Wet clay is a mouldable material, and it is initially rehydrated clay, consisting of over 25% water. It is meant to be soft and malleable for shaping and drying in pottery work. You can also apply wet clay to the surface of a piece of pottery before firing.
It has several uses, but most people use wet clay for throwing. It starts out as a lump of soft but thick clay and is gradually shaped into an object. This piece is kept moist throughout the whole process and is left to dry later on.
However, there are many aspects to wet clay and how you can use it. Another type of wet clay is slip clay; practical for many art forms such as pottery and sculpting. But, it can also be a tricky substance to work with, which is why you need to know some of its key properties.
Many beginners try to handle wet clay without much thought, and they often let their slip clay go to waste because they do not know what to do with it. But wet clay can be reclaimed and repurposed for several uses aside from just throwing.
So, before you dive in and get your hands dirty, I am going to share a few things you need to know about wet clay. Keep reading to find out how it should be handled and what to expect from it.
1. What Is Wet Clay?
You normally use wet clay after it is prepped for shaping, pottery, or sculpting. This is the slip stage in which clay contains a lot of water, and potters often use it as an adhesive. It also has to be kneaded, also known as wedging, to remove any air bubbles so that it performs consistently.
When dealing with wet clay, you want a smooth consistency without any lumps. A difference in moisture can cause cracking later on during the drying process.
2. Are You Supposed to Wet Clay?
If your clay is too dry, you can add water to it to achieve the right consistency. You can do this by spraying it with water or wrapping a wet towel over it and letting the water absorb. Mould and knead the clay so that it becomes easier to manage.
If your clay is too wet, let it sit out for a few hours until some water evaporates. You can then wedge and rework it for throwing. You’ll know the right consistency through your gut feeling and what you feel most comfortable working with.
3. What Do I Do If My Clay Is Too Wet?
If your clay is runny and sticky, the best thing to do is to dry it out for a few hours or even days. All you have to do is spread out the clay and allow it to air dry. You can also spread it on an absorbent surface, but, make sure to check on it regularly in case it dries out too much.
4. What Happens When You Wet Clay?
When you wet clay, it is supposed to become thinner and less stiff. However, you can also buy wet clay to use on a spinning wheel. If you have never dealt with wet clay before, then it may be beneficial to attend a class where you can learn how to achieve the right consistency.
When processing wet clay, people soak the pieces of clay in water and then combine them into a mixture. After that, they pour the clay through a screen to strain out any lumps. After it has been sitting for a few hours, they let it dry and mix it with some sand.
This is a lengthy process, and each aspect of it is crucial to achieve the right texture and hold.
5. How Do You Throw Wet Clay?
Throwing clay is initially putting a piece or several pieces of clay on a pottery wheel. You then compress the clay and shape it while it is spinning.
However, the consistency of the clay is extremely important. If it is too soft, then it will not hold its shape, and if it is too hard you will not be able to shape it properly.
The consistency of your clay will also depend on the object or vessel you want to make. But, you need to focus on your technique more than your force when throwing wet clay. Throwing wet clay may take some time so remember to keep it moist, you do not want it to stick to your fingers.
Remember to have an even consistency as well. Thicker clumps of clay mixed with thinner areas will ruin the whole process. So, wedging is necessary to make the clay uniform and get rid of any air bubbles.
6. Is Wet Clay Stiff or Flexible?
Wet clay is not stiff but, it is firm and flexible. You do not want a runny consistency when you want to work with wet clay; instead, it should be thick like mud and easy to shape.
Using water while you are throwing wet clay is essential but, use it little by little.
You do not want to deform the shape with too much water, so it might be better to use a spray bottle if you are unsure at first. You can also just coat your fingers with some water when you feel like the clay is too tacky or dry.
7. Can You Attach Wet Clay to Dry Clay?
If you attach wet clay to dry clay, it risks falling off as soon as it dries. Wet clay has to be smeared and moulded together to stick together when dried. But if you want to attach two dried clay pieces, you can use a bit of clay to join them.
To stick two pieces of clay, you have to score them and slip them together while they are still moist. However, if you let the clay absorb too much water, it will collapse. So keep the clay wet as you gradually shape, and with time, you will get the hang of it.
Alternatively, you can try to moisten the two pieces of clay to help them stick to each other better. You can use some slip clay to attach the handle of a mug for example.
8. Can I Use Slip Clay to Fix Cracks?
Slip clay does not work to fix cracked clay vessels. When you fire clay vessels, they may form cracks as the moisture evaporates, and they shrink. However, adding slip clay to the cracks will not work, as the dried clay will absorb the moisture from the slip.
9. Can You Paint Wet Clay?
Clay vessels can be painted with liquefied clay or slip clay before firing. You might want to use liquefied, colored clay to paint your pottery. It is easier to clean off, and it reacts the same way to firing, shrinking as water evaporates from it.
You can also use paint to color your pottery pieces before firing, using two to three coats of paint. After firing, you can also use ceramic paint for fired clays or oil-based ceramic paint.
However, keep in mind that if there is still moisture on the clay before firing, it may be difficult to get the paint to hold to the surface. You also want to avoid breaking or deforming the vessel while you are painting because it is still soft.
