Are you interested in making your own colored clay to create unique swirls and patterns but worry the process might be too messy or time-consuming?
In this article, you will learn a and simple method to create colored clay in six easy steps with minimal mess. This step-by-step guide will cover the tools you’ll need, the process of setting up your working area, measuring the clay and colorant, preparing the clay, adding the colorant (stain), rolling up the clay, and wedging the clay.
Before diving into the steps, remember that perfecting the color of your clay isn’t an exact science. It’s all about achieving the color you desire. Let’s add some color to our clay!
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Before diving into making colored clay, it’s important to have all the supplies you need and set up your working area properly.
- Dust Mask Respirator: When working with Stains and Oxides in powdered form, ALWAYS wear a Dust Mask. This is because the powders contain chemicals you should not breathe in.
- Mister Spray Bottle: A spray bottle is an important part of making colored clay. It’s best to use a Mister Spray Bottle. It controls the amount of water you are adding to the colorant and clay body better.
- Digital Scale: A Digital Scale is important if you need to make an identical batch with the same color clay.
- Disposable Latex Gloves: The stains can get under your fingernails, making it quite hard to get off, especially if you are using an oxide stain.
- Firm Curved Rib: This tool will help prepare the clay for mixing stain colors.
- Hard Steel Scraper: A nice firm scraper to remove any clay on the wedging surface.
Choosing Your Clay Body
While there are many clay bodies to choose from, a nice white clay is recommended to mix with your stains. You can also use an off-white clay body, but white clay is best, especially with light colors.
The firing temperatures of the clay body used will depend on the type of clay needed. I mainly med fire to cone 5 and 6, so I use Amaco #38 Stoneware White Clay. I also use Amaco #11 A-Mix Stoneware Clay.
If you are firing at a low-temperatures to cone 06 and 04, Amaco Low Fire, # 25 White Clay Multi-Purpose is a good Clay to use.
Choosing Your Colorant
The good news is there are many colorants to choose from for coloring clay. You can use Mason Stains or Oxides to color clay. The distinction between carbonate, oxides, and stains lies in their consistency.
Stains are known for providing a consistent and uniform coloration, which is more suitable for coloring clay and slip that require consistent coloring. Mason Stains, in particular, are easier to handle and come in a wide range of colors, making them a more preferred choice.
Oxides, on the other hand, are challenging to manage in terms of color stability and are used more in Making Glazes. Therefore I will be using Blue Mason Stain and referring to Mason Stains in this article.
Pro Tip: When choosing mason stains or oxides, it is always best to create some test tiles first. After bisque firing the colored clay, apply clear glaze to see the final results.
#1 Setting Up Your Area to make colored clay
You can use Many Surfaces to Wedge Your Clay On. I found a separate board to mix your colored clay on is a very good idea. This will prevent your regular wedging area from getting stained.
A 2-foot by 2-foot piece of wood with a smooth surface works well for this purpose. You can get it at your local hardware store. I use a piece of plywood.
C-Clamps will come in handy to hold the board down securely. This ensures the wood doesn’t move while you’re wedging. Two C-Clamps work well.
With your work area set up, you can now focus on the remaining steps to create beautiful colored clay.
#2 Measuring Clay and Mason Stains
When it comes to making colored clay, accurately measuring both your clay and colorant is crucial for achieving your desired color and for repeating the recipe in the future.
Measuring Clay to mix with Mason Stain
Use a Digital Scale to weigh out three pounds of soft white clay. You can color as much clay as you like, but I found that mixing three pounds at a time is a manageable amount.
Make sure your clay is malleable because you will be wedging it a lot to mix the colorant into the clay. Plus, the colorant mixes into the clay easier when the clay is soft.
Measuring Mason Stain to mix with Clay
Put on your Dust Mask Respirator to protect yourself from the mason stain powder. Using a Digital Scale, weigh out 84 grams or 3 ounces of mason stain. This amount is equivalent to 28 grams or 1 ounce of mason stain per pound of clay.
The amount of stain you add to your clay isn’t an exact science, as it’s more about achieving the color results you want. If you desire darker colors you can adjust the stains by adding 14 grams or half an ounce at a time.
If you desire lighter colors, you can adjust the stains by subtracting 14 grams or half an ounce at a time until you reach your ideal color. This will allow you to customize the color to your liking.
Once you’ve determined how much stain you want to add to clay, it’s time to prepare them for the mixing process.
#3 Preparing the Clay body to mix with Mason Stains
Flatten out your clay first. A 7-by-12-inch slab is good. And make sure the slab is at least a half-inch thick.
