Notebook, 1993-


Notes from: Gaitskell, Charles D., Al Hurwitz, Maryland Institute College of Art, and Michael Day, Univ. of Minnesota, eds. Sculpture and Pottery: modeling, carving, and constructing. In Children and Their Art, Methods for The Elementary School, Fourth Edition, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc., 1982.

Sculpture and Pottery
In the Classroom for Children

"Essentially sculpture means taking possession of a space, the construction of an object by means of hollows and volumes, fullness and voids: their alternations, their contrasts, their constant and reciprocal tension, and in final form, their equilibrium." [from Henri Laurens, quoted in Andrew Carnduff Ritchie, Sculpture of the Twentieth Century [New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1953], p. 43.]

N O T E S:
Sculpture is fashioned in three dimensions and is classified as free-standing or relief. In a broad sense, sculpture in particular may be said to encompass many kinds of volumes and masses organized within a spatial context.

Free-standing sculpture, or sculpture in the round, is the type that can be viewed from many angles, such as a statue.

Relief sculpture is usually viewed from the front, like a painting, and is seen on a wall or other surface that cannot be viewed from behind.

3 Typical processes involved in making sculpture:

    Modeling involves building up a form from material, such as clay, and then adding and shaping the material. Usually an additive process to the modeled basic form.

    Carving is typically a subtractive process in which the material, such as wood or plaster, is carved or chipped away until the desired sculptural form emerges.

    Construction - a process in which the materials are cut or shaped or found, and bound together with appropriate materials.

Materials: Welded metal, nailed or glued wood, and a limitless array of materials, from sheet plastic and glass to driftwood and junk. The selection and experimentation combined with the processes provide much of the excitement in making sculpture. If the artist shows respect for it, the primary characteristics of the original material remain in the finished product. Wood remains wood, clay remains clay, and each substance clearly demonstrates its influence on the art form into which it was fashioned.

NOTE: Clay is great for all ages. Work with wood and plaster best for preadolescents. The teacher should examine the material in terms of the specific problem to be explored. While it is true that the range of manual control varies with the age of the children, there are some concepts associated with a particular medium that are within the childrenÍs capability on every grade level.


Odd pieces can be glued into structures just as they are

They can be adjusted by carving, sawing, and planing.

The surface of the wood in turn can be left as is.

The surface can be sanded smooth or ñpebbledî with carving tools; edges can be rounded with a file or planed--it can

be painted or stained.

Limitations: Child's manual control and the tools available.

Safety: Inspect scraps to see that they have no dangerous splinters. Be wary of fast-sticking glues that can stick fingers or objects together. Toxic glue fumes. Holding wood with one hand and carving with another can lead to injuries.

Materials and Tools:
Use local woods. Poplars, pines, birches, and many other trees--seasoned. Wind dries wood. Stacking prevents it from warping. Traditional wood sculpture consists of carving bumps and hollows in a suitable piece of wood. A particularly strong glue such as white vinyl glue can be purchased at any hardware store. A swab stick or a tongue depressor can be used to apply the glue. Files, planes, coarse to fine grained sandpaper, Rasps, solidified wax in thin coats for integrity of wood surface, clear varnish or colorless shellac (be aware of the toffee look of too much shiny application). A strong , sharp pocketknife is effective. Sets of carving tools may be bought that allow children to produce a wide variety of cuts. Straight-edged knives, V-gouges, and U-gouges. Wood benches fitted with vises allow the children to place both hands on cutting tools.

"Roughing out' the subject from all sides the student applies the carving tool along the grain--turning the piece and cutting, the student gets rid of excess wood until the desired shape begins to be formed. Rasps--very coarse files--may be used at the close of the roughing-out process--can create a solid "woody" chunk of sculpture. Finishing--may follow with file and later by sandpaper on the surface. Most acceptable application of a preservative is a wax--a thin coat of solidified wax can be applied with a cloth and then polished vigorously. Successive coats should follow until the wood glows. A thin oil stain is often difficult in terms of maintaining a desired uniformity of tone--varnishes and shellacs can be applied with a brush but there is a danger of making the wood look like toffee.

Insights into any technique develop through practice.

As the children work in wood, they should be taught that the bumps, hollows, and textures they have carved must be studied for the patterns of light and shade they produce. This can be emphasized through a strong spot light from one source.

