clay and that the finished piece is of good quality, glaze firing should be carried out at the correct temperature and for the correct period of time.

Is A Low-Fire Clay Better For Novice Ceramicists Than Other Types Of Clay?

Due to its low firing temperature and simplicity of use, low-fire clay, also known as earthenware clay, is sometimes seen as an excellent option for beginning ceramicists. Unlike stoneware and porcelain, which are fired at temperatures greater than 1,800°F (1,204°C), earthenware clays normally fire at temperatures between 1,800-2,200°F (982-1,204°C).

Low-fire clay is often simpler to work with, more forgiving, and less likely to crack or warp during firing than other varieties of clay. It is also more tolerant of changes in moisture content. Furthermore, earthenware clay is more porous than porcelain or stoneware, making it more resistant to breaking and chipping.

Wider options for glazes that are made to fire at lower temperatures are also offered by low-fire clay. This dispenses with the requirement for a high-fire kiln and enables beginning ceramicists to explore with various colors and textures.

It’s important to keep in mind, though, that low-fire clay is not appropriate for utilitarian items like cookware and tableware since it is porous and not water- and acid-resistant.

Overall, because it is simple to work with, forgiving, and offers a variety of glaze possibilities, low-fire clay might be a suitable alternative for beginning ceramicists. However, before selecting a sort of clay, it’s crucial to evaluate the piece’s intended usage.

Should Beginner Potters Stick To Using One Clay Body Or Experiment With Different Types?

It depends on the objectives and tastes of the particular beginning potter.

For novices, it can be helpful to stick with a single clay body because it will help them get to know the traits and qualities of that particular clay and how it acts during the ceramic process. This can aid in laying a foundation of information and expertise that may later be applied to other kinds of clay.

On the other hand, experimenting with various clays can also be advantageous for beginning potters since it enables them to explore the vast array of qualities and opportunities that various clays can provide. Additionally, it can aid them in learning whatever variety of clay they enjoy working with and the kinds of works they are most interested in producing.

It’s crucial to keep in mind that different kinds of clay have unique characteristics, including firing temperature, shrinkage, and plasticity, which can have an impact on the final product. Therefore, it is advised to test and experiment with several clays on a small scale and to become familiar with each clay’s characteristics before committing to a major project.

Your objectives, interests, and the kinds of objects you want to make will ultimately determine whether you remain with one clay body or try out several kinds. I think it’s always beneficial to have the freedom to explore new things and experiment in order to refine your personal aesthetic and grasp of the medium.

What Is Air Dry Clay And How Does It Differ From Regular Pottery Clays?

Air Dry Clay is a type of clay that does not require firing in a kiln or heating to harden. Instead, it hardens and dries through a process of evaporation, typically over a period of several days.

Air Dry Clay is often used for crafts, modeling and sculpting, as well as for making small ornaments and jewelry. It’s also popular with children, as it is easy to work with, non-toxic, and does not require any special equipment.

Compared to regular pottery clays, Air Dry Clay has some differences.

It’s not suitable for functional pieces like tableware or cookware, because it’s not resistant to heat and water.

Air Dry Clay is less plastic than pottery clay, so it can be more difficult to shape, especially when working on large pieces.

It’s not suitable for glaze firing, as it will not withstand the high temperatures required.

It’s more fragile than kiln-fired pottery, so it should be handled with care.

Air dry clay typically has a lower shrinkage rate than pottery clay, so it will not shrink as much during drying and hardening process.

It can be painted or decorated with acrylic paint or other water-based materials after it’s fully dry.

Air Dry Clay is an affordable and accessible option for beginners and those who are looking for a quick and easy clay option.

Overall, Air Dry Clay is a good option for those who are looking for an easy and accessible option for modeling, sculpture, and crafts, but it has some limitations compared to regular pottery clays.

What Are Brands Of Air-dry Clay?

Das: Modeling clay, paper clay, and air-dry porcelain are just a few of the many goods made by the German company Das using air-dry clay.

Creative Paperclay: Creative Paperclay is a brand that sells a special kind of paper-based air-dry clay that is lightweight and simple to work with.

