There is an abundance of clay in my area, and I have occasionally thought about making work out of local clay, but learning how to process clay from the ground seemed intimidating (or maybe it was just pure laziness!), so I never actually tried it. But learning how to process clay is not all that difficult. It might not be practical for everyone, but if you’re willing to do a little bit of manual labor, digging clay by hand can be a great way to create an even closer connection to the work you make, and help lessen your carbon footprint in the process. In today’s post, we present pointers on digging clay by hand and share a video that walks through how to process clay for use in the pottery studio! – Jennifer Poellot Harnetty, editor.
Tips on How to Process Clay
If you are thinking about learning how to process clay from the ground but are wondering where to find natural clay deposits, here are some good places to look: river banks, stream beds, construction sites, road cuts, naturally exposed earth such as in canyons or gullies. Of course, you need to obtain permission from the land owner before removing any clay from a site.
Clay straight from the ground is not like the clay you buy from a supplier. It contains unwanted materials such as rocks and twigs and needs to be processed to remove them. First, let the clay dry out totally. Then add water and mix it into a think clay slip. Pour the slip through an ordinary window screen. The screening removes stones, roots, and other larger particles.
Once the clay has been cleaned and slaked down, bring it back to a working consistency by laying it out on plaster just like you do when reclaiming clay.
Then you will need to do tests with your new clay body to determine the firing temperature at which the clay matures.
John Britt has an excellent article on how to process clay and glaze raw materials in the Ceramic Recipes resource section.
Check out the video below in which Graham Sheehan demonstrates how to process clay from start to finish!
Have you ever dug and processed your own clay? What was your experience like? Let us know in the comments below!