Learn How to Make Clay

Learning how to make clay art is not too complicated, but learning how to handle clay does take some practice. Clay is typically worked and by hand, using various tools to create figures, vessels and other decorative objects. It is also commonly shaped using a pottery wheel, which allows the clay artist to create smooth, symmetrical vessels, plates, bowls, etc. Before you try your hand at this ancient art form, there are a few things you'll need to know about clay.  

What Is Clay?
Clay is a naturally occurring material, primarily made up of fine-grained minerals and water. When the right amount of moisture is present, clay can be molded and shaped. When dried out, it hardens. There are other types of modeling clay available, but natural clay is favored by potters and clay artists.

Using Clay
Before you can begin working with clay, it must be "wedged." Wedging is the process of squeezing, pressing and folding the clay, working it in the hands to work out air pockets and make it smooth, soft and pliable. It is important that clay be properly wedged before it is sculpted or thrown on a pottery wheel. Clay that is not sufficiently wedged will crack as it is drying. While wedging, you may need to work some water into the clay, to bring it to a workable consistency.

Once your clay has been wedged, and you begin to work and shape it, you'll need to keep it moist. Always have a bowl of water and a wet sponge on hand, to wet the clay as you are working. When a lot of water is mixed with clay, creating a loose runny mixture, it's called "slip." Slip is used for joining pieces of clay together, such as attaching a handle to a jug.

Letting Clay Harden
As clay dries, it transforms from soft and pliable to hard and solid. When clay is dry, but not yet fired, it's known as greenware. Firing clay permanently alters its structure, as it causes the minute clay particles to fuse together. The temperature at which the clay is fired depends on the type of clay you are using.

While it is certainly possible to learn the ins and outs of working with clay on your own, it may be helpful to find a class to help teach you the basics. Many pottery studios offer classes, as do art schools and even some community colleges.

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