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Any Ideas On The Composition Of Wed Clay Or Similar Products?

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I am a figure sculptor (haneebirch.org/artwork -- out of date, but gives a basic idea), and I've worked over the years in a variety of materials, both clay and non-clay. I've been steadily working towards more detailed work in the past couple years (none of which is on my website yet), and while I love the feel of a traditional red earthenware body, I am sometimes feeling like I am at it's limits (or rather, my limits!). I'm trying to explore which clay bodies will work best for both the early stages where supple gesture and the ability to make quick, dramatic changes to the pose, is the needed feature and the latter stages where things like modeling a tiny 1/3rd scale nostril or eyelid, or lightly smoothing in a controlled manner that doesn't merge forms too easily...

 

Anyhow, introductions aside. I got a couple boxes of WED clay (Laguna EM-217) about a year ago. At first the stuff seemed almost like a bad batch it was so intensely sticky (and I usually like sticky products, as I used to work in wax). I still am not sure if I got a bad batch, but I have learned to work with it. It seems exceptionally good for finely controlled form at the later stages of sculpting, but at the early stages it can be a real sticky mess compared to a good terracotta body or the raku/sculpture clays I've used in the past. I am trying to understand what exactly is different about the clay. All the public information on it always emphasizes the slow-drying qualities (and the fact that it's not ideal for firing, but can be fired nonetheless) -- I don't particularly care for it's slow drying nature as I work quickly, but, what I notice and appreciate more than anything when using it is that it has a certain density that resists pressure.

 

For example in my standard laguna terracotta body (and most similar clays I've used from other manufacturers), there seems to be a "spongy" quality. Pushing in one place deforms other places and it is so soft, even when at the equivalent moisture level, that crisply modeled forms easily round over if touched indelicately. On the other hand, WED holds detail and you can easily run wet cloth over a sharp form and only take a hair's breadth down off the sharpness. It's density is more similar to raku clays I have used (which I believe usually are a stoneware base), but it's plasticity resembles most some 'wild' clays I've dug which I believe were extremely carbonaceous -- almost completely unworkably plastic unless in a rather more-dry state than I would habitually use a clay at.

 

I'd like to either locate a similar clay to WED, that doesn't have substances added to slow drying, and that is perhaps a tad less sticky or "fat" as they say, and that ideally fires to as-strong a product as a terracotta body does at cone 06-04. I will mostly be using it for casted works, but it's nice if I can use the same body for firing when need be.

 

Any thoughts on what the constituents might be, or at least what types of clay might be similar (very-dense/extremely-plastic)? I am guessing (based on some research and my own very limited experience) that it is a stoneware base (dense) with a lot of ball clay (highly plastic). It also has a bit of a chemically/bleach smell when new which disturbs me -- perhaps it is whatever "retarder" is added to slow drying. It seems to also have a far, far narrower range of workable moisture levels than my usual red terracotta, if that's another clue.

 

(In the UK a similar product appears to be sold as "Potclays Modelling Clay" -- https://www.potclays.co.uk/studio/products/5242/modelling-clay-157-1150-1100-1280c )

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Given this clay has been formulated as a modeling clay only: it is not going to be subject to standard formulation practices. In reviewing the specs: gray color, shrinkage 5 percent, and absorption 10 percent: gives me some idea of composition. The mere fact that it is less than .40 cents a lb, tells me even more. My best guess at this point is: foundry hills cream and bentonite- that's it. The absorption rate, shrinkage rate; coupled with the fact that is non- firing indicates this to me. They would make no silica or feldspar additions in this case: no need to.

The fact that you describe it as tacky and very slow drying also indicate an almost pure ball clay/ bentonite mix. The bentonite is probably in the 5-8 percent range of the recipe. It would also account for the odor you describe. This clay will not survive long term display because it will be constantly absorbing humidity, then drying out. I would fully expect it to start showing signs of aging within the first six months. It will also be very fragile once it hits green ware state.

Nerd

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