"Feelies." The Bauhaus included such exercises in its design course. The artists began by rolling the wood over and over again in their hands until a certain shape began to suggest itself.... A good introduction to working in wood. A hand-sized, highly polished carved object designed to feel good in the hand. Can lead up to this be first experimenting with clay and soap to find how material can relate to the hand.

More important for children to learn to judge the quality of the sculpting that encompasses the material and aspects of composition than to judge an accuracy of descriptive appearances.

Young children in the manipulative and symbol stage can put together odd pieces--making firm connections, gluing sides together. The whole can than be pulled together with one color of paint.

Teaching: Wood affords many opportunities for effective teaching. Can discuss and demonstrate the fine qualities of the substance--wood. Its color, its grain, its various surface qualities enhanced by different finishes, including sanding, waxing, and painting. Studies might be made of different uses of wood--how people have often relied on it to develop civilization. (See Lewis Mumford, Technics and Civilization (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1963). It is always useful to show children examples of good quality art done by adult artists and to discus the works with them. This is especially true if pieces can be found that exemplify and illustrate the goals set by the teacher, such as respecting the natural properties of the material and allowing the material to contribute to the total expressiveness of the sculpture. Viewing and discussing art can also assist children to clarify the artistic purposes in their own work. Nonobjective work can allow students to concentrate on troublesome aspects of technique without being concerned with subject matter.

Most tools for working with wood are dangerous. It is important to demonstrate the correct ways of handling them--discuss safety in using tools and procedures and for giving first aid for a cut. The teacher should give lessons concerning the sharpening and care of tools, emphasizing the pride good artisans have in their tools. A class trip to a sculptor's studio would be good.

For children in the preadolescent stage

Versatile. Inexpensive. But, requires more preparation and clean-up. Care must be taken to keep floor clean and to avoid making dust. Students often require more assistance in preparing the plaster tan they do in working with it.

Preparation. The plaster is usually bought in sacks. It should be mixed by sifting handfuls of the plaster into a pail of water until the plaster reaches the water level. The mixture should then by activated by sliding the hand under the plaster and moving the fingers around the bottom of the pail. This attains a creamy consistency without lumps. Waterproof gloves or other protection prevents possible skin reactions to the plaster. If the plaster tends to dry too quickly, the rate of drying may be slowed by adding about a teaspoonful of salt for every two cups of plaster.

Molds. Small cardboard containers make suitable molds. When the plaster dries, which it does with extraordinary rapidity, it contracts slightly so that the cardboard is easily peeled away.. Low relief requires a flat slab, while sculpture in the round requires a block of plaster. Obviously, once the plaster is molded the children are committed to work that suits the shape of the material.

Aggregate combinations. Plaster can be combined with other materials, allowing for a choice in the degree of density. Various proportions of plaster, vermiculite, pearlite, sawdust, dirt, sand, etc. Can even add some tempera for color. Truly personalized carving media.

Tools. Almost any cutting tool may be used--pocketknives, woodworking tools, linoleum cutters, dentistÍs tools. Can work on old drawing board. Fine sandpaper can finish smooth surfaces. A preservative would spoil the attractive appearance of the medium.

Techniques. Can dip surgical bandages or strips of cloth into plaster and drape them over armatures or other substructures. Rolls of plaster-infused gauze used for medical casts is excellent for this method. George Seagal.

For children in all stages of development. Inexpensive. Easily manipulated
Clay. Any slippery, soapy earth having a red, blue, or whitish tinge and adhering tenaciously to the hands is probably clay. Working with the earth, however, will soon reveal whether or not it is suitable for modeling. Natural clay must usually be refined before it can be used as a modeling medium. If dry, it should be powdered and put though a sieve to remove lumps, pebbles, and other foreign matter. If wet, it must be rolled and kneaded on a bat, a porous slab, and any lumps or foreign substances removed by hand as they come to the surface. Comes in a plastic state, usually in 25- to 100-pound bags. One pound of clay makes a ball the size of an adult's fist, and this is a good average amount fora child to work with. When a coil of it can be twisted and bent so that it neither breaks readily nor adheres unpleasantly to the hands, it is ready for modeling.

Bat. A suitable porous bat can be made of plaster of Paris. If the clay is too wet, it can be dried relatively quickly by placing it on a plaster bat and turning it over every thirty minutes or so. The plaster tends to draw moisture from the clay.

