While manufactured ceramic clay offers convenience and consistency, collecting your own native natural clay can provide satisfying hands-on experience and a sense of creative place. By finding clay yourself, you gain a deeper appreciation for this incredible artistic material formed in the earth.
Here is how to locate clay in nature and process it for use:
Prime locations to look include:
Scan for moist areas with smooth clay-like soil texture. River banks after flood season offer ideal clay hunting conditions.
Clay soil is smooth, slippery, and malleable when wet, becoming hard when dry—test soil by wetting a pinch in your palm. Authentic clay will become pliable like ceramic clay.
When thinned with water, real clay also exhibits high plasticity, easily pouring as a smooth gravy-like slurry. Fake clay turns grainy or lumpy instead.
Notice areas with clay pipes, overflow tubes, or clay-lined ponds nearby, as these signify substantial clay deposits exist naturally in that location.
Bring along digging tools like shovels and trowels to excavate promising clay deposits. Extract clay from at least 2-3 feet below the topsoil layer to avoid organic contaminants.
Fill buckets or bags with clay-rich soil, aiming for at least 20-30 lbs of material to work with. The more you gather, the more refined clay you’ll obtain.
Once gathered, you’ll need to refine natural clay through a multi-step cleansing process:
Always fire test natural clay paddles before using extensively. Assess color, absorbency, shrinkage, and crack tendency during drying and firing to high temperatures.
Be prepared to tweak clay properties through:
Getting usable results requires trial and error. But with persistence, you can refine native clay into a workable natural medium.
Finding your own clay creates a satisfying connection with the earth. While challenging, the experience lets you engage with ceramic art at a more primal level. You can craft stunning works from the ground under your feet with some grit and experimentation!