Amaco: Modeling clay and self-hardening clay are just a couple of the air-dry clay products available from the American company Amaco: American Art Clay Co.

Chavant: This company sells a selection of modeling clays that are excellent for sculpting and modeling, non-toxic, and simple to use.

Sculpey: This well-known company sells a variety of air-dry clay items, including a well-liked line of polymer clay for crafts and modeling.

Kato Polyclay: This well-liked brand of polymer clay can be used for a variety of tasks, including the creation of sculptures and jewelry.

Airdry Clay by Staedtler: Staedtler’s Airdry Clay is a fine-grained, natural white air-dry clay that is simple to work with and excellent for a variety of tasks.

How Can Stoneware Clay Be Used By Novice Ceramists In Their Projects?

Usually between 2200 and 2300 degrees Fahrenheit, stoneware clay is a type of clay that is fired at high temperatures. Pottery, sculpting, and tile creation are just a few of the many crafts that can be made with this versatile clay. Making useful pottery like mugs, bowls, and plates is possible for beginning potters using stoneware clay. It is sturdy and long-lasting, making it a fantastic option for sculpture projects as well.

Glazing stoneware clay may give a piece of pottery an extra layer of practicality and design. To achieve the greatest results, it is crucial for beginning ceramicists to be aware of the characteristics of the clay they are working with and to adhere to the correct shaping, drying, and firing procedures.

What Are Some Tips For Beginner Potters When Working With Pottery Clay?

Clear your workstation before you begin working with the clay. Make sure your work surface is spotless and clear of clutter.

Clay needs to be kept moist because it dries out rapidly. When not in use, cover your clay with plastic wrap or a damp cloth.

Invest in a good set of pottery tools, like as a wire cutter, ribbon tool, and loop tool, to ensure that you are using the proper equipment. You can use these to smooth and form your clay objects.

Practice fundamental skills: Before moving on to more complicated projects, become familiar with fundamental skills such pinch pots, coils, and slabs.

Be patient; making pottery takes time, so don’t give up if your initial attempts don’t turn out correctly. You will get better the more you practice.

Study the clay you are using: Recognize the clay’s characteristics, such as its shrinkage rate and appropriate firing temperature. This will assist you in avoiding typical errors and enhance the outcome.

Be attentive of drying and firing: Be mindful of the clay’s drying process and how to manage it appropriately. You should also be mindful of the sort of kiln you’ll be using and the temperature it needs to reach to successfully fire the work.

Don’t be hesitant to try out new methods and styles; pottery is a productive and enjoyable pastime. Enjoy both the process and the result, don’t forget.

How Do I Create Beautiful Ceramic Pieces Without An Expensive Kiln?

It can be difficult to produce stunning ceramic objects without a costly kiln, but there are a few methods you can try:

Use air-dry clay instead of kiln firing. Like regular pottery clay, it can be molded and decorated, but it naturally dries at room temperature.

Use Low-Fire Glazes: Low-Fire glazes are those that can be applied at temperatures as low as cone 06 or cone 04, and are therefore suitable for use on ceramic surfaces. Glazes for pottery are another name for them. These glazes can still be used to give air-dried clay objects a glossy appearance, although they are not as long-lasting as high-fire glazes.

Make use of underglazes, which are ceramic paints that can be applied to the clay’s surface before firing. They can be used to add complex patterns and colors to objects that have been air-dried or fired in a kiln.

Use alternative firing techniques: Without the use of a costly kiln, magnificent, one-of-a-kind pieces can be made using alternative firing techniques like raku or pit firing, which bury and fire the pottery in a pit.

Work with a potter who has access to a kiln to fire your pieces for you. Another option is to collaborate with a potter who has access to a kiln.

Keep in mind that pieces made of air-dried clay won’t be as robust or durable as those made of kiln fired clay, and that the durability and resistance of glazes and underglazes applied to air-dried clay won’t be the same as those applied to kiln fired clay.

Once I Have Finished My Project, How Should I Prepare It For Glaze Firings?

