search  current discussion  categories  forms - sculpture 

lowfire commercial sculpture bodies rant

updated thu 25 oct 01


Stephani Stephenson on wed 24 oct 01

This is something that periodically BUGS me. I am hoping someone like
John Pacini from Laguna or another clay supplier can answer my question.

My question concerns commercially prepared lowfire sculpture bodies.
My initial broad gripe is , many of these bodies are AWFUL! DREADFUL!

The one's I have in mind are the ones a new customer or a beginner
might select from the catalog. Often they are the ones
listed as being most popular and appropriate for school use, and the
ones verbally recommended by the supplier.
Occasionally I have bought these clays for teaching kids, then I am
quickly appalled at their poor working qualities. My most recent
experience was with Laguna's Lowfire White Sculpture , but it isn't
just Laguna, or the white sculpture. I have had similar experiences
with MCW and other lowfire white sculpture bodies from Aardvark and reds
and whites from Seattle Pottery Supply. It isn't the individual batch ;
this whole 'genre' (for lack of a better word) doesn't measure up.

These clays seem to hinder rather then further hand building. They fight
you at every turn. They are floppy and insipid when wet, floppy and
insipid when semi damp, and floppy until the brief moment when they go
from floppy(unworkable) to rigid (unworkable). No good intermediary
time for joining or manipulating. No body. They are difficult to join
wet, damp or leather hard. For a beginner they are frustrating and
impossible. Ever had the experience where you scratch and slip
thoroughly and the two pieces fall apart anyway?. The molecules from one
slab simply are NOT going to co mingle with the other slab, no matter

These clays crack the minute they are manipulated , even fresh out of
the bag. Forget about working with them after they are exposed to air.
The only good thing I will say about the low fire white sculpture is
that once you DO manage to wrestle it into even the most simple
configuration, it does seem to dry well, without additional spreading of

I have long since abandoned these clays for my own work but when I move
to a new area I give them a try in kids classes, because there is
usually one recommended as an all purpose clay, good in the classroom
and good for hand building. What actually happens is that time goes by,
or I move to a new area , I FORGET about how bad they are, or I find
myself HOPING that I will find a good one. Also at the end of a class
parents will ask me where they can buy clay, so I do try the clay the
supplier would recommend to a beginner. (Plus parents get a glazed look
on their faces when I try to explain, don't get the one recommended for
classroom us, get the RAKU.. (.the whaaat? they say?))

For my last class I made the same darn mistake and ordered the lowfire
white sculpture from Laguna. I wanted a nice white clay. I gave my kids
some of that to work with one week. It was so bad, the next week I
brought in some Peter King clay. (from Freeform Clay in San Diego.
Freeform also sells Laguna clay) The kids had a ball with it. It was a
nice, groggy, somewhat sticky clay that allowed them to join pieces
easily. It allowed them to pinch and push and pull and press and lift,
and voila!. Success and enjoyment! Peter King clay isn't so pretty
under the glazes, but that seemed secondary at this point.

So what gives with these lowfire sculpture bodies? It is obvious that an
all around sculpture/handbuilding clay does not have to be so finicky.
Most raku bodies are good lowfire sculpture bodies .I will choose a raku
body hands down over many of the so called lowfire sculpture bodies.
They seem superior for use by beginners,
so the thing that just doesn't make sense to me is why are these other
clay bodies listed/touted as 'sculpture' bodies when many of them are so
dang b-a-a-a-d????

Am I missing something?

Stephani Stephenson
Carlsbad CA