In the never-ending quest to find a different and interesting clay project for our advanced eighth-grade art classes, I came across the artist, Jean Ignace Isidore Gerard Grandville (French; 1903–1947).
Known as J. J. Grandville, he was a caricaturist whose lithographs made satirical comment about French society and politics of the 1840s. He became popular and successful with his humorous drawings and his work was in great demand. Grandville’s lithographs depicted animals dressed and performing as men and women. The person portrayed revealed his status in society and character through the animal.
After viewing a number of Grandville images, I thought anthropomorphic clay busts in his style would be a fun and successful project. I presented it to my partner-teacher, Tracy Sammons, and to the students. They all were excited about it.
Students each picked an animal and began thinking about the human characteristics the animal might represent. After sketching and brainstorming, we began working in clay.
To begin the hand-building process, two large, thick coils were formed for the animal’s shoulders. The first coil was placed on a board in an oval shape and the second one went on top. Newspaper was stuffed inside for support. Next, two rectangular slabs were arched on top of the coils, on the ends, to form the top of the shoulders, and more newspaper was added for support. More clay slabs were added to fill in the end of the shoulders and across the front and back under the neck.
Another larger rectangular slab was rolled out and formed into a cylinder to create the neck. This was placed on top of the shoulders, stuffed with newspaper and smoothed together. For the head, two large pinch pots were molded, filled with newspaper, and smoothed together. Before attaching the head to the neck, a large hole was cut in the bottom so the newspaper could be pulled out once the clay was dry, and to allow air to escape during the firing process.
Once the basic foundation was finished, the students began the really creative and fun part of this project. Using the ideas they sketched earlier as a guide, the students began turning their clay pieces into the animal they had chosen. Some added hats and other accessories that gave their animal human qualities and personality. Once finished, the pieces were allowed to dry completely and then fired.
For this project, we tried a new glazing technique the students really enjoyed. Instead of using glazes, we used underglaze and did not put clear glaze over it.
The first step was to coat the entire piece with black underglaze and allow it to dry. This coat was then partially washed off with a sponge. It was important to leave black underglaze in the cracks and crevices and other areas.
Colored underglazes were applied next with soft brushes. These glazes were dabbed—not brushed—on and the students were careful not to completely cover the black glaze that had remained. This also allowed the students to shade and blend the colors in the process. This matte glazing technique added a unique quality to the finished pieces.
The project wrapped up with students discussing, reflecting and writing about their clay projects. Each piece exhibited a personality of its own, and each student was more than proud of his or her humorous anthropomorphic creation.
Middle- and high-school students will …
• learn about the artist J. J. Grandville and his anthropomorphic portraits.
• learn what anthropomorphic portraits are.
• create an anthropomorphic portrait in clay using a variety of hand- building techniques.
• learn clay terms and the firing process.
• learn a new glazing technique using underglazes.
NATIONAL ART STANDARDS
• Creating: Conceiving and developing new artistic ideas and work.
• Presenting: Interpreting and sharing artistic work.
• Responding: Understanding and evaluating how the arts convey meaning.
• Connecting: Relating artistic ideas and work with personal meaning and external context.
• Sketchbooks, pencils
• Plastic bags for storage
• Low-fire white clay
• Clay tools
• Underglazes and brushes
click here for resources related to this article
Deborah Flynt is an art teacher at Riverdale (K–8) Elementary School in Germantown, Tennessee.
Want More Classroom Projects From This Issue?