Ceramics series at Alki Elementary

Alkiceramics_6Artist-in-Residence program for Alki Elementary, Fall 2013

Theme: Patterns in Nature

Photo credit: Karen Hinkey

In this all-school ceramics series, students grades K – 5 explored clay through three classroom sessions.  We looked at photos of patterns in nature for inspiration.  The petals of a dahlia, the veins on a leaf, an intricate spider web, the ripples when you drop a pebble in a pond.  This theme is an easy link to science and the study of the natural world.

In the first session, students learned reductive techniques such as stamping and pressing tools into the clay to make patterns.  Grades 3 – 5 also learned additive techniques, using “slip & score” to attach clay to clay and create shallow relief.


In the second session, while the tiles were drying and being fired in the kiln, we worked on a different clay project, learning hand-building techniques to create 3-d creatures and gargoyles.

Nicole holding a clay gargoyle clay gargoyle

Students learned to create and combine pinch pots to create a hollow vessel for the creature’s body.  Then they practiced using slip and score to make wings and other details.  This lesson is very much about the process over the product, as we used an air dry clay.  Here is a terrific discussion on process vs. product by Ann Wynne at A Room for Art.

clay creatures

This clay is nice because it’s a soft, malleable clay, which makes it easy for little hands to explore.  And they love, of course, that they get to take it home right away (YAY!) instead of waiting for a couple weeks while it dries and is fired in the kiln.  We talked about how air dry clay is not as strong or long-lasting as kiln-fired clay, and we worked on making our sculptures as sturdy as possible.  (No skinny little wisps that will break …  )  This lesson was about the experience of plunging your hands into a ball of mud, squishing it, squeezing it, trying some techniques, and transforming it into something imaginative and wonderful.

Alkiceramics_8Finally, in the third session, students glazed their bisque-fired tiles and all 400 tiles were schlepped to Seattle Pottery Supply for the final glaze firing.

Many thanks to Alki PTA, Principal Shannon Stanton for her tremendous support, Karen Hinkey for making everything run smoothly, and Pam Naspinky Bigatel for running the kiln, and to all the many parent volunteers who helped in the classes.  Thank you for supporting the arts in public schools!

ceramic tile  Alkiceramics_10 ceramic tiles



Glazing Tiles at Cougar Ridge

glazingtilesIt’s magical to see your ceramic piece come back from the kiln.  The color has changed from gray to white, and the clay has transformed from wet mud to a hard-as-a-rock, but don’t-drop-it-because-it’s-fragile, ceramic pottery piece.

glazingtiles2The students are excited to see their bisque-fired tiles and to add color.

In the glazing sessions, we presented some color theory for students in making their color choices, and demonstrated a few brush stroke techniques specific to glazing pottery.

glazingtiles1The tiles will be fired a second time, and finally will be ready to layout for installation.

Thank you to Cyndi Moring and the countless volunteers who are efficiently running all these tiles (and a bunch of other clay-work Cyndi did with her students before we came!) through the kiln.

To see how we made the tiles and learn more about this program, click here.



To learn more about bringing an Artist-in-Residence program to your child’s school in the greater Seattle area, please visit www.kidscreate.org.

Patterns in Nature: Exploring raku

2010 Artist residency in collaboration with Nadine Smith and 7th graders at McClure Middle School, Seattle, WA

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Students were led through a ceramic series, in which they each created a clay tile.  Exploring bas-relief sculptural techniques, students learned additive and reductive techniques such as slip and score, in which clay is added and carved away to create a dimensional effect to the tiles.

Thank you to the Queen Anne Community Center for donating the use of your kiln so we could bisque-fire all 200 tiles.  After the tiles were bisque-fired, students glazed their tiles with their choice of 3 colors of raku glaze: white crackle, copper penny, or blue dolphin, which isn’t really blue at all, but rather a rainbow effect resembling an oil slick.

Eric, the raku master of Seattle Pottery Supply came to the school to do an on-site raku firing in the school parking lot.  What an exciting and memorable event!  The kids had the chance to watch as the door to the kiln is lifted, and the pottery inside is glowing white-hot.  Tongs reach in, and pull out each glowing piece, which is carefully placed on a bed of crumpled newspapers in a metal can.

I had the awesome job of manning a can.  At Eric’s direction, I tossed newspapers into the can to buffer the pottery & catch fire.  When a few pieces and newspapers are flaming inside the can, a lid is placed on it, and wet towels draped over the top to create & trap smoke inside.  The oxydation from the smoke inside the can activates the metallic properties in the glaze, and creates the beautiful, irredescent colors that spontaneously happen on the pottery, depending on heat in the can, and proximity to other pieces, amount of smoke, etc.  Fascinating!

Once all the tiles were fired, cooled, and cleaned of ash, Nadine & I were ready to start assembling the mosaic.  We had the math and engineering class install our backer boards to the reception desk in the school office.  Once that was done, we were ready to adhere our tiles to the backerboards.   Along with the students tiles, we mixed in a random pattern of solid color tiles to unify and balance the overall design and color scheme.  What a dramatic transformation of the school office!

rakuinprogress    rakumosaic_full

Thank you to Sarah Pritchett, Lisa Fitch, Carolyn Grane, McClure PTA, and countless volunteers for your support of arts programs in schools.