Sunday, March 28, 2010

Clay Pot Creatures

4th and 5th graders were introduced to clay in our one day workshop. While they've used non-hardening clay many times before, most of them have not used natural clay. In the past we've made wall pockets and tile pictures but this year I decided to teach the kids how to make pinch pot creatures. We used this PowerPoint for group instruction.

I was a bit surprised at how difficult this was for some kids. Some had difficulty properly making the legs. But I encouraged them on, gave individual help where needed, and eventually most caught on. My plan was that on the first day kids would just practice making pinch pot creatures and the following week they'd make one completely on their own. It's been said that the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray. I should have known. Some kids didn't want to make a pinch pot creature and had an idea of their own. Since I believe that kids should have a choice (sometime not but mostly yes) I decided that the pinch pot creature would be optional. I showed them how to make a tile, and showed a few examples of tiles I've made (for examples). And off we go!

I'll share more later as the projects begin to get finished. I have pinch pot creatures, cups and saucers, assorted tiles and other creative projects underway. I keep pictures of former student's work for examples and have found some interesting things on the net as well. This year I printed them all out making several copies of each and gluing them on construction paper. I made these pictures available as models to work from. I'm glad I did. I'd be more than happy to share what I have if there is interest. Here are a few more pictures of our first day.

I would love to hear comments and ideas of what any of you have done in the past.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A Clay Play Day with primary grades

In preparation for adding a new studio center, we had clay "workshop" day where the students learned how to manipulate clay, properly use tools, connect parts together, and add texture and details. The 4th and 5th grade classes worked with natural clay and we practiced making pinch pot creatures. The 1st through 3rd grades used non-drying clay with the task of creating a "creature" from an "egg."

I belong to two discussion lists that I highly value. One is found here: and the other here: There great people on both lists and I have received valuable advice and helpful ideas from both lists. On one of the lists (I forget which one) there was a story in the file area. It reminded me of a lesson my college art professor taught. I embellished the story I found on the discussion list which. Basically, mine is a story of two scientists/explorers finding an "egg" from a yet "undiscovered" creature living deep in the Amazon jungle. The two explorers find the egg in a cave while on an expedition in the Amazon. They take the egg home whereupon arrival, it starts to hatch!

Then I say to the kids, "And do you know what it was?" They say "No." I tell them that neither do I but I have an idea. Then each student is given a clay "egg" with the instructions to create a creature that hatched from their egg.

Using the overhead, I demonstrated some techniques I use with a pencil and Popsicle stick as tools. We discussed tool safety, proper use (the pencil is for adding detail, the stick for cutting). One favorite techniques was making the scaly back of their creature by pinching alongside the spine area. The kids really liked this technique. We learned how to connect the legs, add a neck and head, and make a tail. I probably use some unconventional approaches to using the clay but they work. My experience with clay has been that kids don't know how to firmly connect the clay. The arms and legs always fall off. I teach the kids to create an opening using their pencils and insert one end of the leg (arms, neck etc) into the hole and then smooth out the two connected pieces. Here's an example of mine using this technique:

The pinching technique produces results that anyone can achieve. Even my first graders were successful at using the techniques. And those students that "went their own way" had problems attaching the arms and legs.

Here's a few samples from the kid's work:

A gallery of work can be seen here.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Artists at work

When I started experimenting with TAB at the beginning of this year, I had no idea it would take off as it has. And as I continue to learn, I'm sure there will be more things I will change as I adapt to the knowledge new experiences will bring.

As of this writing, I have 4 working studio centers. This posting reflects a on the very beginning of my TAB experience where there were three studio centers available: Painting, construction, and drawing.

One thing I have noticed about this teaching approach is how engaged students become (for the most part.) I still have students who need more guidance by me, but most are engaged in meaning art making. That's the part of teaching this way I love best.

Students working at the painting studio are creating works that are unique and very creative. I find this to be true more with the liquid paints (perhaps because they can mix them together and they are brighter) than with watercolors. My goal in the painting studio is to give the kids experiences with different types of paints and have them try different techniques.

The picture to the right was made by a student using liquid paints and a tongue depressor. I'll be posting a video of this process but basically you put down your liquid colors on the left side of the paper and "scrape" the paint toward the right. The large yellow moon (or sun - I didn't ask) is painted first using one's finger. When the paint is pulled through using the tongue depressor, the yellow shape stays.

