Friday, April 16, 2021

Clay Napkin Rings

Clay napkin rings are an easy project and a great way to introduce some important ceramic processes to young children. I had them roll out a thick coil before rolling it with a rolling pin. Edges can be trimmed before or after pressing items into the clay to create texture and pattern. If you wrap each ring around a cardboard toilet paper or paper towel cardboard roll, then they will all be the same size.  They shrink has they dry so I removed the rolls early on in the drying process.

After firing the clay in the kiln, Students painted their rings a solid color and then dry brushed a second coat with a contrasting value or color. It was a fun and quick activity that allowed for a lot of experimentation and resulted in them having functional and charming ceramic pieces to keep.


Thursday, April 15, 2021

Haniwa Project

In preparing for my art lesson on the terracotta warriors of China, I came across other ancient cultures that put ceramic sculptures at their burial sites.  In Japan, these pieces are called "haniwa" which means ceramic cylinder, which was how they began. Later, ghost-like figures, soldiers, animal and house forms were made.
My distance learning students used Sculpy oven-bake clay to create animal or house sculptures. My students who were physically present in class could work on larger pieces to be fired in the kiln. Some students choose to paint their final pieces, while others left the terracotta color. It was a lot of fun to work with the slab roller and use hand building techniques and everyone took a lot of pride in their finished piece.

Ancient Pot Project

Much of the world's ancient pottery was made using a coil technique. This was a pretty easy process for most of my students to learn. They rolled each snake-like coil of clay out on the table, stacked it into the place before blending it into the wall. It is important to push the coil down into the outside and the inside of the pot. It is OK to see finger marks as you are blending.
The pot can be embellished by adding a foot or arms. When it gets leather hard, students were even able to carve into the surface. This was a great lesson to review the our Ancient Greece notes from months ago. Students could choose from traditional forms, learn what that specific type of vase or pot was used for, and review the names of the parts of the pot. The technique of hand building by using coils was the main learning objective, but there's so much more to this lesson. And getting to have a nice flower vase in time for Mother's Day is a bonus.


Monday, March 1, 2021

Paper Kite Project


A student uses a dot maker to decorate his kite in the early stages of construction

Kites originated in ancient China for military purposes (measuring distances and wind patterns). I like to remind my students who are blind, that Braille was originally used as a code to read at night without enemy armies being able to see lanterns and detect the location French troops. As we enter March and learn about Chinese history, kite making and flying makes for some fun memories. 

My students in class use bamboo for the skeleton for their kite shape, but those at home used straws, one end inserted into another until they are several straw lengths. A small kite can use 3 straws vertically and 2 straws for the cross section and tape may be used to reinforce these. The two straw sticks" should be tied at the cross section for strength.

For my simple demo, I cut a large diamond shape from piece of thin paper, such as bulletin board paper, using the straws as a pattern by cutting an inch or two longer and wider the straw lengths. I actually started with half a diamond, folding it in half and matching the second half. Next, I used paper scraps to make small triangles to hold the ends of the straws in place. I just glued along the outside of two sides, leaving the inside of the triangle open so that straws could be removed. Then, I folded and glued the edges of the kite in for strength and tidiness, like a hem.

This would be a great time to remove the straws and decorate the kite before inserting them, but I continued with the construction by tying  string to the side ends of the cross bar (horizontal straws) before taping them to the paper. The string should be about 50% longer than the length of the cross bar, so that it comes out from the kite. Then I tied a very long piece of string to the center of the attached string.

Finally, I tied a ribbon coming from the bottom straw. I made bows from rectangles of matching paper scraps, pinched and tied in the middle, but fabric or ribbon. Long strips of crepe paper or plastic table strips can work as well for a tail. All that is left is testing it out in the great outdoors. Let's go fly a kite!


 Koinobori are Japanese koi kites, or windsocks that look like koi fish. As a member of the carp family, these colorful fish are strong, determined, and as legend has it, one managed to swim up a giant waterfall and become a dragon.

As we started wrapping up our Japanese unit in Art class and entering the month of March, which ushers in kite flying weather, my students made koinoboris from bulletin board paper.  Traditionally, these are hung for Boy's Day in May. Girls Day is March 3rd, though and these are fun decorations any day of the year. We hung some a couple on the patio outside my art classroom and when the wind blows it looks like the paper fish are swimming against a current.

To make, just fold a large piece of light paper in half, draw a fish on the folded side and cut it out. Use tape to reinforce mouth, decorate, glue top edge, then punch a hole on center of each side along the tape to tie the string. Hang and enjoy on sunny, breeze day!

Monday, February 22, 2021

Japanese Brush Art

I got my Japanese calligraphy kit in Asahikawa 25 years ago. It is the same kit school kids carry to school to grind their ink and practice their brush strokes to master shodo (the way of writing). My low vision students appreciate the high contrast of black ink on white rice paper. My students were amazed at the fact that there is a phonetic alphabet called hiragana, and a separate one for foreign words called katakana, on top of the thousands of kanji characters. No more complaining about our 26 letter alphabet, which by the way, Japanese kids learn as well. I just wrote each student name in Katakana for them to practice.
Then we learned a few brush strokes for a bamboo ink painting. This was just a tiny sampling, as it would take hours and days for them to get very good at it, but there is something relaxing about repeating lines and trying to make them a little better each time. I brought in a piece of bamboo that is much taller than me and could be used to construct a hut, as well as the thin, leave covered bamboo shoots, cut fresh that morning. I showed them bamboo skewers for kabobs on the grill and bamboo paper fans, which they then used to write their name or paint a bamboo image.

Paper Lanterns

 A student reminded me this morning, during a discussion about Japan, about the type of homemade paper lanterns that I had made in elementary school. It took me back to the night we sang "Sakura" (Cherry Blossoms) in a spring school concert with our 2nd grade faces lit via flashlight through our paper lanterns. As soon as everyone finished  today's art project in my 2nd period class, we got busy doing this as our second since they don't take very long to make.

The lanterns can be made with card stock, construction paper, or copy paper of standard size, any color. 

To make one, you fold the paper horizontally and make a vertical fold in the center, then you make two more vertical folds a couple inches from the center going opposite direction from the first fold. Wider folds with make a wider, shorter lantern.Cut slits, 3/4"-1" apart from the center fold to the outer folds. And cut a strip off one of the ends, for a lantern handle.

Then you make a cylinder by turning the paper vertically and wrapping the ends to overlap. Glue the top right to top the left of the lantern,  and bottom right to bottom left.  Add the lantern strip to the top and use a flashlight at the bottom to make the magic. They're not quite the same as the white and red Japanese paper lanterns that you find at celebrations such as the Cherry Blossom Festival, but they're fun to make and use.

One student made a larger version out of poster board. The weight of the top caused the sides to collapse when it sat on the table or to stretch straight when being held by the handle, so a couple of bamboo skewers were hot glued top and bottom to the inside of the lantern to keep the right shape with the slits open all of the time.  I'm glad such a simple activity could provide a chance for creative problem solving and a source of pride.