Pottery is one of the most ancient forms of art whose appeal has never faded. It seems like we see more and more people taking up pottery as a hobby and even professionally.
You must agree that molding has always been a super fun activity. Remember when you were a kid playing with mud or creating miniature objects out of Play-Doh? Pottery is equally exciting and provides an even more fulfilling experience.
Creating ceramics is another opportunity to intentionally get your hands dirty, only that this time you will be making utility vessels or fine sculptures. Mastering the art is, however, not always a smooth road.
Pottery can get tricky for beginner potters. It’s even harder if you don’t get your clay right. The smartest way to brace yourself for the challenge ahead is to have the best pottery clay for beginners by your side. It makes the journey far less frustrating.
What is the best pottery clay for beginners? The best pottery clay for beginners is smooth and malleable for easy workability. Also, it should have a moderate water absorption rate, hold its shape well, and remain strong when fired. Stoneware clay possesses all these qualities, making it an especially good choice for beginners.
If you are searching the market for pottery clay, this post will equip you with all information you need. We share our knowledge of how to choose pottery clay then rank and review the best pottery clay for beginners. Let’s get started.
Pottery Clay For Beginners – What to Look For
The choice of clay can potentially help or hurt you or in your learning progress. Therefore, you must select your clay carefully.
You must consider certain factors when purchasing pottery clay to determine its suitability for an unskilled potter. Which factors are these?
Clays come with different degrees of plasticity, which affects their workability.
A beginner-friendly clay has remarkably plasticity while remaining strong. What this means is that it is soft and malleable. You do not have to fight it to get it into whichever form you like. That’s less muscle work and less frustration.
Despite being soft, however, your clay should be strong enough to retain its shape and not deform under its weight.
The finest clays appear to extra smooth and inviting. Notwithstanding, some tooth, or a little texture, is actually good and maybe even necessary for hand molding.
Clay can be fine, medium, or coarse. This depends on whether it contains grog, and how fine or large the grog particles are. Grog is pre-fired clay ground and added into clay to give it some grit and minimize potential cracking.
Coarse grog in clay is pretty harsh on hands, particularly with wheel throwing. To avoid unnecessary pain distracting you from learning and an unpleasant time altogether, go for non-grainy clays with no or very little fine-grade grog when you’re starting out.
Water Absorption Rate
Water-thirsty clays are not beginner-friendly clays. It is challenging to add water with accuracy without the clay collapsing.
Choose a clay with a low to moderate water absorption rate. These will not dry out quickly and don’t require a lot of water to soften.
One type of clay may be great for hand building but not wheel throwing. Another may be only good for sculpting. As a new potter, opt for versatile clay since you’ll probably be trying out all these different techniques.
When purchasing pottery clay, you will notice the term ‘cone‘ followed by a number between 022 and 14 (yes 022 is smaller). This is an indication of the ideal firing temperature for the clay.
If you just took up pottery as a hobby or are a student, you most likely don’t own a kiln. Knowing how high the temperature of whichever kiln you want to buy, rent or borrow to fire your pottery can actually reach is essential.
Next is to ensure your clay’s firing needs (cone) can be met to avoid under firing or burning. Cone 06-3 is low firing at 1850-2135 Fahrenheit, cone 4-7 is mid firing at 2160 -2290 Fahrenheit, and cone 8-10 is high firing at 2315-2380 Fahrenheit.
Of course, if you decide you want to pit-fire your clay creations, we have a more relevant article on the best clay for pit firing waiting for you.
Type of Clay
Finally, you need to choose a type of clay to work with. The three popular options are porcelain, earthenware, and stoneware clays. You can also find blends, but it is best to reserve those for the future after experimenting with the three varieties.
Porcelain clay is buttery smooth and such bliss on the hands. It is also the prettiest with a silky smooth appearance and makes the highest quality pottery of the three clays. It is non-porous and, therefore, eliminates the need to glaze.
On the flip side, it is the most expensive clay. You wouldn’t want to spend a fortune while you are yet to grasp anything.
Porcelain is also a stubborn clay and a bit difficult to manipulate. Although strong after firing, it is very shifty when wet. Furthermore, it shrinks significantly and has a high propensity to crack which can dampen your spirits and kill your confidence as a first-time potter.
As a beginner, you should avoid porcelain clay. It’s something to work up to, not start out on.
Earthenware and stoneware clays are more commonly worked with.
Earthenware clay has excellent workability and is the most pliant of the three. It often comes in a beautiful authentic terra cotta color which many people find desirable.
The clay is porous after firing and must be glazed to seal it and prevent leaks. It fires at very low temperatures, therefore, cannot be vitrified. This can be a bummer if that glassy look is what you were after.