The student in the above picture working at the painting table, was making a colorful pictures using different reds. I was intrigued watching her as she developed her picture. She used a brush and put on the paint one "blotch" at a time. Sometimes the kids keep adding paint until the painting turns very dark. But this young lady kept it consistent. The result was very interesting and visually satisfying. The only time I see this kind of work (true even before I started using TAB) is when I allow students to make choices for themselves on what they want to do and how they want to do it.

I'm finding this to be true in our other studio centers as well (although not to the same degree yet). However, in the drawing center, more and more students are getting out the fake fruit and trying their hand at a still life drawing. And while the step-by-step books are still a favorite, I'm seeing more and more draw from the heart or using the many different models they have available to them.

At the construction center I posted some models on the white board (next to the center itself) so that kids had some ideas to work with. Surprisingly most students opted for their own ideas. I liked that. I've since taken down the models and student continue to create imaginative creations (including some pretty interesting 3-d creations).

This past week we started our clay projects. As usual, my plans changed a bit as I began to see how the kids responded to using clay. Originally I planned on the 4th and 5th graders making pinch pot creatures. We had a workshop on using clay (a one-day "how to" on all aspect of using clay) and I found that many students had difficulty manipulating the clay in the way they needed to for a successful pinch pot. Not only that, but it occurred to me that we'd have a lot of "look alike" projects (not a bad thing in and of itself) and I wanted to see what they could come up with on their own.

I can't wait to show more of what we've been doing lately. The above pics are from January. My intentions are good it's my body that's tired. I can't seem to get the creative juices flowing to write. I should just do what I tell my students: Just start something and the rest will come.

Have a great week!

Just a quick afterthought: I use the terms "studio," "center," "station" and "studio centers" meaning the same thing. I'm trying to use only "studio center" because I've taught the students that a studio is where an artist goes to "study" art. And at the clay studio center we study and work with clay etc. I refer to my room as the Art Studio. I also tell my students that artists study art by doing art: experimenting, exploring, and expressing. Just so you know, for me the product isn't that that important (though it does matter). It's all about the process. When one finishes the art project, the "doing" is over. Time to display the finished project and get started on a new one.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Marble painting and finger painting. Then a bath. ;)

These pictures are from last year but I thought I'd share them now anyway. One of my goals with this blog has been to post all the pictures/projects I've done with kids (including these two cuties) over the past couple of years. I wish I had the energy to catch up as I have lots more to post. Teaching can be very exhausting and most days I have trouble getting the creative juices flowing after a busy day of art.

My wife and I have two grandchildren: Camryn will be 5 this year and Reese will be 3. These pictures capture their first finger painting experience.

When I taught kindergarten (which I did for 8 years) I purchased two large plastic finger painting trays. That was over 10 years ago and we still use them today. I brought them home (borrowed them from the current kindergarten teachers) and used them with the two girls. We also did a marble painting activity, which the girls absolutely loved.

As you can see, they are wearing t-shirts but you will soon see that the shirts didn't keep the paint off them. Reese especially managed to paint her arms and feet as well. I hadn't planned on a bath as well but that followed soon afterward.

We started out with a little marble painting. We used the lids of boxes which were perfect for marble painting. I just use the primary colors and keep adding marbles one at a time. I add a different color and the girls "paint" until the desired effect is reached. Reese (the youngest) really gave those marbles a ride. Camryn was more graceful with them. Hers stayed in the box. Reese enjoyed seeing the marbles fly out of the box as much as she did seeing the lines they made in the paint.

After the adventure in marble painting, we went on to the finale: finger painting. The pictures tell the story. Reese was captured by the feel of the paint on her hands and watch intently as the colors mixed and moved about the tray. Camryn loved making spiral motions with her hands as she watched the look of her painting change with the direction of her hands. The girls really got into moving the paint around in the tray. I would periodically add more color (and a new colors) and sit back and watch the show. The last step was to take a blank white paper and pressed it in the trays which transferred the paint onto the paper.

My wife took the pictures (nice job Hun!) and enjoyed watching the process. I played the teacher! I don't know who had more fun (OK, they did probably.) It was a great way to make a special memory.