Tag: underglaze

Art Lesson: Collaborative Relief


At my previous school I always taught a lesson on the grid method by creating a collaborative grid with my students. Each student would get a section of the original image, and they had to enlarge and re-draw it. In order to accurately re-draw the image they had to pay attention to where lines and shapes intersected the outside edge of the image, which in turn taught them the basic concept of the grid method (read more about this here).

In the process of changing schools I also changed my teaching title, which meant a lot of new lesson planning was ahead of me. I was now exclusively a sculpture teacher, teaching 3D I and 3D II classes. Although I had taught sculpture in the past, and spent a lot of time in ceramics class in high school and college, I felt a lot of pressure to re-create assignments, and think outside of the box. After all I was moving to a private school with an established and impressive art department, I felt I had big shoes to fill in my new work environment.

Although it has been stressful at times trying to produce examples and create new projects, I have loved every minute of it. It truly is amazing how different a class can be when you actually have the budget to support it. I now had the ability to teach interesting, complex, and creative projects, without the fear of running out of supplies with no money left in my budget.

As excited as I was to have a new challenge in my life, I did miss some of my old projects, including my Intro to Art collaborative grid assignment. One day while reminiscing on the past, as I often do, it dawned on me that I could do a collaborative grid project in sculpture, by focusing on relief carving. I had my doubts that everything would come together during the project, but once all of the pieces were in place, I couldn’t believe how amazing it looked. I am so proud of my students and I hope another sculpture teacher can find an interesting way to implement this into their class.


THE ASSIGNMENT: Collaborative Relief

OBJECTIVE: For students to learn the history and techniques of relief carving, and apply those techniques in a collaborative relief carving project.


  • Lizella Clay
  • Rolling pin or slab roller
  • Ruler
  • Needle tool or knife
  • A variety of clay tools and textured items to carve and add texture
  • Low fire underglaze (I used blue, green, red, brown)
  • Low fire clear transparent glaze
  • Kiln
  • Wood panel
  • Black Paint
  • Heavy duty glue


1. I began this project by introducing my students to the artists, Brunelleschi and Ghiberti, and the famous Florence Baptistry doors competition. I had the students vote on which “Sacrafice of Isaac” relief they liked better, and we continued to discuss the doors as well as the Gates of Paradise doors.

2. After the history lesson I introduced the assignment. I explained that I would randomly hand out a 1″x1″ section of a larger image, and they would have to recreate it as a relief sculpture on a 6″x6″ clay slab. We discussed carving techniques and looked at the variety of tools they could use to create different textures.

3. After the assignment was explained they got to work. Before they started the project I had taken an image of our Fine Arts building, divided it into a grid, and put a number and letter on the back of each square (1A, 1B, 1C, etc.). I made sure to make a few copies, the students tend to misplace their squares and it helps to have extras on hand. As soon as the students got their slab square cut they had to flip it over and carve the letter and number into the back of it.

4. After the students completed their squares I fired them and had the students glaze them. I knew every line and shape would not line up in the image, so my goal was to create a sense of unity through the glaze. I instructed the students to loosely paint underglaze onto their tile (I set up a few colors of blue, green, brown, and red) allow it to dry, then wipe it off with a wet sponge. This technique caused the underglaze to stick in the textured areas, and wipe off of the smooth area, giving it a loosely painted quality. Once the colors were added they painted a layer of clear glaze on top, and once again wiped it off. I loved the shiny vs. matte look this created.

5. Once the pieces were fired a final time I glued them to a piece of wood I cut to size and painted black. My plan is to eventually add a black frame and display it in the Fine Arts Building.


My students were as impressed as I was with the final product, and it was a huge hit at our annual art show. I love how each piece is important to the whole, and how it truly came together in the end.


Thanks for visiting my blog, I hope you find useful information you can use in your classroom! Please comment if you have additional tips, ideas, or have done something similar in your class! Thanks for helping my spread the word about my blog by liking, tweeting, commenting, and subscribing! I couldn’t do it without you!


