Published Sep 14, 2022
Porcelain clay is a clay body that draws in many a potter because of its bright white color, translucency, and the way glazes look oh so fabulous on it. But it’s a fussy little clay body susceptible to collapsing during the forming process (especially on the pottery wheel) and warping during the firing. This is why many beginning pottery classes start out with a forgiving clay body like stoneware clay instead.
But it’s so pretty and I, for one, still like to take my chances with it. With practice, you can learn learn how to work with persnickety porcelain clay and minimize your loss rate. Today, Gwendolyn Yoppolo explains what porcelain clay will put up with from the wet phase to the bone-dry clay. – Jennifer Poellot Harnetty, editor
Improve Your Outcomes with Porcelain Clay
Porcelain commands us to be attentive in our touch and responsive to its needs. Beyond the basic technical demands that clay bodies all have in common, porcelain clay also needs to be treated properly to avoid warping and cracking during drying and firing.
One of the most important things to remember is to watch your timing–this is best learned through experience.
Porcelain Clay: It's all in the Timing!
If you follow these timing tips with porcelain, your outcomes will surely improve! Building onto a form that’s too soft causes slumping. Adding softer clay onto a form that is too dry results in cracking. Altering and/or bending a form that’s too dry or leather hard causes warpage and cracking.
In general, join only pieces of similar dryness and reinforce all joints with extra clay and compress them together with a rib. Compression, compression, compression!
When drying pottery, especially with porcelain clay, slow and even drying is critical. Periods of rest, where the pieces are wrapped in an airtight chamber to slow drying and redistribute moisture, do help. The clay has a chance to get used to its new form at each phase, without having one part dry too quickly for the rest of the piece.
Another valuable technique is to restrict movement of the piece during the drying phase.
Here is a loose guideline and timeline for when to do what while working with porcelain. The phases are not distinct, but are separated out from the continuum of the entire process for the purposes of discussion. In fact, they blend together in many ways, especially the “cheese” sections. Because porcelain is thixotropic, it has a nice way of resoftening once it has reached the hard cheese stage, so you can actually go back and perform some soft cheese processes. Porcelain clay also rehydrates locally to some extent, so you can go back in a concentrated area. These guidelines are designed as a starting point for you to figure out your own way to achieve success.
Do you use porcelain? What have your experiences been? Do you have additional tips that are not covered here? Share them with the community in the comments below!
gwendolyn yoppolo is a studio pottery working in porcelain and an educator, based in Fleetwood, Pennsylvania. To learn more about her or see images of her work, please visit www.gwendolynyoppolo.com.