There are a few procedures you should do to get your pottery project ready for glaze firings after it has been completed:

  1. Make sure your item is entirely dry before glazing by allowing it to cure completely. The glaze may fracture or blister during firing if the clay is damp.
  2. Trim the clay from the bottom of the piece if there is any extra, and remove any dirt or fingerprints from the surface.
  3. Apply a bisque coat: Bisque firing, which takes place at a low temperature (cone 06–04), hardens the clay and gets it ready for glazing. A bisque coat will aid in the piece’s optimal glaze adhesion.
  4. Apply the glaze: Use a brush or a pouring technique to apply the glaze on the artwork. Use a uniform amount and spread the glaze out evenly.
  5. Allow glaze to dry entirely before firing: Allow the glaze to dry completely. Depending on the humidity and temperature, this can take anything from a few hours to a day.
  6. Prepare the kiln for firing: Carefully place the work inside, taking care to keep it away from any other objects or the kiln walls.
  7. The object should be fired at the right temperature according on the glaze and clay you used. Most glazes are fired between cone 06 and cone 9, though this temperature might vary significantly.
  8. After the firing is finished, carefully remove the items from the kiln and let them cool before giving them a last inspection.

Tricks To Ensure Successful Firing

When creating ceramics from scratch, my tips might assist and guarantee an effective firing for you:

Verify the clay’s consistency; it should be damp and malleable but not overly wet. It will crack during firing if the clay is too dry. It will sag or warp if it is overly damp.

The best way to dry your pieces is gently and evenly to avoid warping or cracking. Before bisque firing, let your pieces dry until they are “leather-hard.”

Bisque firing is a low-temperature firing (cone 06–04) that hardens the clay and gets it ready for glazing. Bisque firing should be done at the proper temperature. Verify that you have fired your components to the proper temperature.

Choose the appropriate glaze: Not all glazes are appropriate for all clay kinds. Use a glaze that is suitable for the kind of clay you’re working with and the kiln’s temperature.

Apply the glaze uniformly to prevent uneven firing and to ensure that your object looks polished and expert.

Avoid stacking the pieces in the kiln; during firing, the pieces should not come into contact with one another or the kiln walls. By doing this, glaze will not melt or run onto other parts.

During firing, keep an eye on the kiln to ensure sure the temperature doesn’t fluctuate. The glaze may break or blister if the temperature changes too much.

Once the firing is finished, switch off the kiln and close the door to enable the work to cool gradually. This will lessen the risk of cracking.

Record the clay body, glaze, and temperature for each firing in a log. Having a better understanding of what works and what doesn’t can help you create better things in the future.

Is There Any Specific Advice That Beginner Potters Should Follow Regarding The Best Type Of Pottery Clay To Use For Their Projects?

Beginner potters can choose from a variety of pottery clay for their projects, and the ideal one for you will depend on your objectives and level of skill. A few clay varieties I can think of for beginning potters:

Earthenware clay: Earthenware clay is a form of pottery clay that is affordable and simple to use. It is frequently used to create practical or decorative objects and is normally fired at low temperatures (cone 06-04).

Stoneware clay: Clay used in stoneware pottery is harder and more resilient than clay used in earthenware. It is frequently used to create practical objects like plates or mugs and is typically fired at higher temperatures (cone 6-9).

Porcelain clay: Porcelain clay is a highly fine and smooth variety of pottery clay. To create delicate and fine objects like figurines or tea cups, it is fired at extremely high temperatures (cone 8–10).

Self-hardening clay: Self-hardening clay, commonly referred to as air-dry clay, is a form of clay that dries on its own without needing to be fired in a kiln and can be painted or glazed after it has dried. They are excellent for beginners without access to a kiln or for projects for kids.

Polymer clay: Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and plasticizers are combined to create polymer clay, a synthetic clay. It is a flexible, simple-to-use media that can be molded, sculpted, and formed into a vast array of shapes. Polymer clay, in contrast to traditional clay, can be baked at low temperatures in a home oven rather than being fired in a kiln. The clay becomes a strong, light-weight, and waterproof material after baking. A wide range of colors are available in polymer clay, which may also be painted, sanded, and polished to provide a number of finishes. Because it’s non-toxic and simple to handle, it’s a perfect medium for beginners without access to a kiln as well as for projects for children.

What Are The Different Types Of Pottery Clay?