Art Lesson: Clay Whistles

Art Lesson-Clay Whistles

While I was in college one of the ceramics teachers did a clay whistle project with their class. When I heard about it I was bummed I wasn’t in his class, because it sounded like a fun project. However, after hearing all of the moaning and groaning from the students in his class about how difficult it was, I was thankful I wasn’t in his class, but the project still stuck with me.

As a teacher I try to choose projects that will challenge my students, but still allow them to be successful at varying levels of ability. This is as difficult as it sounds, which is why it took me three years to gain the courage to try this project in my sculpture class. It all came together at the beginning of the school year when I was trying to map out my projects for the year. I was talking with the middle school art teacher about project ideas, who is very knowledgeable about clay. I was trying to come up with an introduction to clay project that would include pinching, slab rolling, and coiling techniques all in one. After chatting for a minute he made a good point, they are all important enough skills to focus on individually, and not skim over with one quick project.

That solidified it for me. I would come up with a project specific to each technique, and what better pinch project than clay whistles? I took a deep breath and sat down with a pile of clay and began making my very first whistle, and it was hard. It took longer than I expected to get it to whistle, plus two failed versions in the trash. This youtube video ending up helping me get that first whistle working. The minute I heard the nice sweet sound my whistle produced, I was hooked! I started a second one just to make sure the first wasn’t a fluke. The second was quicker and even more successful. The whistle was clearer and deeper, it was perfect! Now it was time to introduce it to my students… I wasn’t sure how this was going to pan out.

Art Lesson-Green Abstract Clay Whistle

I always use PowerPoint to introduce my projects, and this assignment was no different. Since it was the first clay project I started by introducing the history of clay, crash course style. We talked about how far back clay sculpture dates, we looked at some of the earliest discovered clay pieces, and we moved into discussing the clay itself. We discussed wet clay vs. leather hard vs. bone dry vs. bisqued, etc. We talked about the kiln, how it worked, and the steps they would have to take to create a finished piece from wet clay to glazed. Typically I also include an artist exemplar, but I didn’t run across a clay whistle artists, so in lieu of an artist I included examples of whistles I found on the internet. If anyone knows of a clay whistle or pinch pot artist I can include in my presentation next semester please let me know! (The following images are all student examples from this past Fall semester, if you have questions about any of them please ask!)

Art Lesson-Train Clay Whistle

In the PowerPoint I also included images of the steps they would take to create their whistle, for this I relied heavily on this website which had great graphics of the steps(which also has other great lessons if you haven’t already discovered it!). I also printed the images out, made copies, and gave one to each student to reference while they made their whistle. In addition to going through the steps via photographs, I also did a demonstration after the PowerPoint. This may seem like a lot of repetition, but it helps the students to see it multiple ways before they try it out themselves.

Art Lesson-Penguin Clay Whistle

Once I was tired of talking I set the students out to create their whistles. They  all had to start with the basic round shape, but once they had a whistling whistle they could turn their shape into anything they wanted, as long as they included both additive and subtractive techniques (scoring and slipping something onto it and carving something out). They could do something more abstract, like my examples, or create an animal or object form, which a lot of the internet examples were. Whenever possible I like to have an opened assignment to allow my students to personalize their creation. They all have different tastes and interests, so why force them all turn their whistles into animals or patterns if they don’t want to?

Art Lesson-Fish Clay Whistle

I was shocked at how quickly some of my students got their whistles to work. Others struggled, but I encouraged them to help each other out, and more often than not the finished early kids got the other students’ whistles whistling. At some point in time every students’ whistle worked. Once they began adding to their designs, sometimes their whistles stopped working, and it took adjusting to get it back again. I did have a couple that didn’t whistle by the time it was turned in, which cost them a few points, but the majority of them worked. If you do this assignment remind your kids to continuously check their whistle.