Although earthenware is the most forgiving clay, it is also less strong compared to stoneware and porcelain.
Stoneware clay is the best pottery clay for beginners. It is versatile and suitable for sculpting techniques, hand building, and wheel throwing.
It is fairly soft and doesn’t need a lot of water to work it. It is also robust and stable, retaining shapes really well. Stoneware clay fires at medium to high temperatures and is non-porous after firing.
Sometimes grog is added to improve it. As a novice potter, it is recommended that the grog is very little in quantity and exceptionally fine, or not there at all.
Now that you know what kind of clay is suitable for beginners let’s go straight to what’s available.
5 Best Pottery Clays For Beginners
Choosing pottery clay should be a meticulous process because going wrong could negatively impact how you grasp the art. However, the market has tons of clay varieties to offer; it gets seriously overwhelming going through each one of them.
You can relax. We already did the heavy weight lifting for you. Here’s our thoroughly researched and expert-recommended list of the 5 best pottery clays for beginners:
|1.||Rocky Mountain Clay CT3||Low fire, smooth and plastic, moist, cone 6, white|
|2.||AMACO High Fire Stoneware Clay||High fire, stoneware, cone 5-10, brown|
|3.||Activa Blackjack Low Fire Clay||Low fire, natural clay blend, smooth, cone 4-6, white|
|4.||Rocky Mountain Clay BMix||Mid fire, moist and smooth, cone 5-7, white|
|5.||Bastex Low Fire Clay||Low fire, earthenware, moist, cone 6, white|
We also have a full review of each since you’ll be working very intimately with your clay. Let’s get started.
1.Rocky Mountain Clay CT3
This pottery clay from Rocky Mountain Clay is one of the smoothest clays you can work with. This clay is so smooth, yet pliable and easy to use.
The clay fires well at cone 06, which is a low fire. Yet, it still turns out rock hard.
Do not let the dull gray color of the unfired clay you see here disappoint you. After firing, the grey transforms into a beautiful, natural white color. Which is especially nice if you hope to paint your work after firing.
This clay is ideal for all ceramic and sculpting purposes but works best for throwing on the wheel due to the fineness of its texture. This clay is non-toxic and contains only water and the clay, no lead or sulfur. It’s a great choice for beginners.
2. AMACO High Fire Stoneware Clay
If you want to fire at higher temperatures, this AMACO high fire clay has got what it takes to guide you through the baby steps of pottery.
This stoneware clay is nearly as soft as porcelain, but with excellent malleability. It has a good moisture content, will hold its shape well, glazes beautifully, and fires well in mid to high temperatures.
The ideal firing range is from cones 5-10. AMACO recommends firing at cone 5 for glazing or even cone 04 for bisque firing. There is a fair bit of shrinkage with the lower temperature firing (it shrinks less as you go up in cone number), so just keep that in mind.
You get two packs of 25 pounds each of fresh, moist clay in a buff color, which is a plenty for a beginner to practice with.
3. Activa Blackjack Low Fire Clay
Activa is a U.S. brand known for clay and other modeling art supplies. It is evident that they know their stuff, and you can be sure you are getting the best pottery clay product.
The natural clay blend is optimally smooth textured. Beginners will have an easy time working it without finger fatigue. It’s quite dense thus robust and won’t sag or collapse.
Any glaze works fine, and you can expect consistent results. This low fire clay dries white at cone 04-06.
You get so much clay for practice in the 25lb bag. It is versatile enough for hand and wheel techniques. Activa clay is non-toxic and comes with the AP certification and an ACMI safety seal for your peace of mind.
4. Rocky Mountain Clay BMix
Our next pick is stoneware clay and yet again comes from Rocky Mountain’s vast assortment of clays.
If you prefer a stronger alternative to low fire clays, but don’t have access to a high fire kiln, this Best Mix (or BMix) is a nice in-between. It is a mid-fire clay (cone 5-7) in a subtle gray color which fires white.
It arrives already moist and supple; you don’t need to add any water to work it. The clay is perfectly soft and smooth without grog, so it goes gentle on your hands no matter the technique.
Rocky Mountain is also lauded for its customer services, which is another good reason to consider this clay or the earlier recommendation from this brand.
5. Bastex Low Fire Clay
While quite new to the market, Bastex clay is quite a performer. You get 5 pounds of grey clay to start you off.
The natural white (after firing) organic clay is made in the U.S. This earthenware clay is safe and easy to use by potters of all skill levels. This clay fires low at cone 06 and can be glazed too.
It is fine in texture with a balanced consistency between fluidity and hardness. You can model, coil, sculpt, pinch, and throw this clay with so much ease. Since it is already de-aired, there’s no need to spend too much time wedging to prepare it, which is always a nice bonus.
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