Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Clay - Radiant Suns

The children use clay to create colorful suns after learning about the ones made in Metepec, Mexico. For ages 3 to 9. Plan 2 sessions.

  • Learning about a Mexican folk art
  • Building with clay
  • Working with three-dimensional form
  • Applying underglazes
three-dimensional, scratch-and-slip method, bisque ware, underglaze

Click here to view additional information about working with clay in a printer-friendly format. Click here and scroll down to see five examples of clay suns from Metepec, Mexico.

The colorful clay suns from Metepec, Mexico are used for decoration, expressing warmth and life-giving energy. They are made three-dimensional by pressing round slabs of clay over molds and adding pieces of clay to form the facial features. Sometimes slits of clay are cut out for the mouths and eyes. Coils are attached along the edges of the slab to make the rays. After firing the suns in a kiln, they are either left in the bisque-fired state or painted with bright, colorful designs.

  • Clay–one grapefruit-sized ball for each child plus a few extra
  • 12- x 18-inch Masonite boards (one for each child) or canvas to cover the work surface
  • Clay needle tools or ten-penny nails 
  • Containers with a small amount of slip or water
  • Newspaper for making the suns three-dimensional
  • Opaque underglazes (non-toxic)
  • Brushes for applying underglazes
  • Plastic wrap and trays for gradually drying the clay
  • Clear glaze (non-toxic)
  • Fishing line
  • White craft glue
  • Pictures of clay suns from Metepec, Mexico
First Session
  • Check the clay several days ahead to be sure it has a good workable consistency.
  • Wedge the clay into small grapefruit-size balls, planning one for each child plus a few extra.
  • Cover work area with individual Masonite boards or canvas.
  • Set out newspaper, needle tools or ten-penny nails, containers of water, and clay.
  • Have available the pictures of Metepec suns.
How to Begin
  • Share the examples of the Metepec suns, pointing out the shapes, rays, facial features, and decorative designs. Explain to the children that they will be using clay to make their own colorful suns.
  • Demonstrate how to make a sun by breaking off a large piece of clay and pressing it into a flat, round shape with the palm of your hand or a rolling pin. To give the sun a domed or three-dimensional effect, lay the slab over a small wad of newspaper.
  • Make the rays by rolling thick coils and attaching them to the slab with the scratch-and-slip method, scratching the surfaces to be joined, applying a small amount of slip or water, and pressing the two pieces together. For strength, limit the rays to no more than a few inches long. Attach them by placing them at least one-half inch over the edge of the slab rather than butting them up against the slab. Another way to make the rays would be to pinch them directly from around the edges of the slab.
  • To make facial features, scratch and slip pieces of clay to the slab. Although eyes and mouths can be cut out, encourage the children to make the noses three-dimensional to give the suns depth.
  • Have the children create their suns, making sturdy rays that are well attached.
Note: While the clay is still wet, make two holes in the top of the body of the sun, not the rays, for hanging. Then dry the clay very slowly under plastic wrap, loosening the wrap gradually. When the clay has dried completely, bisque fire the suns in a kiln

Second Session
  • Set out bisque-fired suns.
  • Set out brushes and a variety of underglazes.
How to Begin
  • In this session, the children will be using underglazes, or paint for clay, to create colorful designs on their suns.
  • Demonstrate how quickly the underglazes dry when applied to bisque ware, or clay that has been fired for the first time in a kiln. 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.
  • Show the children that they can apply designs directly on top of the dried underglazes. Be sure they understand that the last color painted is the one that will show.
  • Before giving the children their clay pieces, warn them that bisque ware is fragile and must be handled carefully. It is best for the children to avoid lifting the suns, leaving them on the work surface as they paint them. Explain that the undersides of the suns will not be seen and therefore do not to be painted.
  • Have the children decorate their suns, encouraging them to create their own ideas using bright colors and lots of designs.
Note: Let the underglazed pieces dry overnight and then apply a coat of clear glaze. Let them dry again before glaze-firing them in a kiln. Thread sturdy fishing line through the holes and tie it to form a loop for hanging. A small dab of white craft glue will keep the knot tied.

  • Explain to the children that this project will take several weeks to complete because of the drying and firing time involved.
  • I don’t introduce the scratch-and-slip method when working with three-year-old children. Using very moist clay is usually enough to hold the pieces together if you dry the clay slowly.
  • For ease of handling, limit the size of the completed suns to six inches in diameter.
  • Be sure that the areas where the rays are attached to the suns are not pressed too thin which will cause the clay to crack as it dries.
  • The rays are very fragile. If they are too long, cut them shorter or fold them over each other in a decorative way for support.
  • Don’t forget to cut the holes for hanging while the clay is still wet.
  • Since it is very difficult to repair, keep reminding the children how easily bisque ware can be broken.
  • Opaque, rather than transparent, underglazes are best to use with young children. Mistakes are easily covered up and designs can be painted directly on top of the bottom colors.
  • The suns could also be painted with tempera paint and a protective coating of water-based polyurethane.
  • Discuss the variety of designs on the suns.
  • In what ways are the suns similar to the ones made in Metapec, Mexico?
What the children might say...
  • I don’t know how to start with this big piece of clay.
  • How much newspaper should I use under my sun?
  • My rays keep breaking and won’t stay on.
  • I have to pick up my sun so I can reach all the areas I need to paint.
  • I accidentally dripped some blue paint where I don’t want it.
What you might say...
  • You can start by breaking off a large chunk of your clay to make the round section of your sun.
  • A small ball of wadded newspaper will be enough to make your sun three-dimensional.
  • Don't forget to make the rays thick so they will not break and attach them on top of, instead of next to, the edge of the sun.
  • Bisque-fired clay is very easily broken so it is best to turn the suns on the table instead of picking them up while painting them.
  • The last color of underglaze that you use is the one which will show, so mistakes and drips can be covered up.
Click here to view this lesson in a printer-friendly format.