Thursday, April 23, 2015

Clay Lantern Houses

Clay Lantern Houses
(Week #3 of 6 week Clay Course)

For the third week of our clay class, we worked on creating Lantern Houses, using the the slab technique.

Materials Needed:

Sketch paper and pencils 
Low fire clay 
Soda cans, juice bottles or small jars
Paper, cut into strips 4" x the circumference of the jar or can
Masking tape
Clay tools
Rolling Pins and wooden strips
water in containers 
Clay mats


  • Spend a few minutes making quick sketches of ideas for Lantern Houses (fairy house style, modern, thatched roof, etc). 
  • Wrap a paper strip (4" wide) around a container (jar, bottle or can) to determine the circumference (ours were about 11 to 12 " for a small jar). This will act as a template for the house.

  • Using the paper strip as a size guide, roll out the clay between the wooden strips until the the template fits on the slab. When rolling, make sure clay is uniform in thickness, slightly less than 1/2".

  • Lay the template on the slab. Trace with a tool and cut out, adding about a 1/4" onto the length.

  • Next, wrap the cut slab piece around the paper-covered can. Slip and score the edges and join. Smooth the seam.

  • Roll out another slab, this time in the shape of a pancake. This will be the floor of the lantern house. Set the lantern house in the middle of the clay pancake and trace around the bottom edge. Cut out the circle. Slip and score the TOP of this circle AND the BOTTOM edges of the lantern house. Join and smooth the seam.

 This will act as a support as you cut the windows and doors

  • Using a tool, cut door and window shapes in the lantern. The edges will be jagged. This is OK as we will smooth it out in a few minutes.

  • With extra clay, add decorations like shutters, vines, leaves, etc. Remember to slip and score these additions.

  • Now for the roof....roll out one more slab. For a circular  or square roof, set the lantern on the slab and trace around the bottom, making the roof at least 1/2" wider all around than the base of the lantern. Cut out the shape and if desired, add a handle to the top (make a fat snake, slip and score both ends and attach to roof). Decorate roof with clay tools to create the look of tiles, thatch, etc.

  • A few students wanted to make a pitched roof so they cut out shapes to form a stand-up roof and then added a handle to the top. NOTE: directions on removing can or jar are listed below. For those doing PITCHED roofs, the can will need to be removed first and the lantern will need to be filled with crumpled paper towels to give needed support to the roof as it dries.

  • Almost finished....SLOWLY AND GENTLY (while holding the lantern at its base) twist the can, bottle or jar and lift to remove. Take out the paper strip that will be stuck to the inside walls.

  • Smooth out all window and door edges. If making a pitched roof, remember to gently place crumpled paper towels inside the lantern to provide structural support for the roof. 

  • FINAL STEP....Lay a paper towel over the lantern before placing the roof on top. This will allow both pieces to dry without sticking together. When completely dry, bisque fire and then glaze

We'll be adding photos of our glazed lanterns once completed. A nice touch would be to add small battery operated candles as a light source.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Clay Animal Banks

Clay Animal Banks
(week #2 of 6 week Clay Course)
I recently offered an After School Clay Club and was thrilled when several fourth graders enrolled. These students love to work with clay and were eager to have more opportunities to work in this medium. The class I designed is a 6 week course starting with basic pinch pot construction and then proceeds to add new building techniques each week. Here, I'd like to share our journey through this course. Each class is 75 minutes, which includes clean up time.

We used last week's pinch pot project as a starting point in week 2: Clay Animal Banks

I briefly discussed the history of the term Piggy Bank and its origins in the materials first used to create containers for food and then later, money. Pygg, the orange colored clay, was used by potters to make dishes and food storage vessels. People began saving coins in their ceramic food jars. After some time, when potters were requested to make containers for children, they started making pigs, in reference to the clay they used and the name stuck.

We looked at pictures of ancient piggy banks (here) and I researched here for written info on the origins. We discussed the animals themes, the types of materials used and the way identifying details were added with paints or glazes.

  • We used low fire red clay for this project. Make 2 pinch pots of similar size. Remember to use the Pinky Test (measure the sides of your pot using your pinky finger as the standard. Pot needs to be as thick as your pinky) to help ensure stability.
  • Wad up some newspaper and put in one pot to help provide support 
  •  Gently tap the tops of the pinch pots on the table to slightly flatten them. This aids in providing a more solid surface when joining the two pots
  • Slip and score the pots. Smooth the seam so it looks like a smooth ball  
  • Gently drop the ball on the table to slightly flatten the bottom 
  •  Select the type of animal you'd like for your bank. Could be a real or imaginary one. Decide if it will be standing or sitting or lying down
  • Using extra clay, add the head, legs, tails, wings, and other major body parts. Remember to slip and score each piece and then smooth the area where the two pieces were joined so it looks like it was made out of one piece of clay.                                                
    Swan made of 2 pinch pots. Extra clay added to make the neck and head
Adding a head and neck
Adding facial features using slip and score

  • Use clay tools to add the textures of scales, fur, feathers, hair and other surface decoration.
Adding texture

Hair and fur added with scratching tools

  • Finally, use a clay tool to make an opening for the coins. Make the cut longer and wider than the size of actual coins as the clay will shrink on drying and we want to ensure the coins will fit through the slot. Also, if you make the slot large enough, you will be able to remove the money from your bank by shaking it out through the opening.                             
    Cutting a coin slot
  • Last steps include signing your bank with your initials and doing the once over to make sure all pieces are securely in place and all cracks are smoothed.
These banks will be later bisque fired so we can add glazes. 


Monkeys, dragons, swans
  • After the bisque firing, pieces were glazed and fired again.
Glazed Swan Bank

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Pet Selfies

"Pet Selfies"

I recently turned to the art of Laurel Burch as inspiration for a children's Saturday art class in creating Pet Selfies. We looked at several examples of her cat and dog paintings and discussed the following (which covers the areas of art criticism and aesthetics):

1. Describe the animals portrayed and their identifying characteristics
2. Discuss Burch's use of color in her animal paintings
3. Look at Burch's use of line, shape and pattern to create surface texture and decoration 
4. How did Burch treat the background of these paintings?
5. How does looking at her work make you feel? What kinds of moods are created in these works?

I showed this group of 9-12 year old students a picture of a photo booth like the one I used to climb into to get a strip of pictures of myself with my friends.

The main objectives of this project:

1. What kind of picture would you see if your pet took selfies in an old fashioned photo booth? How would your pet pose (extreme close up, upside down, grinning, in profile, etc)? What kinds of emotions would your pet express?

2. What colors would you use to paint your pet? 

3. How would you create surface decoration on your pet and in the background?

Materials Needed:

pictures of their own pets as reference material  
sketch paper
pencils and erasers
oil pastels
5 x 7" heavy white paper (3 per student)
5 1/2" x 22" background paper (1 per student, I used black)
watercolors, brushes, water containers

  • After discussing Burch's works,  have students spend 1o minutes creating their 3 sketches (papers turned in vertical position), a different pose on each. Add a few lines to indicate type of backgrounds.

  •  With oil pastels, draw the animals and add decorative patterns both on the animals and in the backgrounds. Use a variety of colors for variation.

  • Paint with watercolors over the oil pastels. Although several of the students were familiar with the resist method having used crayons, they were delighted with the vivid colors of the oil pastels.

  • Allow briefly to dry and then arrange all 3 pet portraits on the black paper, gluing in place when final arrangement is determined.

  • Set all completed works out and briefly discuss:

1. Use of different kinds of poses
2. Use of decorations, patterns and textures on the animals    and backgrounds
3. Expressions on animals' faces