Archive for the ‘Clay Projects’ Category

One of the most looked at posts on this blog has to be my How to make Egyptian Canopic Jars. You will find step by step photos to help you get good results with your clay modelling and with a little prep, you can deliver this activity to your class and not have a meltdown (hopefully!).

Here is a photo from a primary school teacher who successfully delivered this project to her Year 5’s.


Thank you Mrs Batchelor, I’m glad you and your class enjoyed making Canopic Jars.

*Big thumbs up from me!*

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Brilliant Makers Club

Student with her ant eater sculpture inspired by the Roald Dahl poem The Ant Eater


September 13th 2016 saw the celebration of 100 years since the birth of Roald Dahl, so I thought it would be a nice idea to create a project based around his poetry book ‘Dirty Beasts’ and a great opportunity to look at the illustrations by Quentin Blake.


Plasticine modelmaking inspired by Roald Dahl poems

Sharon Gale reading Dirty Beasts by Roald Dahl to her art club students


The finished artwork would be a sculpture inspired by the ghastly beasts mentioned in the poems, positioned on a plinth decorated with marbled paper and mixed media.

This particular project incorporates observational drawing, illustration, modelling with Newplast, marbling inks and mixed media. It was carried out over seven, one hour sessions.

Accessart have a wonderful resource titled ‘Quentin Blake’s Drawing as Inspiration!’. I began my first session with this resource introducing my students to the work of Quentin Blake and how he captures the quirkiness of so many of Roald’s characters. I acted as the model whilst the children had to draw me first as a continuous line drawing, and secondly as a series of straight lines (drawn in time to me slapping the floor).


Plasticine models inspired by the book ‘Dirty Beasts’ by Roald Dahl and illustrated by Quentin Blake

Illustration of Sharon Gale by a student, using lines drawn in time to a beat


This exercise was quite tough for some children, who found it difficult to draw using a technique that was taking them out of their comfort zone. Even so, the children enjoyed the experience of being in the school hall, choosing where would be a good angle to draw the me (the model) from.

Over the next couple of sessions the students studied Quentin Blake illustrations from books and created their own characters which they were able to paint.



Next we had a session using marbling inks. These decorated papers were to be used to part decorate the cardboard plinths. Using shallow trays filled with water, small amounts of marbling ink was dropped on the water; a toothpick dragged through the water allows the ink to separate and form pretty patterns. Too much ink made for a muddy messy saturated print, so less is more with marbling inks! Paper (pre-cut to fit inside the tray) was placed on the floating inks, you can see the ink soak into the paper, so, after a few seconds it was lifted to reveal the marbling effect. The prints were left to one side to dry. This activity can be messy, so it’s worth covering the work area with newspaper and make sure you have a separate area for drying prints.


Plasticine models inspired by the book ‘Dirty Beasts’ by Roald Dahl and illustrated by Quentin Blake

Marbling ink patterns being made by dragging a toothpick through the oily ink

Plasticine models inspired by the book ‘Dirty Beasts’ by Roald Dahl and illustrated by Quentin Blake

Marbling ink papers for use with decorating the plinths


In the following lesson the children modelled their illustrated characters with Newplast, this is the superb modelling plasticine used by Aardman Animations. Once the students had chosen their colours, I handed out a palm sized amount for them to soften. It’s important to warm up the plasticine in your hands first before trying to sculpt from it.

Another tip is to make sure you have plenty of wet wipes to hand. Whenever you handle a different colour, it’s important to have clean hands as the strong colours can transfer onto each other. For example, if you modelled black plasticine then modelled yellow without clean hands, the black would make the yellow go a dirty yellow colour.


Plasticine models inspired by the book ‘Dirty Beasts’ by Roald Dahl and illustrated by Quentin Blake

Student adding texture to his model


At this point I tried to remind the children about exploring the character of their model, remembering how Quentin Blake exaggerated the features of his characters in his illustrations.


Plasticine models inspired by the book ‘Dirty Beasts’ by Roald Dahl and illustrated by Quentin Blake

Sharon Gale advising a young art club student


For the final part of the project, the children had to decorate a plinth/base suitable for their character to be displayed on. I had pre-cut thick corrugated card into circles approximately 15cms diameter.  Using their marbling paper, construction materials (such as wooden sticks, pipe cleaners, cardboard tubes etc) and their imaginations the students could create an environment fit for their plasticine models. The children really enjoyed this activity of creating little habitats. Some students engaged problem solving skills when their ideas were too complicated or big and need to be simplified.



This was an interesting project incorporating lots of different techniques and materials, the variety made it exciting but also challenging. The age range in my group is 5-11 years, it is evident that the older children were aware of the Quentin Blake link to their sculptures whereas this was soon forgotten with the younger ones.  Most importantly, fun was had by all!

Many thanks to Nux Photography who visited the Art Cabin and took a few snaps for me.



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Wolves in the Walls Project


This project was inspired by a lesson plan written by Nigel Meager (Teaching Art by Nigel Meager). In his illustration lesson plan, he referred to the children’s book ‘The Wolves in the Wall’ written by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Dave McKean.

The idea is for students to practice markmaking with various mediums, study & discuss photos of wolves, then illustrate their own wolf character.

The ‘Wolves in the Walls’ story is super and the illustrations by Dave McKean have so much drama in them.

I read the story to my students and we discussed the illustrations. Next the students had a chance to play with the charcoal, graphite sticks, oil pastels, pens, pencils etc, to see what textures they could invent.