Wedging Table consists of two boards each at least 18 by 24 inches, 1/2 inch thick, on 5-ply wood--fixed at right angles to each other with screws. Brackets strengthen this assembly. A length of fine but strong wire should be attached from the top center of the upright board to the outside center of the lower board. Wedging makes the clay uniformly moist and free of air bubbles. A lump of clay is cut by pressing it into the wire. The resulting two pieces are ten thrown with force onto the surface of the wedging table or slapped together. Can then knead the clay from a standing position--folding the clay back into itself, without trapping ay air in the folds, until it has the proper rubbery texture. This process is continued until no tiny bubble holes are to be seen in the cut clay.

Storing. A reasonably large quantity of clay for modeling may be prepared in advance and stored for a short time in airtight tins or earthenware containers. Indeed, this storing tends to make it more workable.

Reclaiming used clay means soaking it in water for about forty-eight hours and then placing it on a plaster bat to dry to a workable consistency.

Workspace. Desk or table should be protected with newspapers, cardboard sheets, clear plastic, or oilcloth. Students can work on boards--turn the boards to view the sculpture from all sides. Plaster bats provide both a working and a kneading surface. Many cleaning cloths dampened with water should be readily at hand, and the pupils should be taught to use them both when the work is in progress and when it is finished.

Tools. Wide range possible. Tongue depressors broken lengthwise and sanded with sandpaper or shaped with a knife or file. Damp sponge or cloth.

Techniques. Pinch, slab, coil. Children will squeeze, stroke, pinch, pat, pull. As they gain confidence in the medium, they attempt to form slender protuberances. These usually fall off. They may add little pellets. Even these must be kept reasonably flat. When the work is finished and left on a shelf to dry, it should be dampened from time to time with water applied with a paint brush. The small protuberances will thus be prevented from cracking or dropping off before the main body of the work has dried. Clay shrinks. If a wet piece is adhered to a drier piece, the wet one will shrink more in drying and will break off. Pieces to be joined must be similar in moisture content. The use of watery clay, or slip, may help children fix these extra pieces. Slip is prepared by mixing some of the clay used in the modeling with water until the mixture has the consistency of thick cream. The child scores, or roughens, the two surfaces to be stuck together with thee teeth of a comb, a knitting needle, or a pointed stick, and then paints or dabs on the slip with the fingers before pressing the pieces together. The clay can be built up around a malleable wire armature to form a more delicate, open type of work. For most elementary-school children, however, the use of armatures is too difficult and should be avoided...

Storage of work. Work should be wrapped in damp cloths over which is wrapped a rubber or plastic sheet, and, if possible, the whole should be placed in a covered tin until it is to be worked again. When the work is finished it is left on a shelf to dry. Children must learn to pick up the protective coverings carefully so that clay particles are not left on the desks or floor. Need adequate shelf space. Must carefully supervise storage of work so there is no damage in the process.

Teacher will be obliged to demonstrate some of the techniques of handling clay, especially for preadolescent pupils--included among the demonstrations should be the two chief methods of modeling--pulling out from a central mass, and shaping or welding, in which prepared pieces such as arms and legs are scored and treated with slip. The use of some modeling tools to produce details may also require demonstration.

Working from a posed figure can be a desirable activity for more experienced children--5th and 6th graders. Positioning the human body and interpreting its proportions can be exciting art experiences when carried through in both the flat and in-the-round approaches. To sketch and then sculpt it as well for heightened observation or for purposes of personal expression.

Can study texture further by impressing found objects--bark, string, burlap, and the like--into the responsive surface of clay. Can make plaster casts from such exercises and combine them into attractive wall panels for the school.

Early Grades:
Make a flat slab of clay with the palms of the hands.
Roll the clay into a thick coil, a thin coil, a big clay ball, and several small clay balls
Make a bird out of one lump of clay using a particular texture for feathers.
Make a pinch pot out of one small ball of clay.

Middle Grades:
Join two pieces of clay together.
Show a film, slides, or books illustrating the clay process and finished clay objects.
Make a mother and child sculpture of one kind of animal.
Make a prehistoric creature, embellishing it with natural textures by imprinting objects such as leaves or fir cones.
Make a clay figure showing a particular emotional state.
Make a clay figure showing physical action.
Make a fantasy clay world or an imaginary environment.
Allow a small ground of the most advanced students to be responsible for firing clay objects under the supervision of the teacher.

Upper Grades:
Make a large pinch pot.
Make a clay container. Decorate it with a pattern consisting of either an incised texture or added bits of clay.
Make a relief slab puzzle using a drawing or painting as the subject matter.
Make a ceramic slab wall hanging as a group project.

