What is the best pottery clay for beginners?

Clay and ceramics are quickly growing in popularity thanks to an increase in pottery accounts on social media and an explosion of new studios. And for the artist who's new to ceramics, the first question is often, "what clay should I use?".

Before we go into which clay is best for beginners it's important to know one important piece of information. What temperature (cone) does your studio fire at? 

It is important to check with your studio technicians to ensure that you purchase the correct clay for your studio. Purchasing clay that does not match your studio's firing temperature can result in under-fired pots that will seep water, or—even worse—your piece can melt during the firing and damage surrounding work and even the kiln itself. If your studio is firing at cone 06 to 04 (also shown △06 - △04, which is a temperature of 1830-1940ºF), then you need low-fire clay; if your studio fires between cone 4 to 6 (2167-2232ºF), you’ll need mid-range clay. And yes! Cone 06 and 04 is different than cone 4 and 6; it might help to think of the '0' as a negative, so 06 is, therefore, a lower temperature than 04.

A test tile of Sea Mix 5 stoneware clay from Seattle Pottery Supply

Now onto the clay itself. In general, artists new to clay should purchase a white or off-white stoneware like our super popular Sea Mix 5. Stoneware clay bodies are usually smooth and plastique enough for wheel throwing but still structurally strong enough for hand building. They are the most forgiving clays for beginners to work with. These clay bodies also take on color from underglazes and glazes really nicely, so you can experiment with different results.

If you want to try playing with a colored clay, our Klamath Yellow and Klamath Red are both stoneware clay bodies that handle well. Just be aware that they will dramatically change color when they are fired—and your glazes might look totally different than you expect!

 As you develop more experience you may want to look into different clay bodies. Clay with additives such as grog or sand help to make larger pieces, but can be rough on your hands. You may even be drawn to porcelains like our Seattle Freeze, which have no grit, and fire a bright white color, but can be a bit finicky to work with at first.