Functional Clay

functional 6

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.

Functional Clay - Students hand-built or threw on the wheel to create clay pieces they could use everyday!

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.

Functional Clay - Students hand-built or threw on the wheel to create clay pieces they could use everyday!

A lot of students got more adventurous with their glazing. They created patterns in the clay and then glazed their piece using different colors.

Functional Clay - Students hand-built or threw on the wheel to create clay pieces they could use everyday!

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.

Functional Clay - Students hand-built or threw on the wheel to create clay pieces they could use everyday!

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.

Functional Clay - Students hand-built or threw on the wheel to create clay pieces they could use everyday!

Supplies: Clay, Glaze, Clay tools, Wheel, Bats

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Figurines

Functional Clay - Students hand-built or threw on the wheel to create clay pieces they could use everyday!

I decided to try a new concept for my clay project this year.  When it was time to teach the element of Form, I started the class off with a PowerPoint of a wide variety of figurines. I showed them examples of animal and human figurines from ancient cultures. Then I showed them a wide variety of figurines that were created by current artists. (Downloadable PowerPoint: Clay Figurines)

Clay Figurines - Students created small figurines inspired by artwork throughout different time periods.

I opened up the definition of “figurine” to be any small object that was around 4-6 inches tall. I told students that their project didn’t have to be realistic. Many students came up with some very interesting abstract forms.

Clay Figurines - Students created small figurines inspired by artwork throughout different time periods.

We started the process by talking about basic hand-building techniques, like scoring, sliping, and hollowing out clay. I was so excited to open up the kiln to see that every single student’s artwork was intact! (Another big advantage to clay figurines is that I was able to fit them all into one load.)

Clay Figurines - Students created small figurines inspired by artwork throughout different time periods.

It was interesting to see what students came up with as their subject. I was impressed with the wide variety of ideas they had.

Clay Figurines - Students created small figurines inspired by artwork throughout different time periods.

This was their first experience using clay in my class. I wanted them to get excited about the medium without being overwhelmed. The size limitation meant that they could really take their time and put a lot of detail in their work.

Clay Figurines - Students created small figurines inspired by artwork throughout different time periods.

Some students were able to finish early enough that they had time to create another clay project. I let them choose if they wanted to work on another figurine or move on to making a functional clay project.

Clay Figurines - Students created small figurines inspired by artwork throughout different time periods.

Supplies: Clay, glaze, slip, clay tools

Downloadable PowerPoint: Clay Figurines

Animal Containers

Create a cup or bowl using coil-building, then attach animal features. Functional and unique!

High school students use coil and hand-building techniques to create ceramic animal containers.

Supplies:

  • Reclaimed clay
  • Clay tools, plastic knives, unfolded paperclips for carving
  • Small containers of slip
  • Underglaze, clear glaze
  • Bristle brushes (hold the glaze better)
  • Sponges

Create a cup or bowl using coil-building, then attach animal features. Functional and unique!

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.

Create a cup or bowl using coil-building, then attach animal features. Functional and unique!

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.

Create a cup or bowl using coil-building, then attach animal features. Functional and unique!

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.

Bisque fired artwork
Bisque fired artwork

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.

Underglaze, Clear glaze, Fired artwork
Underglaze, Clear glaze, Fired artwork

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.

Create a cup or bowl using coil-building, then attach animal features. Functional and unique!

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.

Create a cup or bowl using coil-building, then attach animal features. Functional and unique!

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.

Create a cup or bowl using coil-building, then attach animal features. Functional and unique!

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.

Create a cup or bowl using coil-building, then attach animal features. Functional and unique!

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!)