10. How to Make Colored Slip Clay?
You can either buy colored slip clay, but it can often be expensive so, you might prefer to make it with bits of dry clay. To do so, simply break the pieces of clay into smaller chunks and place them into a container. Add water to them, making sure that all the pieces are covered, and leave them to break down in the water.
You want to use completely dried clay, also known as bone dry clay so that you get a smoother slip. Once the clay has broken down completely, mix it well and make sure to strain it to remove any undissolved pieces. You can now mix a clay stain into the slip.
Measure out the stain you want to use, depending on how much slip you have. Add a tiny bit of water to your stain to make a paste, and then mix it in with your clay. Strain your colored slip one last time to get rid of any clumps of stain powder and store them in a container.
You can use the colored slip to brush your unfired vessel. It is best to do this when your clay is leather dry or bone dry, not completely wet. You can also use slip to create designs on your clay vessel before you fire it.
You can also use slip clay to decorate your pottery pieces. This is called slip trailing, and it involves using an applicator to squeeze the slip into a pattern on the vessel. You can create beautiful designs on the pieces of clay before firing when it is leather hard.
However, keep in mind that slip clay for decorating needs to be thicker than slip clay for painting. You also need to make sure that it has a higher concentration of clay to minimize shrinking when firing.
11. How Can I Use Slip Clay?
You might have heard about coating with slip before, and if you are confused about what it is, it is a way to protect your pieces of pottery. You can either dip the pieces of clay into thin slip or brush the slip onto the vessel. When the slip hardens, it provides some protection and decreases the clay piece’s permeability.
It is best to add slip to clay when the pieces are still leather hard or wet rather than bone dry. Keep in mind that you can purchase ready-made slips, but potters usually make it themselves.
You can also use soft, wet clay for slim casting. In this technique, slip is poured into a mould and allowed to set. Once it dries, it separates from the mould and easily comes out. This type of pottery is more delicate and thin, so, be mindful of that.
12. Can You Fire Wet Clay?
You can fire clay in a kiln after it has been moulded and dried. It will still contain some water but, most of it should be dry. The remaining water will dry off in the kiln after firing. However, if the temperature is too high, the clay might get heated too fast and explode.
If there is any trapped air in the clay, it will also explode, so, be careful of that. Whenever clay dries, it shrinks due to the evaporating water particles. It takes around a week for a pottery piece to dry down for firing, but this depends on the size of the vessel, as well as the environment it is in.
If you want to heat wet clay in a kiln, it is best to set it at low heat for several hours. This will dry out the clay vessel, evaporating most of the water before firing. However, because it has so much water content, it is more prone to cracking and breaking later on.
13. What Is Candling?
Candling is slowly heating the clay vessel when it is not completely dry to evaporate most of its moisture. This is sort of a hack for quickly drying your clay, but, you have to execute it carefully.
Usually, one must preheat the kiln at a very low temperature, and then the clay is placed in the kiln for three to five hours at around 80ºC before firing. This will prevent the clay from exploding when the water turns into steam. Some people prefer to candle their clay pieces overnight just to be safe.
After candling, you can bisque fire your pieces of pottery. But you should never bisque fire wet pieces of clay.
14. Can I Reuse Wet Clay?
If you have bits of leftover clay or a failed piece on your wheel, you can reuse and reclaim them. First, determine whether they are too wet or too dry to handle properly. Add your clay to a plastic bag and work either water or bits of dry clay into the main batch, little by little.
Knead the clay, ensuring there are no lumps. Remember that if the clay is dripping, then it is too wet. After you have well incorporated the clay, close the bag and leave it to sit for at least 24 hours.
The longer you allow the clay to sit in water, the better it will turn out in terms of plasticity. Next, tie it up in a fabric and leave it to dry out for one or more days. You want at least 2-3 layers of fabric and a flat surface to rest it on.
You will know when it is ready if it doesn’t leave much residue on your hands. If it comes out sticky, then it needs to dry out longer.
Lastly, wedge the clay to make it malleable before working on it again. Keep in mind that bisque ware, clay that you have fired in a kiln, can never turn back into wet clay. But you can reclaim unfired bits of dry clay, and you can reclaim it as many times as you’d like.
On the other hand, if you want to reuse slip clay but want a thicker consistency, the best method is to drain it. Use a pillowcase or other fabric bag and pour the slip into it, allowing the water to drain through. Once it contains less water, you can put it out to dry even further if necessary.
15. How Do You Store Wet Clay?
Clay will dry out if left out in the open, so, you want to keep it well for later use. There are several ways to store wet clay, so let’s get into the most common ones.
You can wrap the clay in a damp cloth or use plastic wraps and plastic bags to protect it from the elements. A warm, humid environment will keep the clay in a moist condition for longer periods compared to cold, dry environments. Cold temperature can lead to flaking and cracking.
So there you have it! Everything you need to know about wet clay. Although it may seem daunting, wet clay is not that hard to get a hang of. You simply have to keep practicing, and with time you’ll know how to deal with the material and predict how it will behave.
It has multiple uses, and you can handle it in several ways. It all depends on how you want to use it, so you just have to find what works best for you. Pottery is a way to explore and experiment with creativity, so don’t hold back.