Background for the Teacher
Many students insist on making something “useful” when they are handed a piece of clay. Whether this is because of their having made ashtrays or pinch pots in elementary school or because of the common fear that they lack artistic ability, it may be best to go along with the functional approach. Teach the students how to make that pinch pot, but then teach the slip method of applying decorations and even whimsical sculptural elements to their works.
Bowl and Alligator Lid
from the Yale Art Gallery was made in Costa Rica in the pre-Columbian period about 1000 A.D. Although the actual bowl is a modest pinch-type (or it may have been thrown), the artisan became creative with the oversized lid, with its abstract alligator, and the applied and incised decorative patterns that integrate the forms. A Janus faced vase is also on display at the Yale Art Gallery.
Indian Art in Middle America
is an excellent source for exotic reproductions, including fluted globular bowls with modeled bird-figure legs, stirruped vessels, and creative surrealistic human and animal
The objective is that the students learn how to manipulate clay in the following ways: 1) by employing the pinch method of modeling; 2) by employing the slip method of applying surface decorations; 3) by incising the clay with pointed or punch tools; 4) by actually modeling.
Clay; any kind of modeling tools such as toothpicks, nails, plastic utensils, texture producing tools such as strainers, colanders, etc.; newspapers to cover the tables; bowls of water.
The teacher should show a reproduction of the Costa Rican vase, or take the children to see it at the Yale Art Gallery. Other inspirational pottery pieces from a text such as Dockstader’s may be shown and discussed.
The students might be asked the following types of questions about the works: “What do you think this vessel might have been used for?” (Their guesses will be as good as ours). “What do you think this thing at the top is?” (In the case of the Yale piece, it is an alligator). “Is it realistic or more abstract?” “How did the artisan make the holes in the side of the creature?” “How were the triangular and the diamond shaped designs made?” “How were the bands of decoration made?” “Do you think that the alligator and the bowl part are integrated, connected visually?” “How is this done?” “What was done first?” “What did the artist do next?”
(figure available in print form)
Bowl and Alligator Lid
, Pottery, 4-3/4" H., lid 11-1/2" W.
Costa Rica, Pre-Columbian (after 1000 AD)
Reprinted by permission from the Yale Art Gallery, New Haven.
The students will probably be able to answer all of these questions, and will at the same time get great ideas about how they can make and design their own vessels.
The following steps should be listed on the board or pre-prepared posters should be now brought out as the following steps are read to the class:
1. Cover the table with newspaper to keep your work from sticking to the table.
2. Roll your piece of clay into a ball that is free of cracks. Wet your hands if the clay starts to dry and crack.
3. Throw your clay forcefully onto a newspaper to get the air bubbles out of it so that it does not explode when it is fired in a kiln.
Steps for Making a Pinch Piece
Remember to keep the clay moist while you work with it!
1. Roll the clay into as perfect a sphere as possible.
2. Making sure that the clay is moist enough not to crack, gently press your thumb into the sphere to form a navel.
3. Keep turning the sphere while you continue to increase the depth of the initial indentation.
4. Use your middle fingers instead of the thumb as the hole starts to get larger. Pinch your fingers gently but firmly together, while you continue to turn the piece in your hands.
5. Be sure that the walls of the forming piece are of even thickness throughout.
Steps for Putting Slip Decorations onto a Piece
1. Roll out a small piece of clay so that it is of even thickness.
2. Cut a shape out of it.
3. Use a toothpick or the prongs of a fork to incise thatched lines onto the back surface of your decoration.
4. Put the same kind of thatched lines onto the surface of the piece that is to receive the decoration.
5. Push the decoration onto the piece so that the two pieces seem to be one.
6. Cover the seams where the decoration meets the larger piece with watery clay (slip) to insure that the pieces will remain attached.
Once the students are shown a variety of tools for making incisions on the surfaces of their works, they will be happy to experiment.
What will be more difficult for some children is the modeling technique. Some suggestions follow:
Steps for Modeling Figures Out of Clay
1. Roll the main piece of clay into a shape that most closely resembles the desired end shape. For example, a sleeping lion should start as a cylindrical mass on its side.
2. Either pull and pinch the larger masses cut of the original form, or shape smaller masses into the appropriate shapes and connect these to the larger form using the thatch and slip method.
3. Use your fingers to model more details.
4. Use tools to get the desired details that you want.
The slip and thatch method described above should be used to attach the figure to the pottery.
The finished pieces should be allowed to air dry for approximately three days. Clay is dry when it is no longer cold to the touch. If possible, the pieces should be checked a few hours after they are made to make sure that they are drying without cracking or falling apart. The pieces may be repaired easily before they are completely dry by using the slip and thatch method.
The pieces may be glazed with pre-firing glaze, or with glazes that are applied after the piece is fired.