After looking at some photos of real wolves and discussing what it would be like to touch them, the students set about creating their own ‘Wolves in the Walls’.

Once drawn and carefully cut out, we arranged a lovely display on the wall. Some students decided to go on and make their wolves using clay, which they painted beautifully.

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Carving the transferred image

I found this brilliant project on the Blick Video Lesson Plans. It’s a great site to get arty inspiration.

I began by talking about Pop Art and Andy Warhol’s screen prints of celebrities. Luckily, I have a few books on the subject, so I brought them into to the studio to show the students. The week before, I had taken headshots of the children and had the images photocopied and ready to use.

The photocopied headshot images measured 16cms x 12cms. We found that it was best to roll out the clay (to a depth of about 1cm) in advance, cover with cling film to stop it drying out and setting it to one side whilst getting on with the image preparation.

With a gel pen, outline the facial features but keep your lines clean and simple. It’s also a good idea to outline the bounding box, you will cut along this line and use as a template to cut the clay to the correct size. Your clay tile will be the same size as your image.

The next step is to place your image print side down on the clay and gently smooth/rub your hand over it. The gel pen should transfer onto the clay after about 30 seconds, we found this was a bit hit and miss. The most effective way to transfer your image is to go over the outline on the back (you should be able to see the black gel pen through the paper) with a pen or pencil, this way the gel pen outline transfers to the clay.

To cut your clay tile out, use a ruler or blunt knife to slice away the excess clay around your image. Now you can remove the paper image.

Using a clay ribbon tool or toothpick/old pen etc carefully carve into the black outline transfer. Blick suggest covering the tile with cling film plastic then carving into the clay for a clean line. We actually forgot to do this bit! Now is the time to make two small holes in the top corners for the hanging loop to pass through.

Once your image is in the clay, carefully lift the tile (try not to distort it), use a little water on your finger to smooth the rough edges around the tile.

Place your tile on a piece of cardboard to dry thoroughly. Once dry, lightly sand any rough areas before painting.

Choose a limited palette of bright colours and paint black into the carved clay outlines to make your image ZING! Sadly I don’t have many photos of the finished tiles as I handed them back to students to take home before taking photos, DOH!



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Painted Canopic Jar showing the Head of the God Duamutef

Painted Canopic Jar showing the Head of the God Duamutef

This particular project was a school class activity with years 5 & 6. It was so good, I had to add it on the Art Cabin site. The children had to make Canopic Jars from clay. I decided that it would be a good idea if we used a polystyrene cup as an armature to help the children retain a good ‘jar’ shape.

I think the photos are self explainatory if you want to try this activity (to a degree), so I won’t list a ’how to‘. Things to mention though: We used air drying clay, the slip (clay glue) is made by mixing water & clay together to form a sticky mush. Always crosshatch areas & add slip to bits of clay you want to join together. Clay will shrink when drying and cracks may form around the jar so just fill these with slip and let it dry. We punctured holes in the polystyrene cup with a toothpick before we started. The jars were painted using poster paints. Metallic gold mixed into a light brown, makes a good base colour.

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Picasso inspired clay tiles

This is a great clay project the children thoroughly enjoyed doing. It was inspired by a clay tile my son did at school years ago, I still have the it hanging pride of place in the house.

We looked at Picasso’s Cubism paintings and the children set about drawing a face in that style. Afterwards we got stuck into making the tiles. The children were able to use different tools to add texture to their tile. Holes were made in the top two corners so that a hanging loop could be attached (I have used fishing wire). Once dry the tiles were painted with poster paints and varnished with PVA glue.

Picasso inspired clay tiles

Designing the clay tile

Picasso inspired clay tiles

Colouring the tile design

Picasso inspired clay tiles

Carving the design into the clay

Picasso inspired clay tiles

Adding detail to the tile design

Picasso inspired clay tiles

Clay tile design ready for painting

Picasso inspired clay tiles

Picasso inspired clay tiles

Adding the final touches to the tile

Picasso inspired clay tiles Picasso/Cubist inspired tile Picasso/Cubist inspired tile Picasso/Cubist inspired tile Picasso/Cubist inspired tile

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arranging clay coils in the bowl

arranging clay coils in the bowl

Making clay coil pots doesn’t sound easy to do, but this method is pretty much a fool proof way of getting a great result.

We used air drying clay for this project. A plastic bowl was lined with cling film, clay was rolled into long sausage/cane shapes making sure they weren’t too thin. The canes were then manipulated into swirly disc shapes of different sizes and placed in the bowl side by side (this is the really creative bit). Once the bowl was completely lined with clay shapes, the inside surface was smoothed over using fingers and a damp sponge, the pattern was still retained on the outside and could be seen through the plastic bowl.

Once the pot was leatherhard, it was removed from the plastic bowl and the cling film taken off so that it could dry completely. Those who wanted to add a base to their pot waited until the pot had firmed up a little so it could be removed from the bowl without it caving in. Bases were made using the coil method, making sure that all clay pieces that had to stick together were scratched and had a coating of slip (clay mixed with a little water) applied. Smoothing the base to the pot helps to reinforce the bond. Any base that breaks away from the pot can always be glued on when both bits are fully dry.

Once the pots were completely dry, a white undercoat (white arcrylic paint or acrylic primer) was applied. After this stage the young artists began painting them. We used acrylic and metalic paints. To finish, gloss acrylic varnish was applied (two coats give a good shiny result).

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