Art Lesson-Duck Dynasty Clay Whistle

Once they were finished and dried out, we bisque fired them, then glazed them. I had everyone use underglazes for this first project, and we put a final coat of clear glaze on top to make them shiny. I chose underglaze to allow them to paint their creations with specific colors and patterns, that would stay put during the glaze firing process. When we were done we did a group critique, each student blew their whistle for the class, and we discussed the sound, design, and glazing techniques.

Art Lesson-Bird Clay Whistle

Overall the students were really invested in this project. I cannot even express the sense of accomplishment they displayed when their whistle started working. It cracked me up to watch all of their heads jerk up every time another one found it’s sound! I will definitely be repeating this for my 3DI class in the spring!

Art Lesson-Abstract Swirl Clay Whistle

I apologize for the slightly dark images and not having any in progress images! I plan on being more diligent about photographing my students at work next semester. I hope you enjoy the post regardless, and I hope it helps you plan future assignments! Please share the love by liking, tweeting, sharing, e-mailing, subscribing, and commenting!



Ceramics: Alice and Wonderland Tea Set


My niece Riley is about to have her first birthday, it seems like yesterday she was born and I can’t believe this day is already here. Her birthday theme is “onederland” and my sister-in-law asked if she could borrow a few of my teapots for decoration. I thought I would do one better and make her an Alice and Wonderland themed teapot with two teacups for a birthday present.











I wanted to make sure I included every character in the original Disney movie, so I created a scene that wrapped around the teapot, a quick progression of the movie. I started on the right side of the spout and had the characters go in order of their appearance in the movie. Besides Alice, the characters that are seen throughout the movie are the white rabbit and the Cheshire cat. Because they are such important characters I decided to turn them into the teacups.














I started with a tree that wrapped around the spout. I decided to do an upside down, right side up tree… Which means If you hold the pot upside down it looks like the top of the tree, and same if you hold it right side up. Essentially the roots on both ends turn into the branches. I did this because Alice falls down a rabbit hole, and her world is turned upside down. I have her cat sitting on the upside down side of the tree, to show where she started. From there I did the door, key, and cracker that made her grow. I then added the do-do bird sitting on top of the door.














From Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum I moved to the White Rabbit’s house with the lizard that tried to get Alice out of the house. I decided to include the White Rabbit a little further in my progression, because he is shown throughout the movie.












After the house and the lizard I moved to the garden with the roses and pansies. This was one of my favorite parts of the movie growing up, and I wanted to make sure it was part of the teapot. Of course the caterpillar had to make an appearance, and I have him towards the top of the pot, stretched out on a leaf, holding his hookah.















The Cheshire cat is a big part of the movie, and I knew I wanted him to be a big part of the pot. To do this I added him to the handle and had his tail wrap around it. Since the white rabbit is also a big part I have his pocket watch wrapping around the handle on the opposite side.



After the pocket watch I moved into the tea party, which celebrated all of the characters “un-birthdays”. Of course I had to include the Mad Hatter, hare, and field mouse, this was another of my favorite scenes. In addition to having the characters I also included teapots and teacups scattered around to reflect the tea party. I included minor characters as well as major characters, and one thing that has always stuck in my memory was the butter bread butterfly. Because this stayed with me since childhood and wanted to make sure it was part of Riley’s teapot.











Finally the white rabbit makes an appearance on the teapot! I have him running towards the section with the dreaded Queen of Hearts. The chain on his pocket watch stretches all the way from the handle to his pocket, to make it lo0k like it’s flying behind him while he is running. Above the white rabbit is the Queen’s rose tree, being painted red by the black playing cards. They are shown holding paint buckets and brushes, looking awfully frighten because the Queen is approaching.














To finish the decor I have the King of Hearts, Queen of Hearts and the flamingos used to play croquette. Behind all of the characters I have the colors progress from blue to pink to purple back to blue. I did this to show a progression of the day as well as a progression in the story.