On the market, there are various varieties of pottery clay, each with unique qualities and applications. A few varieties of clay that are frequently used in pottery are listed below:

Earthenware clay is a form of pottery clay that is affordable and simple to use. It is frequently used to create ornamental or practical objects like plates, bowls, and vases and is normally fired at low temperatures (cone 06-04). Due to its ease of shaping and lack of a high firing temperature, earthenware clay is frequently employed by beginners.

Clay used in stoneware pottery is harder and more resilient than clay used in earthenware. It is frequently used to create useful items like plates, mugs, and other tableware and is typically fired at higher temperatures (cone 6-9). Compared to earthenware clay, stoneware clay is more resistant to heat shock and abrasion.

Porcelain clay is a highly fine and smooth variety of pottery clay. It is used to create beautiful and delicate products like figurines, tea cups, and other decorative items. It is fired at extremely high temperatures (cone 8–10). Because porcelain clay is so sturdy, resilient, and water-resistant, it’s perfect for use in practical products like teapots and cups.

Raku clay: During the Raku firing process, a particular kind of pottery clay is employed. It is a low-fire clay that is normally fired at cone 06–4 and is renowned for the distinctive and haphazard crackling glaze patterns that are produced during the Raku firing process.

Terra cotta clay is an earthenware clay that is frequently used for architectural features and garden pottery. It’s renowned for its inherently orange-red color and is normally fired at low temperatures.

Black Clay: Known for its dark hue, black clay is a form of pottery clay. When blended with different clays or glazes, it frequently produces contrasting results.

What Are The Different Types Of Pottery Clay Properties That Can Affect The Final Outcome?

The final product may be impacted by the many varieties of pottery clay. Various varieties of pottery clay are frequently linked to the following characteristics:

Firing temperature: Compared to stoneware and porcelain clay, which are fired at higher temperatures (cone 06-04), earthenware clay is normally fired at lower temperatures (cone 6-9 and 8-10 respectively).

Clay’s plasticity refers to its capacity for shaping and molding. Some clays are more malleable than others, making them simpler to mold and shape. While earthenware clay is renowned for its capacity to be formed into big forms, porcelain clay is renowned for its delicate texture and capacity to hold fine details.

Pottery clay experiences shrinkage when it is fired. During the firing process, the clay object underwent this degree of reduction. The ultimate size and shape of the item can change depending on the type of clay used because various clays shrink at different rates.

Clays vary in terms of their level of durability. Stoneware clay, for instance, is renowned for its toughness and works well for practical goods like plates and mugs. In addition to being a robust and long-lasting clay, porcelain is also water-resistant, which makes it ideal for use in practical products like teapots and cups.

What Are The Different Ways That Pottery Clay Can Be Used?

Making basic vessels: Making simple vessels like bowls, plates, cups, and vases is one of the most popular uses for pottery clay. These objects can be crafted by hand or on a pottery wheel, and many methods, including carving, stamping, and glazing, can be used to embellish them.

Sculpture: You can also make sculptures out of pottery clay. These can range in size from little figurines to substantial works of public art. Due to its simplicity of shaping and molding, pottery clay is an ideal medium for sculpting. In addition to using a pottery wheel, potters can also manufacture forms by hand using methods like coiling and pinching.

Making tiles: Ceramic clay can also be used to manufacture tiles. These can be made into tiles for a backsplash in the kitchen or a tile mural, among other beautiful or practical uses.

Making jewelry out of pottery clay is another option. Clay pendants and beads can be made, fired, painted, or glazed, then strung or put together to form a finished piece of jewelry.

Raku firing involves rapidly heating and cooling pottery to produce distinctive glaze patterns with cracked surfaces. Raku clay, a low-fire clay commonly fired at cone 06–4, is utilized for this technique.

Molding: Molds can be made from pottery clay. The objects that potters seek to copy can be made into molds, and the molds can then be used to produce several copies of the original object.

