Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Clay - Let's Make a Scene

The children use clay to create familiar scenes from everyday life or favorite stories, such as this barnyard in Charlotte’s Web. For ages 6 to 13. Plan 4 to 5 sessions.

  • Rolling clay slabs
  • Combining pinch, coil, and slab methods of building
  • Working three-dimensionally
  • Applying underglazes and glazes
three-dimensional, slab, scratch and slip, bisqueware, underglaze, glaze

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  • 12- by 18-inch Masonite boards with one side unfinished (one for each child) or canvas to cover the work surface
  • Clay, two grapefruit-sized balls for each child plus a few extra
  • Clay needle tools
  • Containers with a small amount of slip or water
  • Rolling pins or stiff cardboard tubes
  • Opaque underglaze (non-toxic)
  • Clear glaze (non-toxic)
  • Brushes for applying underglazes and glaze
  • Trays and plastic bags for storing the clay
First/Second Session
  • Check the clay several days ahead to be sure it has a good workable consistency.
  • Wedge the clay into grapefruit-size balls, planning two per child, plus a few extra.
  • Cover the work area with Masonite boards (unfinished side up) or canvas.
  • Set out clay balls, rolling pins, needle tools, and containers of slip or water.
How to Begin
  • Explain that, in the next two sessions, the children will be using clay to create three-dimensional scenes (viewable from all sides) on thick, flat pieces of clay referred to as slabs.
  • Discuss some ideas that the children might use, such as a scene in the park, in my room, at the circus, or from a favorite story. Explain that the process of making a scene becomes easier when it is made piece by piece, building up to a whole. For example, a scene depicting on the beach might start with a slab for the sand, and then a beach blanket, an umbrella, a beach ball, a sand bucket, etc.
  • Demonstrate how to make a clay slab. Starting from the center of the ball of clay, roll away from yourself to the edge of the clay with enough pressure to begin flattening the clay. Lift the rolling pin and return to the center. Roll towards yourself using the same pressure. Rotate the slab and repeat these steps, gradually increasing the pressure until all sections of the slab are even and at least three-eighths-inch thick. Flip the slab over so it won’t stick to the work surface and cut it into the desired shape. Since slabs become fragile when dried, the final slab for the project should be no more than seven inches in any direction.
  • To build the scene on the slab, use any of the three methods of working with clay – pinch, coil, or slab. Demonstrate the scratch-and-slip process for attaching pieces of clay by scratching the surfaces to be joined, applying a small amount of slip or water, and pressing the two pieces together. Be sure the children understand that if they don’t scratch and slip their attachments, the pieces of clay will likely fall apart as they dry.
  • Have the children make the slabs and build the scenes. Encourage them to include everyday details such as a lamp on a table or books in a bookcase.
Note: Cover the projects carefully with plastic wrap to keep them damp between sessions. When the scenes are complete, dry them very slowly, gradually exposing them to air over a two week period to keep the slabs from warping. When the scenes are completely dry, bisque fire them in a kiln.

Third/Fourth Session
  • Set out bisque-fired clay pieces.
  • Set out brushes and a variety of underglazes.
How to Begin
  • Explain that the clay has been fired in the kiln and is now referred to as bisqueware which is very fragile and must be handled carefully. The children will be adding color to the bisqueware using underglaze which is paint for clay.
  • Demonstrate how quickly underglaze dries when applied to the bisqueware. The children will need to dip their brushes often to avoid scrubbing and to cover all areas. They should carefully dab into any cracks or rough areas on the clay surface, brushing away any puddles. For hard to reach areas like the floor under a table, approach the clay holding the brush horizontally instead of coming from above. Slowly ride the brush along the slab and under the table.
  • Explain that designs can be put directly on top of dried opaque underglaze and that the last color painted is the one that will show, making it easier to add designs or repair mistakes.
  • Have the children paint their scenes and allow the pieces to dry overnight.
Note: If time permits, low-fire the underglazed pieces before applying the clear glaze. However, if done carefully, the glaze can be applied directly over the dried underglaze.

Last Session
  • Set out clear glaze and brushes.
  • Set out the underglazed clay pieces.
How to Begin
  • In this session, the children will be applying a clear glaze to their scenes which will give the clay a shiny and strong surface after being fired in the kiln. Explain that the clear glaze will cover up the colors of underglaze temporarily. When the clay is fired in the kiln, the glaze will melt and turn clear, allowing the colors to show through.
  • To avoid putting on too much clear glaze, which will cause the colors to become cloudy after firing, be sure the children understand that when the glaze is first applied it will look transparent. As it dries it will become opaque. (The number of coats needed varies according to the glaze instructions, but usually one coat is sufficient.)
  • Make sure the children understand that if any glaze gets on the bottom of the bisqueware, it will stick to the kiln shelf during firing. If glaze does get on the bottom, wipe it off with a damp cloth.
  • Have the children apply the clear glaze to the scenes.
Note: Let the scenes dry and glaze fire them in a kiln.

  • The strength of this project is in the unlimited number of ways that the slab can be used. 
  • Once the children understand how to break down their ideas into individual parts, they lose inhibitions and have fun.
  • In most cases, water works as well as slip for joining pieces of clay and is less messy.
  • It’s essential to emphasize and monitor the safe use of needle tools.
  • These scenes are most effective when the children have sufficient time to paint them carefully. 
  • Use opaque, rather than transparent, underglaze so drips or mistakes can be easily covered.
  • Six-year-old children become concerned when the clear glaze covers their colors and have trouble understanding that the colors will show again after the firing, so consider having an adult apply the clear glaze for them.
  • Review how working piece by piece can create a whole.
  • Discuss the interest added by including everyday details to the scenes.
  • Have the children point out examples where the pinch, coil, and slab methods were used.
What the children might say...
  • The clay keeps sticking to my rolling pin.
  • Why can’t my slab be bigger than seven inches?
  • But I need a long slab for my family of ducks in a row.
  • I forgot to flip my slab before adding my scene and now it is stuck to the board.
  • I’m afraid I will get glaze on the bottom of my slab and it will stick to the kiln shelf.
What you might say...
  • Start rolling your slab at the center of the clay ball. Lift the rolling pin and return to the center each time. If you roll back and forth, the clay will stick to your rolling pin.
  • Slabs are very fragile and if they become too large they are easily broken when handling them.
  • If you need a longer slab for your scene, roll the slab at least a half-inch thick to make it stronger.
  • Remember to flip your slab before beginning to build your scene. If you forgot and your slab has stuck to the work surface, I can help you separate it with a clay knife or wire.
  • Don’t lift your scene from the table while applying the clear glaze. This will help to keep glaze from getting on the bottom of the slab.
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