To finish off the teapot I added Alice on top as the handle for the lid. She is the main character of the movie, and is in every scene, and I thought there was no better way to include her than on top of everything, watching it all happen below.

I made the body of the teapot and lid on the pottery wheel first. I then made the handle by hand and attached it by scoring, slipping, and blending the ends of the handle to the body of the pot. I have some characters painted on, others stick out, and some have a little bit of both. To create this affect I sculpted some characters and then attached them. To create the painted on affect I used underglaze, then coated the entire teapot and lid with clear glaze. Underglaze doesn’t move when you fire it, it stays exactly where you put it, which gives you the ability to paint designs.

I know a one year old won’t be able to play with a fragile ceramic tea set. But I hope it will be something she will cherish and have forever… and hopefully one day be able to use. I loved making it especially because it was going to someone I love so much!

Artwork: Ceramic Bowls

Every year my students and I host a fundraiser called Empty Bowls. It’s an amazing even that raises money and awareness about hunger. Empty Bowls started as a grassroots movement, and has grown into nationwide fundraiser since. Every year I am touched by the amount of time and effort my students put into this to help out their community. All the proceeds we raise are donated to a local food shelter, a place that in the past has also helped many of the students at our school.

For the fundraiser I have all my students make two bowls out of clay. They plan out their bowl, the shape, design, technique they will use. They put time and thought into it, and in the end they have to give them away. For the fundraiser we take all of the bowls and host a dinner, we serve chili, bread, chips, and drinks. To attend you buy a ticket, which covers the cost of the food and drink, and you get to take home a handmade bowl. The bowl is meant to be put on display, and stay empty, to serve as a reminder that there are people who are chronically hungry, worldwide as well as in our community.

This is one of my favorite projects because I get a chance to see another side of my students. I am always surprised to see how dedicated they are to helping out others in their community. It’s a lot of work to get an event like this running, but it is incredibly rewarding to see how it impacts these kids.

In addition to my students making bowls, I also make bowls to raffle off and place in a silent auction as extra funding for our event. Last year one of the items I put up for the raffle was my bird bowl. To create this bowl I threw it on the wheel, or made it using a pottery wheel. I then used underglaze to paint the bird design. Underglaze is a type of glaze you can use to paint designs on clay with because it doesn’t “move” as much as typical glaze when it is fired. I used tawny low fire glaze near the bird, and blue-green low fire glaze towards the outside. I painted the glaze on thick, then ran a paint brush through the glaze to take off the excess, which created the wavy pattern.








This is a bowl I made for the silent auction year before last, which was also made on a pottery wheel. If you decide to start working on the wheel pick out a tools with different shapes. Every tool creates a different look and design in a pieces of clay. I used a metal loop tool, with notches taken out of one side, which created an interesting line pattern when I dragged it along the side. To create the pattern on the inside I took a paint brush, dipped it in glaze, and without removing the excess glaze put a dot on the side, which dripped down to the center.










This bowl was made two years ago for my first Empty Bowls silent auction. I used white clay, which always makes colors pop. I used a similar drip technique as the first, which caused more glaze to gather in the bottom of the bowl than on the sides. I like this technique because it creates a pop of color in the center of the bowl. When you finish creating the bowl form on the wheel, you remove it and let it dry out just a little bit until it is leather hard. When it reaches this state you put it back on the pottery wheel, but upside down, and cut the excess clay off to form the bottom. While trimming this bowl I liked the way the pieces looked that I trimmed off. I decided to take the pieces and score and slip them to the bowl to create a design. I was really happy with the end result!

I hope you enjoyed my clay bowl round up! I love making bowls, they are a great first project if you are first starting to learn how to throw on a potters wheel. If you want to learn more about my clay pieces and using the pottery wheel click here to read about one of my teapots.