Now make an indentation in the center of your clay using a rib or similar tool. I found a hard plastic rib works really well. This indentation will serve as a place for your colorant to be added. Remove some of the clay from the center.
Remove the extra clay from the rib.
Place the clay onto the sides of the clay slab to form a barrier for the stain.
Spray water into the center indentation to wet the clay before adding the mason stain,
This helps the colorant mix with the clay more easily.
#4 Adding the Mason Stains to the Clay body
Once you’ve prepared your clay and have your colorant measured out, it’s time to start the process of adding color to your clay. There are several ways you can add the colorant. I will show you the way I do it first. I found this way to be the easiest for me. For each method, wear Dust Mask Respirator while the stain is in powder form.
#1 Add Dry Mason Stain
Sprinkle the measured mason stain on the wet clay in the middle of the indentation.
Once all the stain is on the clay spray some water on top of the stain to get it wet. It’s easier to use a Mister Spray Bottle for this task.
It controls the amount of water that goes on the stain without getting the area too wet.
To avoid adding too much water, pause to allow the stain to absorb the water. Then add more water until all the mason stain is wet.
#2 Mixing the Water and Mason Stain first
Place your measured stain in a cup, container, or plastic bag. Then slowly add water and mix. Adding water like this can be a little tricky as you can easily add too much water making the process of mixing the clay and colorant messy.
Pour the liquid mason stain on the wet clay in the middle of the indentation.
#3 Mixing the Clay with Colored Clay Slip.
Another way you can mix a batch of colored clay is to use colored clay slip.
Mix bone-dry clay and water together. It’s best to use bone-dry clay. This is because the bone-dry clay will absorb the water much faster and more evenly than the wet clay does. Next, add the stain.
Mix it well until the color is even throughout.
It can be harder to gauge the clay and colorant ratio if you want to duplicate the clay color shade unless you use a slip recipe because you don’t know how much clay stain or water you have added to create the color. If you would like to color your clay this way, here is more detailed information on A Quick and Easy Way to Make Slip.
Pour the colored slip on the wet clay in the middle of the indentation. I did find this process to be messier when mixing into the clay than the other ways.
#5 Rolling Up the Clay
Now that you have chosen how you want to add your stain to the clay, it’s time to roll the stain up into the clay. Roll your clay up, similar to how you would roll pastry dough. It’s best to wear gloves during this process.
As you’re rolling up the stain in the clay, seal the sides by pinching the clay together. This helps keep the stain inside and helps to prevent it from making a mess.
Keep rolling and sealing the edges of your clay until the stain is fully enclosed inside your clay roll.
After successfully rolling up the clay, I wait a few minutes before wedging the stain and clay together.
#6 Mixing the Clay and Stain Together
The final step in making colored clay is to wedge the stain and clay together. It’s best to start wedging slowly.
The fun part is to make an effort to keep the mason stain from escaping while you’re wedging.
If you notice any splits in the clay, seal them up and continue with the process.
The more the colorant starts mixing together, the faster you can start wedging.
During the wedging process, if your clay starts to stick, simply move it to a dry spot on your working surface. To pick up any clay sticking to the surface, use a metal scraper to lift it off. This method helps in minimizing the spread of colorant on your board.
It’s worth mentioning that the spiral wedge method can mix two different clay colors together faster than the ram’s head wedge.
Learning the spiral wedge technique may save you some time. There’s a link where you can find my article with a video demonstrating Three Different Ways to Wedge Clay.
Stop from time to time and slice the clay in half with a wire cutter to check the inside of your clay to see how well the color has been mixed.
Keep wedging the clay until the color is evenly distributed throughout the clay.
After creating your colored clay, make sure you store it in thick plastic bags. For more detailed information, check out How to Store Pottery Clay.
Remember that the color of the clay will fire darker in the kiln so that you can expect deeper shades in your finished pottery.
You can also check out this step-by-step video on making colored clay.
With your newly colored clay, the possibilities for creating unique designs are endless. You can experiment with various colors and even combine several shades together, giving you countless options for making attractive pottery pieces.
In conclusion, making colored clay is a simple and fun way to add some personality to your pottery projects. With just a few steps, you can create unique and vibrant colors that are sure to impress. By measuring out your clay and colorant, you can ensure a consistent and even mixture that can be duplicated.
It’s important to wear a Dust Mask Respirator when working with mason stains in powder form, as they can be harmful if inhaled. Taking the necessary precautions will ensure a safe and enjoyable experience.
With your colored clay ready, the possibilities for creativity are endless. Whether you’re creating a set of mugs or a decorative vase, the unique color variations will add a special touch to your finished piece. So go ahead and experiment with different colors and designs, and have fun with the process!