HOW TO COLOR CLAY WITH MASON STAINS

You can purchase pre-colored clay but if you want to chose your own colors, it’s easy mix your own.

sue weber 2

 Sue Weber tests 2021

CHOOSE YOUR CLAY

You can color any clay body whether it is wet or dry. White clays firing at or above Cone 5/6 provide vibrant color results. I prefer to mix the stains into wet clay bodies but many people mix them into slips or even dry powdered clay. 

CHOOSING YOUR STAINS

The Mason Stain Company has a very informative web site with colors recommended for clay bodies. Take a minute to read the reference area of the site as there are some stains that just will not work with clay bodies. Good to know before you buy.

http://www.masoncolor.com/ceramic_stains.asp

No matter which stains you choose, you should buy small samples and test them first with your clay body. There is no way of being 100% sure of results without taking time to test.

You are safe if you stick with their body stains, but I have tried dozens of other stain colors with great results. The trick is to check the guidelines, then test every single batch you blend in order to see what happens to the color with and without a glaze. 

HOW MUCH STAIN TO USE?

The dark colors require less stain than light colors.

For blacks, dark blues and greens I use about 5-8% stain. For yellows, pinks, mauves I use between 12-20% stain.

I prefer mixing a high concentration of stain because it is much easier to store 1 lb of concentrate vs. 12 lbs. of pastel shades.  Properly stored the clay will last forever and it is very easy to knead in some white clay to get the color you want.

Some of my favorite Mason Stains with percentages.

#6020 Pink @ 12 –16 %

#6450 Yellow @ 12 – 16 %

#6300 Mazarene Blue @ 5 – 8 %

#6242 Bermuda Green @ 12 – 16 %

#6376 Robins Egg Blue @ 12 - 16%

#6304 Chrome Tin Violet @ 12 - 16%

#6027 Tangerine @ 12 - 16%

#6026 Lobster @ 12 - 16%

#6600 Black @ 5 – 8%

How do you measure the stain? 

Say you want 10% stain, then that would be 10 grams of stain to 100 grams of wet or dry clay. I really don’t think it is crucial to use one or the other type of clay. As long as you make tests of your colors and keep records, you will be able to repeat the results no matter how you mix it. You can use the same %of stain to make colored slips.

HOW TO MIX STAINS INTO CLAY

Even though it is a messy job, it is also a very simple job.

mask

CAUTION: 

Do no breathe the dust from Mason Stains or dry sand the finished colored clay without a proper N95 breathing mask.



MEASUREBAGGED

In order to avoid the dust problem, mix the Mason stains in a sealed plastic bag with just enough water to create a creamy solution. 

measure wateradd to stan
mix to slip

Then create a well in your clay and pour in the mixture. Knead the clay until you like the color result. Messy, but easy.


I use a large commercial machine to mix the stain/clay solution until the color is even throughout the clay body. You want the finished clay to be soft as cookie dough. My mixer is a Hobart A120T and is 1/2 hp. 



Some potters buy an old stand mixer and use it in the studio to mix a very thick slip. Stick to cake batter thickness. 

Once you use a mixer in the studio, it never goes back in the kitchen. 




Then, they let this mixture dry.






Keep the colored clay wrapped in a damp cloth and double bagged in plastic, or in sealed plastic containers. Check regularly to keep the clay moist.



 



Always make sample discs of each color for reference. You cannot count on each batch turning out exactly the same.

measured scoops


1 to 1



1W : 1Color



2 to 1



2W : 1 Color




4 to 1



4 W : 1 Color




I make sample discs of the colors combined with white clay and with each other in a range of percentages.

ratio size


each other


roll flat

Roll these small samples flat and cut through plastic to avoid a mess. Write the formula on the back of the disc for future reference.

stamp thru plastic


formula








Here are some tiles made by Sue Weber, a student in my workshop.

sue weber 2sue weber 3

You can expect the color to darken as you fire at higher temperatures. Sometimes you can barely see the color when it is wet … but it is vibrant at Cone 5-6.

If you like the color when it is wet, then it is too dark and you should add  more white clay. 

Always mark your storage bags so you don’t confuse it with white clay … yes. it happens. 


I hear comments about how expensive stains are but consider that colors last a long time, especially if you are mixing in plain white clay. I keep colors stored in plastic bags for years with no ill effects.


Another area of concern is SAFETY You do have to be careful not to inhale the dry powder while mixing, so use a proper breathing mask while measuring the stain. After the stain is wet and creamy, they are safe to work with and fire. Some people choose to wear latex gloves but most do not notice any irritation. 

A good precaution is to make sure any open cuts on your hands are sealed by liquid bandage or gloves.

 Another area for concern is dry sanding … you should always be wet sanding. 


I have experienced fluxing with some cobalt based stain colors when they are used in a very concentrated form so you do have to prevent them from sticking to the kiln shelf. I sprinkle some alumina hydrate under them when firing these.


IF YOU WANT TO COLOR YOUR CLAY WITH OXIDES I RECOMMEND ROBIN HOPPER’S BOOK “MAKING MARKS”. HE HAS A TERRIFIC SECTION ON THIS.


** CLICK HERE ** IF YOU WANT TO LEARN EVERYTHING ABOUT COLORED CLAY, TAKE MY FABULOUS ONLINE WORKSHOP


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Thanks to Yvonne Cooper for her images. 1

 © Chris Campbell 2019