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Acquiring Clay

on July 24, 2017

All potters wrestle with what is the best method of ensuring a good supply of moist clay. Beginning students are supplied with premixed clay at school, camp, or craft centers. Their main concern is mastering the skills needed to form pottery or sculpture. Clay was clay, as long as you could mold, shape, and work it into a finished product. But years later in your ceramics education, you may ask yourself: Should I mix my own clay or buy it premixed from a supplier?

Potters bounce back and forth on the clay supply issue. A defective shipment of clay might inspire you to try your hand at mixing your own. Or, the labor-intensive experience of doing just that may cause you to seek a reliable supplier who can do the work while you concentrate on producing pottery to sell or show. There are pros and cons to mixing your own and to ordering premixed moist clay from a ceramics supplier. Mixing clay is labor­ intensive and requires time, tools, and practiced technique-not to mention the appropriate clay body. There is no cheating. On the other hand, just because you purchase premixed moist clay from a supplier does not mean the material will be flawless. What is the best solution to the clay supply question? Only you can decide.

Clay Bodies

The combination of clays, feldspars, talc, grog, and other materials constitute a clay body. Clay bodies include various blends of these raw materials, depending on the temperature range, forming method, shrinkage, absorption, fired color, and function of the finished ce­ramic object in mind. Some clay body formulas contain only one ingredient; others contain many different clays and raw materials. Making good pots or sculpture depends on the suitability, accuracy, and consistency of the clay body formula, whether the clay is mixed in the studio or arrives premixed from a ceramics supply company. The first question potters should consider is whether their clay body produces the results they need. If so, the next question is how to obtain a consistent supply.


The success of a clay body formula depends on the reli­ability of its components. Clay bodies contain several raw materials, which are quality controlled in relation to particle-size distribution, organic content, pH factor, and chemical composition. Many ceramics suppliers will reveal the types of clays used in a clay body, which gives clues to the clay body’s dependability. However, suppliers will rarely give the exact amounts of each clay or other material used in the clay body because that is proprietary informa­tion. A more accurate indication is the clay’s track record with other potters who are using it in similar applications and firing conditions.