After finishing the figurine project, I opened up clay as a medium students could use when they were working on Independent Projects. Some students decided to make functional clay projects, either on the wheel or using hand-building techniques.
For hand-building, I showed students how to roll out coils, score and slip them, and then blend them together to create bowls or cups.
A lot of students got more adventurous with their glazing. They created patterns in the clay and then glazed their piece using different colors.
Some students tried throwing a couple times and then moved on to other ideas. A handful of students really stuck with it and practiced throwing any chance they got! It was exciting to see how much they improved over time.
It was so much fun to display their work in the cases in our main hallway and cafeteria. I realized pretty quickly that I needed to change out the displays more frequently than I planned. So many students were anxious to take their clay projects home and quite a few of them wanted to give it to someone as a gift.
High school students use coil and hand-building techniques to create ceramic animal containers.
Clay tools, plastic knives, unfolded paperclips for carving
Small containers of slip
Underglaze, clear glaze
Bristle brushes (hold the glaze better)
The students created a container and added animal features to it. I started by having the students draw a rough sketch of what their design would look like from 3 different perspectives: front, side and back. I emphasized that this was a rough sketch. Some of my students were getting frustrated because the drawing didn’t look like the idea they had in their mind. I told them that the sketch was just a plan. I wanted them to put their artistic energy into making the clay look like the image they had in their mind.
I began by teaching them how to coil build a container. They could choose whatever kind of container they wanted. I put very few limitations on this project because I wanted to see where their creativity would take them. While they were coil-building, I constantly reminded them to score and slip. I also focused on having them smooth out the sides of the container when they were finished. The flat side of a plastic knife works really well for getting a smooth, even edge.
After they finished their container, I taught them hand-building techniques to add their animal features. I told them that you can’t add a solid piece of clay that is bigger than the circle your fingers make when you do the “A-okay” sign. (A piece any bigger than that will have air bubbles, which could cause it to explode in the kiln.) I also reminded them to score and slip every single thing they added on. If they didn’t do those two things, the piece would pop off in the kiln. I had a handful of breaks, but we were able to repair them with glaze paste and another coat of glaze.
While we waited for the pieces to air dry and get bisque fired, I had the students work on a watercolor project. Once they were all fired, we spent a week glazing. They used underglaze, with a coat of clear glaze on top. We spent a lot of time talking about how to take care of the glazes, since they are the most expensive art supply we’ll work with all year. I had them dip right into the original container, so that we wouldn’t waste glaze pouring it back and forth. I also emphasized how critical it was that they wash their brush in between colors.
I explained to my students that the underglaze would appear much lighter when they painted it. I showed them finished examples so that they could see how the colors would brighten and darken in the kiln. We talked about chemical reactions, especially when they were putting on the coat of clear glaze. I reassured them that the clear glaze would not stay blue; the heat of the kiln would turn it into glass.
The underglaze had to dry overnight before they could put the clear glaze on. I demonstrated how to dab on the clear glaze instead of paint it on, so that it wouldn’t smear the underglaze. There were a few students who had really gone above and beyond with their clay project. I allowed them to use special glazes that would create interesting reactions.
Some of my students finished glazing in just two days. I had them work on Independent Projects if they finished extra early. When about half of my class was done, I set up a table with watercolor supplies and had them continue working on their painting. The watercolor project paired really well with glazing. I was able to reference watercolors when I explained that glazes are transparent, which means you can’t cover one color up by painting another color on top of it.
Once all of the glazed pieces had been fired, I lined the back counters of my room with all the work from all of my class periods. Usually, my students write about their own artwork for a critique. For this project I wanted them to be able to see everyone’s work, since I wouldn’t be able to hang their work on the walls. I lined that edges of the counter with neon “Do NOT touch the art!” signs and told the student not to let their fingers, nose or toes cross the blue line I taped on the floors. One table at a time walked through the back of the room and observed the art. Each student chose one piece of art, other than their own. As their critique, I asked them to describe the form and glaze well enough that I would know which piece they were talking about. I also asked them to imagine what would they use it for, if they could buy it and take it home.
A Note on Materials: The only way we were able to afford to do this project is because a local artist donates big buckets of his clay scraps to us. Us art teachers spend a lot of prep time re-claiming the clay. It’s a bit time-consuming, but oddly therapeutic (and a great workout!)