The Mysterious Black Clay

Laguna Clay company makes a black clay, WC-391 to be specific,  that I have been playing with for several months now and have been having some issues with. Not wanting to give up on it I thought I would do a post about it in hopes that if any other potters, who are also using this clay, read this post, they might offer some ideas.

My creative thought process was that if I could put the colorful water treatment of the frog bowls on the interior of the black body, sealing it in with a clear glaze and leaving the exterior of the bowl the raw black matte clay body that it would be a really dramatic look. So that is what I set out to achieve. I bought the clay, threw 6 large bowls with it and decorated them with white slip on the interior of the bowl along with the colorants that I have been using. Adding my signature frog sculpture to the rim in all his personality, I loaded the first batch into the kiln and fired it just like I have been doing with the brown and the white stonewares that I am using. Allowing the kiln to cool for at least 12-16 hours, I opened the kiln to find wonderful bowls that were warm to the touch but at all hot. I set the bowl out on the shelf to continue unloading and within minutes the bowl that I had just unloaded makes a loud bang noise and upon when I go to the shelf the bowl has broken in such a way that it has experienced thermal shock. The interior of the bowl looks like it has been twisted and separates. The bowl continues to make noise for several hours following, telling me that as it continues to cool it is really going through some additional changes. If this were the brown or the white stoneware that I use this wouldn’t happen.

Frog Bowl

Frog Bowl, Black clay

The first time it happened, I thought it was a throwing technique problem, that I wasn’t compressing the clay enough to compress the molecules within the body on the wheel. So I tried again. Going back to the basics of throwing and following my hands through the process making sure I compress the clay with a rib before lifting the walls of the bowl. Fired the bowls, same problem. This makes me realize that the kiln needs to cool longer. So I let the next kiln set for an additional day before lifting the lid. This seems to work.

Frog on Black Clay mug

However, an additional problem that the clay has that I don’t know that I can fix without just lots of testing, is the lack of ability for the clay to adhere to itself when I score and slip of two pieces. Spending plenty of time on the construction to make sure that the seams are sealed properly and securely doesn’t seem to help this problem either. After I had spent several days on a sculptural rectangular vase vessel, making sure that seams were sealed and smooth, the bisque fire opened up the seams leaving large gaps in the joints. I had noticed this also on the small fairy garden furniture that I had been making when I would make a butterfly bench and attach the legs to it they didn’t want to hold at the joint.

I have been known to push the limits on projects and materials and I believe that I was pushing the limits of this clay body as well. Laguna lists the shrink rate of this #391clay at 10% with a 2+% tolerance. The white body that I use, #609, on the interior of the black clay has a shrink rate of 13%, I’m sure, is putting stress on the interior of the black clay.

Without doing a lot more testing, I am afraid to sell the items that worked. I don’t know if the item will break after a person puts the mug into a microwave or puts the bowl into an oven to warm or cook food in it and I don’t want to put someone at risk. I have the adorable mugs with the frog on the exterior that I am afraid will pop off due to the two clay bodies not getting along enough to hold each other’s joint.

When I went to the Kiln Doctor on Saturday to buy more clay of all the colors that I use, I did buy more of the black clay and spoke with Mike, the owner, about the problems that I had been having. It just so happened that he was going to Seattle to a conference and Laguna Clay would be there. He took the information from me and planned to talk to them about it and find out if the chemistry of the clay is the problem and if they knew of anyone else that is having similar issues.

Black Bunny Mug

In the meantime, I will hold onto the items that I’ve made so far and not sell them and only make small fairy garden items out of the black clay for now. Hopefully, Mike will bring some answers back from the Pacific Northwest this week and I will keep testing the wares before I let them out of my studio. Just to be safe!

Fairy Land…

There is a wonderful stream here in Tom’s Brook where I gather moss and such for my terrariums and for moss gardens. Herb walks by this stream every now and again and saw this tree and several stumps that he thought would make a great staging area for the items that I am making for the fairies. This morning we loaded up all the gear and a few of the items and drove to the spot and set the fairies up with a village under the tree. I think it really works well and should stay green most of the summer for future photo shoots. Enjoy the photos and happy day after St. Paddy’s Day.


Freshly Squeezed, from Laughing Orange Studio

This is a newsletter that I sent to a group of my friends…. If you would like to receive an email newsletter, subscribe to this blog and you will definitely be included with the next mailing… I’d love to include you in the fun!

March 2012

…news from

Laughing Orange Studio

Starting a new business means taking advantage of all the ways possible to reach buyers for my product. There are a million ways to do that these days and while not everyone uses social media, it seems, that almost daily there are new methods of social media introduced, making it almost impossible for me to even get a product made for having to try and keep up with all the computer interaction that I need to communicate with my customers. You almost need a full time person just to update all the places that need updating to get this information out there.

With this first newsletter, Freshly Squeezed, I’d like to get information to YOU so that you can keep up with what I am working on or where I may be exhibiting my work. I may show you a new product line, a technique I’m using, a new blog post, or a new design that I am trying to get out and show you a sneak peak. That said, if you would like to get an occasional email newsletter, subscribe to my blog now!

I’ve  listed the main media that I am using consistently these days below along with links for them.  All of them are ways to connect with me and find my work. Check them out if you aren’t using them already.

Please, share this email with all your friends that you think would enjoy seeing what I am doing!

Laughing Orange on Etsy

My Etsy shop, Laughing Orange Studio, is connected to my blog. If you see the product page in the blog and see something that you would love to purchase, YAY!, the links there will take you to the shop on Etsy. For now. I would love to eventually move some items to the blog’s shop but, I need you for this, I need people to know that it is there first. For now though, the link at the left will take you to the shop and allow you to see some of the products that I have for sale right now and are available for you to purchase.

LOS on Facebook

Laughing Orange Studio has a business Facebook presence and I generally use this page as a way to blast out items that have just been uploaded to my shop on Etsy. If you are a Facebook user, you can like the Studio there and get new product updates as they are available to the public.


Pinterest link

Pinterest, if you are unfamiliar with it, is a great way to bookmark items onto the web for reference or sharing. I LOVE this new site and have to really limit myself or I really wouldn’t get anything done all day. The rule is: either when the tea is empty or I reach the bottom of the page, I need to get out of the chair and start my day. The bad part is that when you reach the bottom of the page, Pinterest loads more pins….. so I have to use the empty teacup rule.

There are a ton of uses that I have discovered for this site… inspiration for my work, my garden, a good laugh and sharing or storing information in a visual way. Visual is the key here, because I am a visual person, this site is great for me.  You can follow or see my boards by clicking on the icon at the left. Watch out though, you may get sucked in and have trouble getting anything else done.

Google + link

Google + is awesome for the main reason that I can see friends and relatives that are far away. It has a wonderful hangout option that many people can have a conversation all at once. Better than Skype for this reason, originally I think this was to be Google’s version of Facebook but if you want to see me work, I am trying to find way’s to maybe do workshops or “how to crafting ” with this wonderful new site. Webcam is necessary and a DSL connection. I’ve added the link to my page by clicking on the icon on the left if you would like to be in one of my circles.

Thanks for all your support in my new adventure and I hope that you will contact me in the future if you need a gift or an item for yourself.

Currently I’m working on:

  • I have Easter mugs getting ready to be fired and put on the Etsy site in the next week
  • We have put a calendar of events on the blog so that you can see events that I am going to try and participate in this year
  • Fairy Garden Items are all the rage and if you haven’t gotten yours started before Spring, there are new items for those on Etsy and I am making the miniature items for Natural Art Garden Center, who are doing workshops to help you build your own. Check out the link here…

Happy Spring,

Susie Wilburn