Banner: Porcelain Grace, Meryl Ruth, Fine Art



These works are representative of the fine efforts of my advanced students. Their assignment calls for development of a clay facade. Beginning with a preliminary drawing of the facade of a building on 10" x 10" paper (or larger), the student is encouraged to provide a richly varied, detailed composition of the edifice and its surrounding milieu. It can be based on a photograph or a magazine or book illustration or preferably drawn from life.

When the sketch is done and approved, I instruct them on the techniques for creating clay slabs. Their initial slab is made of stoneware clay #45, which is easy to work with and forgiving. A paperclay admixture is used for slip. The slab is placed upon a wooden board covered with newspaper. It matches the original sketch in size and is somewhat thicker than other clay slabs they will deal with subsequently. Then begins the long process of making layers of slabs using pattern pieces designed from the elements contained in the initial drawings. The student must address the various depths of the image components, working from the background, such as sky, to the foregrounds in space. Slabs are created from traced templates and layered onto the work board. Each slab is scored and slipped on top of the previous slab.

The work is sprayed and wrapped daily to prevent the clay from drying. In this way, pieces can be saved and worked on for months, if necessary. After all the slabs are constructed, parts are cut away and texturing is undertaken. When done, the piece is allowed to dry slowly and is then fired to cone 06. Cold finish with hand painting with acrylic paints completes the project.

Each piece is clearly individualized. The exercise stimulates the students full expression of imagination and innate talent. It instructs in visualization of spatial relationships and fosters learning about color mixing and application techniques.


Student works

For this assignment, students were asked to create a utilitarian vessel out of clay using slab construction. Specifically, the piece had to have an opening, something carved out of it, something attached to it, and something stamped upon it.

First, students were required to draw their idea on paper. Then they were asked to construct it out of tag board.

Subsequently, they were to use the tag board parts as templates for making the slab clay components and assemble them together to form their vessel. Kiln firing and glazing followed as needed to complete the work.

Leah Johnson, a first-year art student, chose the difficult project of creating a teapot, complete with handle, lid and spout. Her admirable achievement exceeded that of her peers by far. The piece is a parallel companion work for Got Tea?, which I made for a student-teacher exhibition.


Student works


This is another clay facade created in response to the assignment described in detail earlier, in which clay slabs are carved and assembled to form a bas relief image. Grace Kiffney, a talented advanced student, wrote that "It took a lot of time to put together all of the clay slabs and to carve in all the details, but in the end I think it paid off." Gratifyingly, her work is indeed a tribute to her skill and perseverence.


Student works


This is yet another slab construction clay piece made by Emily Cole in the same manner as the previous works. Its objective was to depict the memorable Taj Mahal. After the initial construction phase was completed, the piece was fired to cone 05. Layers of acrylic paint were then applied to enhance coloration and provide details.


Emily's Taj Mahal student work.

Clay fa├žade of Taj Mahal by Emily Cole, 2011.


Sarah Gardner produced a novel vessel in response to an assignment based on a lesson focused on slab construction of a Utilitarian Vessel. Students were asked to design a vessel that could be opened. It had to contain at least one notch. It had to have added texture and complementary components. The antique book Sarah created was her interpretation of the assignment. To complete the project, students were required to apply a cold finish patina as well. She used white stoneware clay suitable for mid-range firing. Her work was fired once. She clearly captured the concept of the assignment with artistic talent and ceramic arts technical skills with the execution of her beautiful piece.


Sarah Gardner's ceramic antique book made by slab construction.

A vessel in the form of an antique book in ceramic slab construction by Sarah Gardner, 2012.


This fine work was made by a promising first-year art student. Her work, shown here, is based on the lesson plan requiring the creation of a three-dimensional vessel by means of slab construction. The piece may be derivative, inspired by my work, Mel-Oh-Tea-Us, but imaginatively and creatively expanded upon by her. It not only demonstrates her grasp of the concept, but it clearly shows her innate talent and her capacity to acquire the necessary range of technical skills to show attention to detail and perseverance, and to accomplish the construction of an artwork to satisfy her vision, show her the benefits of perseverance in a long-term project and focus on her goals, provide her with self-confidence, and gratify her creative spirit.