All children except those in manipulative stage

Stabile constructions. Depends largely on a continuous line. They are made of one material, such as wire, straws, or balsa-wood strips, or of combinations of materials, such as string, wood, and cardboard. These stabiles are most effective when designed abstractly, with emphasis laced on balance of line against plane, transfer of space into solid areas, relation of parts to wholes, and so on. The mechanically minded may include moving parts.... Allows for an open approach to materials and wide latitude of personal style. Strongly encouraged to approach activity experimentally. Teacher might need to suggest, when the desired shape is attained, that either one or both ends of the wire be placed in a base sufficiently heavy to support the sculpture. Relatively delicate craft. A logical way to study line in space. Calder, Gabo, early Giacometti, Oppenheim, Snelson will demonstrate that a new kind of space can be controlled and unity and movement can be obtained through constructions as well as paintings.

Materials. Copper or aluminum wires, wires made of alloys of these elements. Snips to cut the wire, long-nosed pliers to manipulate it, a drill to bore holes in a base--or attach to base by stapling or bending of nail around end of wire.


Pinch, coil and slab methods are the basic pottery hand-forming techniques. A simple pinch pot is a good project on which to start a child at any age. Preadolescents are capable of what are called the coil and slab methods.

Pinched pots. The walls should be thick and the pot periodically tapped on the table to maintain a flat base. If the walls are thick enough they may subsequently be decorated by incising lines or pressing hard-edged objects into the surface and carving.

Logistics. Due to shrinkage, should be made about 25% larger than the desired size. Joined pieces should have the same moisture content to shrink together. When clay loses most its elasticity it is leather hard--can be carved or scraped easily. When it is bone dry it is brittle and fragile--apt to break. Evaporation of water from a clay piece actually cools it. Only bone-dry pieces should be placed (stacked) in the kiln for firing. Pieces that are very thick, that have air bubbles in the clay, or that are not completely dry very often will explode in the firing. A slow firing is best to minimize explosions and fractures. Slow cooling helps to avoid breakage caused by uneven contraction between thick and thin parts of a piece of pottery. Greenware: clay not yet fired. Bisqueware: fired. It is fused and hard and will no longer melt when water is applied.

Coiled pot. A ball of clay is flattened to about half an inch thick--cut into 3 to 5 inches in diameter. Coil worked length of palm through finger tips is applied to scored edge of disc--pinched to the base. No more than four or five coils should be made in one day, lest the assembly collapse under its own weight. After allowing the clay to dry for a day to become leather hard, the pupil may add another four or five coils. The top coil is covered with plastic and kept damp so that it will adhere well to the additional coils. Coils are positioned to flare or diminish the shape of the evolving pot. Can smooth the inside and out or just the inside--leave the coil effect outside. Dipping the fingers in slip facilitates the smoothing process.

Slab box. Roll flat. Cut to size. Score sides, edges that meet--dab on with slip and join. Reinforce inside seam with coil. Sandpaper or damp sponge may be used to make the sides smoother once the object is dry. And, slabs can be slotted and joined--bisected and interpenetrated to nonobjective sculptural forms. Can create slabs with wood frame--clearing the top.

Decoration Several techniques may be used to decorate objects made of clay. Glazing, incising, painting with engobe, pressing with various objects and incising through engobe known as sgraffito. Sgraffito combines both incising and painting with engobe. Engobe is painted onto the partially dried object. In order to get thorough coverage and avoid streaks, two coats should be applied, the first by brushing consistently in one direction, the second by brushing consistently in another direction. When the engobe coats have almost dried, lines are incised through them--usually with a stick--to the clay before firing the object. Incising is a technique of repeatedly pressing something into the moist clay surface to make an interesting pattern.


Sculpture can be created with boxes or junk, clay or plaster. During the course of six or seven years in an elementary school, a child should have the pleasure of working with many approaches. Although a conscientious teacher plans for most of the activities, a portion of the program should be left open for the unexpected. A windfall of unusual materials, a trip to a gallery, a magazine article, or acquaintance with a great artist could capture the interest of both students and teacher in a new activity.

[Notes from: Gaitskell, Charles D., Al Hurwitz, Maryland Institute College of Art, and Michael Day, Univ. of Minnesota, eds. Sculpture and Pottery: modeling, carving, and constructing. In Children and Their Art, Methods for The Elementary School, Fourth Edition, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc., 1982.]



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