How to Work With Terra Cotta Clay

By Christina Sloane
Make your own dishes and sculptures with terra cotta clay.

Terra cotta clay is a natural art supply with a burnt-orange color and porous texture used to make ceramic items such as flowerpots and animal figures. Alhough terra cotta eventually air dries, it must be later fired in a kiln to achieve a hard, durable consistency. Clay objects may be left as-is for an earthy look, or painted and glazed for a more sophisticated aesthetic. You may find terra cotta powder at ceramics and art supply stores. “Paint your own pottery” shops and community art centers and colleges may have kilns available for public use or for a fee.

Mix terra cotta powder with water in a large bowl until it achieves the consistency of dense mud.

Mold the clay into the desired shape or pack it into a clay mold marked for use with kilns. If you are making a bowl, pot or cup, form the clay into a ball and place it in the middle of a pottery wheel. Turn on the wheel and press in the middle of the ball with your thumbs while simultaneously moving your fingers over the outside of the bowl to shape the dish’s sides and opening. Keep the clay wet while you work.

Set the clay object on a flat surface in a dry, well-lit room or outside to allow it to air-dry until the clay is hard.

Place the object on the kiln shelf and fire it on a schedule according to your specific object’s size and width.

Remove the object from the kiln and allow it to cool. If desired, paint the object. Apply a white base coat and allow it to dry before applying other colors; terra cotta absorbs paint, which can darken the color.

Paint or pour on glaze over dried paint or on the plain terra cotta. Fire the glazed object in the kiln, on a glazing schedule according to your specific object’s size and width.

About the Author

Christina Sloane has been writing since 1992. Her work has appeared in several national literary magazines.