Another example: A miniature violin.

A free-form violin-shaped vessel made by a first-year art student using slab construction technique, 2012.


Silk-screening is the principal means used for image transfer to decorate clay surfaces, among others. Image transfer (more generally speaking, print making) to apply images to clay can be done by various methods. The image to be transferred can be in any form, including drawing, photograph, painting, print, stencil, and photocopy, etc. The techniques by which the image is actually applied onto the surface of the clay include press mold, silk-screen, photo silk-screen, stencil, decals and mono printing. Photo silk-screening is introduced to students principally because it is a sophisticated means for image transfer with almost unlimited potential. Elements of design are taught before beginning the subject of image transfer methods, with emphasis on silk-screening. These elements include line, shape, positive and negative space, pattern, balance (and radial balance, particularly relevant to what follows), movement, unity and rhythm. When these attributes are fully grasped, I proceed to teach them about image transfer, leading in due course, to in-depth discussion of silk-screening. This latter process requires a series of steps that start simply and slowly evolve in complexity. At the onset, they are taught the history and cultural meaning of the mandala motif as a meditative symbolic form. Mandala, which means ‘circle’ in Sanskrit, is of Hindu and Buddhist origin as an aid in meditation, incorporating color, radial balance, repetition and symmetry. It consists of a concentric geometric artistic depiction symbolic of the world; it is used for healing, self-discovery and personal transformation.

This circular image proves to be a useful jumping-off point for discussing geometric versus organic shapes in creating a suitable design. I advise students to take this aspect of the assignment seriously and keep the design simple. I guide them to use a triangle, representing small measured one-eighth segment of the circle, for creating a complicated design by repeating it by tracing to fill the circle of the mandala symmetrically. They are directed to use a ruler and compass for precise measurement, reminding them that the finished manipulated design for the mandala must be symmetrical when the initial design is replicated. They are required to produce five patterns, at minimum, developing increasingly interesting designs as they mature in their grasp of the concepts and ability to put imagined patterns to paper.

Printmaking as an art form is discussed next, embodying use of soft cut, linoleum, etching, silk-screening, etc. We enlarge on the subject by talking about why an artist might choose printmaking, noting its commercial value in making multiple artworks simultaneously to enhance financial returns, for example. The various printmaking methods are discussed in detail. This will lead most students to undertake works in soft cut (using a linoleum-like material adapted for designing and printing patterns in clay, but softer and easier to cut than linoleum) because it is most readily available in school and easiest to master by the novice. More advanced art students will do silk-screening, either using hand-cut stencil or photo silk-screening.

Silk-screening is a printing technique in which a finely woven fabric, called mesh (originally of silk, but currently nylon or polyester), is stretched across a frame and used to support an ink-blocking impermeable stencil. The stencil is a negative of the image that is to be printed with open spaces where ink will appear. The open areas in the stencil allow transfer of ink or paint onto a substrate. A roller or squeegee is moved across the screen stencil forcing ink past the mesh threads onto the printing surface, thus transferring the desired image. The technique allows students to apply their design to fabric, paper and even a T-shirt. When the image has been transferred successfully, it is enhanced with fabric paint.

Photo silk-screening is an adaptation of silk-screen printing in which a photographic image is used to create the stencil. The image is first transferred to clear acetate. The acetate is laid over a screen that has been treated with a light-sensitive material. This serves as the mesh. Exposing the screen to strong uniform light reproduces the photographic image on the mesh. The mesh is then used as the stencil in the silk-screen process. Once the mandala pattern is fully assembled and rendered symmetrical by fine detail work, the silk-screening process begins. To fulfill the objective of a photo silk-screen lesson plan, one of my more gifted art students, Jackson Bizer created a fine mandala design. It was later transferred by successful silk-screening onto a T-shirt.


Another student work: a mandala design.  A mandala design colored and mounted in preparation for silk-screening.

Mandala design elegantly made in 2012 by Jackson Bizer, a particularly talented student.




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