How To Mix And Blend Different Pottery Clays To Create Unique Textures And Colors

Pottery works can have distinctive textures and hues by combining and blending several types of clay. The following are some pointers on blending and combining pottery clays:

  1. Start with a little quantity: It’s advisable to use a modest quantity when experimenting for the first time with clay blending. This will let you experiment with the clay mixture before committing to a bigger batch.
  2. Mix well: It’s critical to completely combine the various clays to ensure that the batch’s color and texture are distributed equally. The clay should be well mixed by kneading it with your hands or a clay tool.
  3. The firing temperature of each type of clay must be taken into account while combining clays. In contrast to stoneware and porcelain, earthenware and raku clays are typically fired at lower temperatures. Make sure the mixture can endure the higher firing temperature if you’re mixing clays with various firing temperatures.
  4. Try out various combinations: There are countless options when it comes to blending clays, so don’t be scared to try out various arrangements. To produce distinctive textures, you might experiment with blending several types of clay or even adding extra components like sand or fibers.
  5. Add colorants: You can add colorants, like as oxides, stains, or underglazes, to the clay to produce a variety of hues. Before using the color on a bigger piece of clay, make sure you test it on a tiny piece first.
  6. Keep records: document your clay.

Conclusion And Summary

For beginners in pottery, selecting the proper sort of clay is a crucial first step. A good clay will be simple to work with, will have the desired characteristics, and will be appropriate for firing. Because it is a flexible medium that can be utilized in a multitude of ways, pottery clay can be a fantastic choice for individuals interested in the creative arts. Simple dishes, sculptures, tiles, jewelry, and other items can all be made from it.

Working with clay is a wonderful opportunity to express yourself tactilely and develop your imagination. Seeing your thoughts take form and come to life in concrete form makes the process enjoyable and satisfying. To create a solid foundation of knowledge and skills and to enjoy the process of making pottery, beginners should start off with a good clay. Choosing the proper type of clay for your project can therefore make all the difference, whether you’re a novice or an expert potter.

When it comes to choosing the best pottery clay for beginners, it’s important to consider several factors. Oil-based clay, while easy to work with, is not suitable for firing and permanent sculptures. It’s important to understand that clay shrinks during the drying and firing process, so beginners should choose a clay that is forgiving and easy to work with during the finished project. Broadly speaking, clay can be divided into one of two categories: earthenware or stoneware. Earthenware is more porous and therefore better suited for decorative pieces or items that won’t be used for food or drink. Stoneware is more durable and appropriate for functional items that require hand washing. Iron oxide is a common coloring agent used in pottery, and glass-forming ingredients such as feldspar can be added to create a smoother finish. Beginners should also be mindful of shipping costs when ordering clay online, and consider signing up for an Amazon Associate account to receive discounts on qualifying purchases. Joining a mailing list for pottery suppliers can also be helpful for staying up to date on new products and promotions.


Josie Warshaw’s “The Complete Potter: Throwing” A thorough manual for throwing pottery on a wheel is provided in this book. It is an excellent starting point for beginners and covers everything from fundamental basics to more complex projects.

Wheel Throwing by Emily Reason 2010 An artist introduces the mechanics of wheel-thrown ceramics, taking the reader through nine projects, from a simple bowl to more advanced creations, in a book with full-color gallery sections that aim to provide inspiration.

Beginner’s Guide to Pottery & Ceramics: Everything You Need Jacqui Atkin 2017 Originally published in 2005 as Pottery Basics.

Ceramics for Beginners: Animals & Figures Susan Halls 2018 An easy-to-follow beginner’s workshop in creating the human form and self-supporting, standing animals in clay simple.

Ceramics: A Beginner’s Guide to Tools and Techniques Elisabeth Landberger, ‎Mita Lundin 2012 This comprehensive guide covers the materials, tools, methods, and techniques for making original ceramic pieces in a wide range of forms.

Ceramics for Beginners: Surfaces, Glazes & Firing Angelica Pozo 2010 This third installment in Larks’ Ceramics for Beginners series is the best beginners’ workshop to surface work: emerging potters learn skills step-by-step, including stamping, sgraffito, brushwork with underglazes and oxides, majolica, and …

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Potter’s Bible: An Essential Illustrated Reference for Both Marylin Scott 2006 This book will walk you through the essential tools and equipment and different types and constituencies of clay; study methods of building pots using slabbing, coiling, throwing, and molding, and find out how to create a range of different …

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