Article 6 of 10
by Debi West
I just love clay! And better yet, our kids LOVE clay! I don’t think it matters what the age, every student enjoys creating with clay. And then, they don’t.
They assume they are going to create something amazing, but the reality is, if you just set them free, they often get stuck, so I have found that it is always a good thing to give kids a free clay day before I start an actual project.
PASSING OUT THE CLAY is always entertaining. I cut slabs and toss them out after kids have their burlap and tools sitting on their tables, ready for “Clay Day.” Then I quickly walk kids through wedging, making a quick pinch pot, creating coils, working with slabs and just experimenting with this new media. I encourage them to use the tools to play with additive and subtractive techniques, slipping and scoring, and just have fun! It’s always awesome to see your high schoolers become excited kids again!
As students are learning about pinch pots, I walk them through this technique by making a clay ball that fits into their hand, and then using their thumbs and slowly turning the ball, they form a pinch pot. It’s a simple technique but a few of my students often have a tough time making their first pinch pot, so by giving them this free experimental day, they have the opportunity to learn and grow.
AS STUDENTS BEGIN WORKING with clay coils, I model for them how to form ropelike coils by rolling the clay in both hands, and then assembling these on top of each other to build up a wall. As students begin the slab technique, they take smooth slabs of clay that are formed by rolling out the clay and then cutting off the sides or pieces and attaching them together to create pots, cups or urns.
When the experimenting is done, we spend about 10 minutes practicing our clay cleanup and that’s how it all starts. But, then what? What’s the best clay project to push your students’ creativity and allow them to be successful?
Over my years of teaching, I have found that clay vessels that combine these techniques seem to work best for my kiddos. I make the actual lesson relatively open-ended. I require them to select a slab base or a pinch-pot base. From this point, they are encouraged to combine coil and slab techniques to create a unique and lovely clay vessel.
As students are working on their clay building skills, they’re learning to use their hands to smooth the clay, form the shapes and become true sculptors. I also remind them that they will be glazing their vessels using liquid glass, which they absolutely love.
Throughout the lesson we discuss the clay stages from slip, wet, leather hard, bone dry, greenware, bisque to the final stages of glazing. We also discuss the kiln, stilts and the firing process, and it is at this point that my 3D artists really begin to surface! Students absolutely feel empowered and excited about the learning and the art they have created!
Next up … Environmental Installations—Background, Middle Ground, Foreground!
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Arts & Activities Contributing Editor Debi West recently retired from her job as department chair and art educator at North Gwinnett High School in Suwanee, Georgia. She owns and operates WESTpectations Educational Consulting and she and her husband now reside in Hilton Head, South Carolina.