The Complexity of Clay

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One of the greatest things about the SMUS Middle School is located way down in the basement, tucked into the corner of Ms. Wilkins office. It’s noisy, shiny and can get very, very hot.

Having our own kiln makes it easy for students to get some sculpture experience. Each year, the Grade 6 classes begin to work with clay, first making a tile and then creating their own piggybank. Usually, I take pictures of their efforts, but this year I decided to participate and see how my efforts stacked up against our young artists. I created my own cat piggybank (which tragically lost an eye in the kiln and had to become a feline pirate) and I even got Leanne Wilkins, art teacher extraordinaire, to grade my work and answer a few questions I had post-project.

Q: Do the Grade 6 students get really excited for this project?
A: It’s one of their favourite projects. Most students make something extra in addition to the piggybank. It’s the tactile nature of it that appeals to them, I think. They get to work with their hands – it’s much different than drawing or painting.

Q: The glazes seem really tricky to use. On my sculpture, the pupil and the iris on the eye melted together…does that happen to the students often?
A: The glazes are tricky for a few reasons. Students can be really surprised when their projects come out of the kiln. In their raw forms, glazes can look way different than once they’ve been fired, so you have to check the samples before painting. My favourite one is wheatfield, which goes on red but comes out yellow! It’s also hard to reglaze them, because the glaze can melt off and it can be hard to cover up the previous color, especially if it’s dark.

Q: What were some of the most unusual sculptures this year?
A: The students are supposed to make either an animal or an alien, but I leave it pretty open so they can be creative. Some interesting ones this year were a flying super pig, a princess bunny (with a tiara and necklace) and Spock from Star Trek (complete with a tiny starship).

Q: When do the students get to try sculpture again?
A: In Grade 8, they make gargoyles. They have finer motor skills by then and they usually remember the techniques and the names of the tools, so they can do more complicated things.

Q: What would I get as a grade for my piggybank?
A: It does meet all of the requirements – it would have had five attachments if he hadn’t lost that eye – including texture and a thorough glazing. I would say he’s riding the line between an A and a B, but you can have an A.

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