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Artwork: Handmade Teapot and Teacups

In addition to my mixed media paintings and visual journal, I love using clay. I fell in love with it in high school, and had amazing professors in college who only pushed my love for it further. While in high school I tried for a month to use the pottery wheel… and failed miserably. At the end of the month I had one very wonky bowl, and I wrote off throwing for life. Perhaps “for life” was a strong choice of words, because with great reluctance I tried again in college, and something clicked. I discovered my stride, and I haven’t looked back.

Through my many ceramic and throwing classes in college I fell in love with teapots. They are complex, yet fun to make. You can alter the look in so many ways, long spouts, short spouts, over the top, twisty, or side handles, tall, fat, squat bodies. Every one of these choices has a huge impact on the overall look and personality of a teapot. Above all, that’s my favorite thing, the personality of a teapot. Even the machine made teapots have personality.

I have made many different types of teapots, and along the way I fell into a project where I started making my frog teapots. It started with a request from one of my coworkers to make three teapots, with tree frogs somewhere on it, for gifts. I some what reluctantly agreed… frogs? I wasn’t sure where to start. I eventually went into constructing the pots with little thought about the frogs, and somewhere in the process it hit me, I would create tree branches wrapping around the pots, and incorporate the frogs into that. The tree branches better reflected me and my aesthetic, and the frogs would find a way to work into that.

I ended up being very happy with the result, I loved the way the branches and leaves grew out of the body of the pot, and the frogs ended up adding a playful feel to it. I was very happy with the unglazed pot, I was hesitant to glaze it, especially since the commissioner wanted bright, vibrant colors; again, not quite fitting with my aesthetic… but I had to meet the expectations of my coworker. When it came time to glaze I sat down, trying to decide where to start, when again it hit me. I would add the bright vibrant color, but I would leave the white of the clay showing through. It would have a very painterly feel, loose, quick, yet together.

In the end I really fell in love with these teapots. I’m glad I did because I was asked to make two more. After five, I wrote off frog pots for life, but you should never say “for life” because it seems that isn’t possible… I was asked recently by one of my student’s parents to make one of my “frog teapots” as a graduation gift. I was touched, of course I had to do it, and I really enjoyed the process. Perhaps for life will never happen, and I’m just fine with that.


To create a teapot you start with the body. I threw mine on the wheel, and I tend to lean more toward the very round, squat, type pots. After I finish the body I “throw off the hump” to create the lid and spout. When you throw off the hump you start with a medium size piece of clay, center it, and make multiple things with it. I typically make a few spouts out of the top portion of the clay, and cut them off. I use the second half of the hump to make lids, cutting them off as I finish them. It’s best to make at least two spouts and two lids, because certain shapes suit different bodies, and sometimes it’s hard to tell until you put it all together. I leave everything out to slightly harden while I make the handle. I roll a large coil, and flatten it on both sides. Like the spout and lid, I always make at least two.

Once everything is dried just enough to be able to hold its shape on its own I begin attaching. I place the spout on the area I want it, and trace around it with a needle tool. I then cut a hole just inside the outline I traced. You always attach pieces of clay together by scoring, scratching the surfaces that will touch, and slipping, applying watered down clay to both surfaces. I then blend the pieces together, so you can’t tell where they attach. I do the same with the handle, if the handle has trouble holding the shape you want, put newspaper inside of it to support it until it dries. I then add the design details by building clay up on the body of the pot. I used coils to create the branches, small pinches of clay for the leaves, and sculpted the frogs. Everything was attached by scoring and slipping.

This teapot was fired to cone 06. I glazed it using underglaze and clear glaze on the outside, and Tawny low fire glaze on the inside.


To mix things up this last time I decided to make matching teacups to go with the teapot, and I was very pleased with the result. I threw the body of mug on the wheel and made everything else by hand. To create the handle I start with a long coil, flatten it on both sides, then attach it to the mug by scoring slipping, and blending in the lines. I score and slip coils on the side for the branches, and create the leaves by pinching off small pieces of clay and making the ends come to a point. I sculpt the frog and score and slip him on last. I used the same glaze on the teapot and teacups to make sure they match.

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