Clay Explorations

Every week at the Decorative and Fine Arts Camp we start off the week with painting in the mornings and clay in the afternoon! It’s always a big hit. We have a clay tile relief sculpture project with more specific instructions and then campers also have the freedom to do free experimentation and sculpture making. These small sculptures usually reflect their own interests, such as foods, animals or fictional characters!

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Bart Simpson

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A villager? (If you’re familiar with Minecraft you’ll understand.)

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Smash-Crash Course in Ceramics

This past week in my Foundations of Studio Art class we began an experience with clay. Since I am determined to expose my freshman girls to as many techniques and materials in art as I possibly can I figured why not take advantage of our schools amazing resources and create some ceramic pieces.

 

There were some initial challenges. Number one being that unlike the ceramics studio down the hall, we are seriously lacking in clay storage space. So I decided why not just use the same drying racks we’ve been using. These were clearly meant for paintings and other 2D work, but I knew that if we kept our projects mostly flat, it would work. So out of this dilemma our project was born: Ceramic plates or clocks. And then came the challenge of finding clay, but luckily our amazing ceramics teacher had 40 pounds of low-fire clay that she was not planning on using.

 

Students began with a sketch of what they wanted based on some research. They then sketched out their idea, and added color. I showed each of my students how to roll out slabs of clay using rolling pins and spacers. I also demonstrated how to cut, shape, attach, and texturize their clay. With those basic skills I turned them loose to learn through experimenting on their own. (Obviously I was floating around the room to offer advice, but I did keep my distance when it came to the major decision-making.)

 

Below are some pictures of the ongoing process.

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Glazing

Here are some images from last week in Saturday Art School Ceramics. Not only did we have students on the wheel, but we were doing drop molds AND glazing. I am looking forward to getting back to SAS Ceramics this week after our short Spring Break.

Throwing Clay

“Yay! We get to throw clay at the wheels!”

Very funny. Ten year olds think they’re hilarious. This past Saturday Art School ceramics class we tried out the pottery wheel. Everyone looked excited… little did they know, what frustration and disappointment lay in wait. Fortunately for them, I was experienced in the difficulties and disappointment of the pottery wheel, and not a whole lot else. I have years of experience when it comes to using the wheel, but I have never really enjoyed it enough to pursue it and perfect my technique. I was nervous I wouldn’t be able to give a good example. As it turned out, my inability to make it look easy set my students up to feel better about how difficult this technique was. By the end of the class each student had made at least one, and no-one had gotten upset about their one or two or three failed attempts.

Pinchy Animals

This project involves measuring out a  pound of clay and then creating an animal without ever detaching any piece. The objective for the student is to learn more about the possibilities of the clay and its physical properties and limitation. So what I did for this lesson was disguise the objective as a challenge to each individual student. I told them that they were being asked to make an animal as best they could without making any new attachments, only by pulling and pinching and adding texture, could they make their animals. I think they came out fantastic!

Pueblo Indian Pinch Pots

I am enjoying my day off this Veterans Day, and taking time to reflect on lat week’s project: Pueblo Indian Pinch Pots from New Mexico.

This was the first time my “Art Around the World” after-school class has made it back to the United States since we started our imaginary journey. (We’ve come close with Mexico and Cuba.)  We read the story Arrow to the Sun by Gerald McDermott. The artwork in this book is just absolutely amazing! And following the story I reviled that the Pueblo Indians are actually from… New Mexico! This was confusing for some of the children who asked me why we were still in Mexico, “didn’t we go there last week?” But, after some clarification it was exciting to tell the kids that this seemingly strange culture was in-fact that of their own country. Hurray USA! The air dry clay that we used to complete this project didn’t dry quite as fast as I had hoped but hopefully each student’s piece made it home safe and sound.

Here is a link to Wikipedia’s information on the Puebloan Peoples.

Glazing

Glazing can be a tricky thing to explain. Sometimes the color of the glaze is not the color it will be, and sometimes it kind of is. Sometimes you can mix colors together and sometimes you can’t. Sometimes you dunk and sometimes you don’t. Sometimes…

I decided that since I value the process of trial and error, and feel like learning from your mistakes is one of the most powerful ways to learn something, and remember it forever, that I was going to do my very best to explain which glazes did what and how to use them, but then just let the ten, eleven and twelve year old students I am teaching ceramics to, go ahead and dive in. I decided I was going to step back unless I saw someone who was about to do something totally disastrous or someone asked me for help.

Lucky for them I am not a cruel teacher, who revels in saying, I told you so. So, I did my best to make the glazing process fairly fool proof. I set out under-glazes in squeeze bottles (it basically is the color it says it is, and you can mix it with other colors) a bucket of solid yellow glaze for dunking (looks gray before it’s fired, slightly confusing) and a bucket of clear (looks blue before it’s fired), also for dunking.  I am excited to see the results next week.

I have my fingers crossed that the bottom of each piece is not currently stuck to the shelf of the kiln either. I checked and double checked the bottoms but you never know with glaze.

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