How to Properly Store Pottery Clay
When we were kids, it was easy enough to put our Play-Doh or sculpting clay back in the little cannisters when we were done. And if we didn’t do it quite right and some dried out, there was really no harm done and there always seemed to be more available at home or school.
But grown-ups who still love sculpting, and have worked their way up to working with pottery clay, have made the discovery that the responsibility of storing their clay for future use has now become more complicated
It’s certainly trickier to put it all away correctly when we’re done, and bad things can happen if it dries out, including requiring extra time to reconstitute it, not matching the original batch’s consistency, or even have to spend money for new clay if it’s too far gone.
That’s why it’s important to learn sensible strategies to keep your pottery clay properly stored, whether you’re going to come back to it in a few hours or aren’t sure when you’ll touch it again. Proper and secure storage of your clay is another concern, especially if you’re planning to move your studio supplies to another room or to another location
Luckily, there are different storage options available depending on your budget, how much clay you have, and available storage space.
Pros of Storing Clay Moist
Moist clay can make it easy to jump right back into whatever you were working on. If it’s stored properly, you don’t have to spend time rehydrating it or mixing in new clay. Your batch of clay can also have a similar consistency to what you previously were working with when you started. The fear of it drying out can also add a bit or urgency to return to your project before too much time passes. Having easy and quick access to a supply of wet clay also can be useful to any pottery project. Properly moist clay will also fire better: dry spots may pull away from wet spots and cause shrinkage, even cracking, if it’s not even.
Cons of Storing Clay Moist
Keeping clay moist over a longer period of time does require regular maintenance which could become tiresome. You’ll need to keep an eye on your storage containers and your clay to make sure it isn’t drying out over time. If it is, you’ll need to keep adding water. Plus, if you have a lot of clay, moister clay also can be heavier and bulkier. Another risk of storing wet clay is keeping it from freezing. Although clay bags should be kept in a cool, dry location, if it gets too cold, ice crystals can form, expand, and damage the clay
Best Pottery Clay Storage Bags
Some studios recommend larger plastic tubs for ease of stacking and moving, some advocate wrapping clay in burlap or plastic sheeting, but one effective and simple solution is to use storage bags. Generally, a thick, clear, plastic bag, such as the Zip-Loc type can be a useful solution. If you have a lot of pottery clay, you might need to use several bags in order not to overstuff one and also ensure that it’s airtight.
Strong seals are important to keep air out but any moisture inside for wet clay. A clear bag can also reduce the potential for mold growth vs. a darker bag. But again, a poor seal could bring in heat and accelerate dryness. Multiple plastic bags can also be kept in plastic tubs or totes for separate storage.
How Do You Keep Stored Clay From Drying Out
Artists who work with pottery clay, plus instructors or studio owners have all faced this problem, so a variety of solutions have been developed.
A prime answer is to pack your clay properly in the right kind of bag with the right kind of seal. But beyond this, it helps to figure out a system to keep it safe, away from too hot or too cold conditions, including direct sunlight, and in a place where it won’t be easily disturbed or damaged
Some experts suggest regularly opening the bags and give them a brief spray with a spray bottle. This reinforces basic moisture but still not enough to cause structural problems. Another tip is to include a bit of vinegar to your water, which can make the clay a little easier to work with. If you have a large block of clay, consider making a few holes in it and filling water in these holes, rather than sprinkling the surface. This can make sure the inside stays moist as well as the outside. Then, be sure to squeeze any air out, reseal the bag and return it to its storage space.
How to Store Clay in Dry Form
If you’re not able to properly store your wet clay, or don’t want to take care of regular maintenance and moisturizing, consider storing it in its dry form.
Luckily, the same recommendations for storage for wet clay work here: use bags that are clear plastic with a good seal. This keeps excess moisture out and discourages mold and mildew growth.
Knowing that your entire batch of clay is dry will require complete rehydration. This might be a good idea to start fresh, rather than trying to guess that some parts of a previous batch are drier or moister than others.
How Long Can Dry Clay Be Stored?
There is no timeline for disposing of clay! In fact, it can continue to be workable and usable for years. The key is to ensure it is properly stored. Air dry clay will start to harden, though, right away as soon as it comes out of the package. However, natural clay will last indefinitely. The clay does not go bad over time. The only thing that limits its use and function is the exposure to the elements.
While you can rehydrate dried out clay, as described above, it is far easier to just keep it stored properly to prevent any type of moisture and air exposure from occurring.
How Do You Rehydrate Dried Out Clay?
Even in the best situation, there are times when clay will dry out. When this happens, you may feel as though you have to toss it out, but that is not always necessary. If you have a bag of dried out clay, including that big 25 pound bag that has become rock hard in your basement can be workable again, but it will take a few days.
To do this, put the bag in a bucket. Then, open the bag, and add water to it to cover just the top of the surface. Then, close up the bag. Use a rubber band around it to create the best possible seal. Then, add more water into the bucket surrounding the clay bag (remember that bag should be sealed.) You do not have to submerge it fully, though. Then, leave it in place for about 12 hours.
Open the top of the bag at that point and use a brush handle to push a hole into the center of the clay as far down as it will go. The goal is to make a one-inch hole in the center. Then, close up the bag again. Do the same thing in another 12 hours, trying to push the handle deeper each time. Continue to do this several times to get as far into the clay as possible.
After this, you can remove the bag from the bucket. Then, open the bag up and pour off any water that has collected on it and has not been absorbed. Empty the water from the bucket. You can then put the clay on your wedging surface and cut it into chunks. You’ll likely need to work up the clay. It takes a bit of work, but this method can help you to continue using that bag of clay even if it has been sitting for years.
How to Preserve a Clay Sculpture
A clay sculpture can be hard to store over time. Clay begins to dry out right away when it comes into contact with the air. What if you cannot finish your sculpture in time, though, and need to be able to work on it later? If you have an in-progress project, there are a few things you can do to preserve your clay.
Be sure the clay is wrapped. Wrapping it tightly limits the amount of air exposure. If you plan to come back to it within a few hours or the next day, wrapping the clay is likely to be a good option. If you need more time, crap it in wet burlap. Any type of damp cloth can help, but be sure it is capable of staying wet throughout the time you need the clay to remain workable. You will likely need to wet it again with a spray bottle if there is more time.
You can also purchase specialized clay storage solutions. These storage options can help to keep the wet clay protected and safe while also minimizing the amount of drying out they do.
Beyond this, temperature control is also important. Be sure that the environment is warm and humid but not overly hot or cold. You do not want it to be freezing in the space.
How to Store Polymer Clay
Polymer clay can be stored in a dry and cool place. First, protect it from any changes in temperature, which can cause significant damage to the clay. It is a good idea to keep it away from any type of heater or window. Then, cover the clay. While polymer clay is not likely to dry out, it will still allow material in the air to stick to it. Be sure that you use the right type of plastic container for storage, too. Keep it in the original packaging for the best results, or you can place it into a plastic bag. Storing polymer clay properly can help ensure it remains workable for various sessions.
Does Polymer Clay Need to Be Stored Airtight?
Polymer clay is quite an interesting type of material. While you certainly want to keep it covered to keep it clean, you do not have to store it in an airtight container. You can place it in this type of container, but you do not need to. That is because it is a non-reactive substance. It does not react to the air, and that means it will not simply dry out. This type of clay does not have water in it, and therefore that water cannot evaporate and dry out the clay. Still, it helps to keep it covered in a plastic bag or in a container that will keep any type of dust from the surface.
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