Tag Archives: process

Ceramic Slab Boxes


Our first big unit in beginning ceramics class was to build a slab box that had texture, a lid, a handle, and a few added embellishments.  A fellow ceramics teacher, Jen,  was kind enough to share her lesson.  I tried it out for the first time last year.  I thought the kids did well, so I did it again this year.  I think it is a good intro to the hand-building technique of the slab.  Also, it brought in texture, a favorite aspect of mine, by use of texture rollers, adding a usable handle, and adding embellishments.

The students learned a lot about slabs.  The state of leatherhard is one they all know now.  Some really did understand the state, while other just never got there and didn’t heed advice to cover the slabs they weren’t working on at the moment, thus letting things dry out too much to use.  A couple kids did find out that you can mist way too much.

But, I did hear good conversation about using the stilts (in our case made of paint stirrers) to help keep slabs even, how much pressure to use when using texture rollers, and reminders to put in reinforcing coils.

I am pleased with the results of the boxes, even though more than one handle was either not scored/slipped right or was too fragile and broke off–unfortunately, usually by me.

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For the surface treatment, I wanted them to learn a technique that would enhance the texture created by the texture rollers.  I asked them to choose 2 glaze colors–a dark and a light.  They learned how to pour in a glaze and roll it around to cover the interior of the box.  They did this with the dark.  After that, they used the dark to brush into the texture.  Once dry, they washed off the excess leaving the color in the recesses (and as a slight stain on the flat surfaces.)  Then they brushed on the lighter color to the outside of the box, going over everything–including the dark in the texture.  The theory is that the dark will show through the light, creating an interesting surface with a bit of depth.

Not everyone followed instructions, and that is okay.  But, the ones that did created some wonderful looking boxes.

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Test Tiles Are Where It’s At


The last 2 weeks of the marking period are always hard to come up with something meaningful to do–especially in a ceramics class.  It is not enough time to start a new project.  Luckily though, we have been working so hard on building and learning basic building techniques that we can take a break from building and focus on surface treatments.

One thing we are focusing on is creating test tiles.  Beginning students each cut 12 test tiles.  The took 6 of the tiles and left them smooth.  The other 6 were imprinted with a texture stamp.  They labeled one set 1-6A and 1-6B.

Now that they are bisque fired, they are trying different glaze combos.  They are laying 1-3 glazes on each tile.  And, what they do to 1A, they do to 1B so after glaze firing they can see how the texture could possibly effect the glazes and how it breaks, if it breaks at all.

And, of course, they are taking notes on what colors they use and how they apply the glaze.  They are taking notes not only for themselves, but for their peers as well.  The plan with these test tiles is to have the class share tiles so they have many choices.  Maybe someone else created something awesome.  They will glaze their spheres from one of the group of test tiles.

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Teaching to Think Like an Artist


The following was posted in the feed of an art teacher group I am part of.  I completely agree with the message.  We need to be teaching our students how to think like artists.  We need to teach them how to problem solve.  We need to teach them that mistakes are okay.  That exploration leads to artistic growth.  That, as Cindy Foley implies, ambiguity is okay.

Rice, Panty Hose, and Soft Molds


Intermediate and Advanced ceramic students are learning a new technique.  They are learning about hump molds, and in particular soft molds created by using a rice-filled panty hose leg.

I found the idea on pinterest and I followed the link to here. I thought this type of mold would be a wonderful addition to our ceramics studio.  They would provide much versatility and would prove to be much more inexpensive than plaster molds.

Today the boys filled the stocking with rice…40 pounds to be exact.  Tomorrow they begin to lay slabs on them.




Art 2 Work In Progress: Interior/Exterior


Art 2’s newest theme is interior/exterior.  They have really explored this theme and their ideas run the gamut.  They are all so different and I am so proud of them and their work.  They work so hard and many come in with ideas so they are ready to go once they finish practice sheets.

Here are some of the works in progress.

This student did a smaller sample first to figure out how he should color his mango.  We both liked the look of the sketch so much, he tried to replicate it in a larger form, finger prints and all.


This student is big into soccer, so he is doing an open stadium located in Madrid.


I really like his concept of switching up the ball and the court.  This student’s work is improving so much.


I am not quite sure what is happening in the mouth, but it isn’t “mouth parts”.  Today he and I had a discussion about what color the inside of our nostrils are.  He went so far as to use his camera to find out.  I love the way he is using the oil pastels.  He has never used them before.


An “inside”look into someone’s eyes.  And, it is said that they eyes are the doorway to the soul.


I eagerly await the finished artworks.

A Student’s Story about Problem Solving


I wanted to take a moment to brag on one of my ceramic students.  Lately I’ve been talking so much about my art 1 and art 2 classes and how their immersion into TAB has been off the chain.  I feel like I’ve been neglecting my other classes…my ceramic classes.  They do make up half of my class load after all, they should not be looked over.

It has been slow going in the beginning classes as we were waiting for clay and slabs are getting to a working state that isn’t so floppy.  (I have to say I can’t wait until we are past the first project so kids have more than one thing to work on.)

My intermediate/advanced class is creating enlarged organic objects.  I asked them to bring in an organic object, but of course, only one student did.  Luckily I predicted this and found a ton of things for them.  One of the objects was the flower pod from the cactuses here in Texas.  Paul chose that object.

It started out fresh and bulbous and he jumped right in building it 5 times as big.  It was going to be an awesome piece.  However, over the course of the time we’ve been working, the pod began to shrivel as the moisture left.  Neither of us thought of this possibility.  As Paul was close to finishing, I told him if he wanted to just pretend the piece hadn’t shriveled, I was cool with that.  He said ok.

I went about my business and towards the end of class came back to Paul and saw that he had incorporated the shrivels.  His piece looked way more awesome than it did before.  There is now so much more life to his sculpture.  I am so proud of him.  This is his best work to date.  I love that he encountered a problem and instead of getting mad, he ran with it and brought his work to another level.

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Student/Teacher Collaboration


Should we influence our students’ artworks?  And if so, how much?  I struggled with this the other day.  As I walk around my classroom, I stop and watch students work.  I stare at them staring at their work and eventually ask what they are struggling with or what they are thinking.  This has started some wonderful conversations and lead to some collaboration.

I listen carefully to what they have to say and I form my questions with great intention to pull out of them where I think they need to head in their artistic journey:  what things they need to consider, what are they trying to say with their work, what is the relationship between this and that.  I wait for them to think and answer.  And in the moments of silence, I start to think too.  Based upon their answers, I come up with some suggestions.  I can see the unknown in their eyes and I say, “what if you…?”

As I offer up ways to go with their pieces, I started to think to myself, am I giving them too much and not letting them figure it out on their own?  Am I taking something away from them?  Maybe yes, maybe no.  I like to think I am helping to open their minds to the world of possibilities and that art can be so much more than what they have seen in their little rural town.

The possibilities of where they can take their artwork and how they can bring it to another level excites me.  It makes me love art and teaching even more.  But, am I teaching or am I directing?

What do you think?

Shifting Focus


A new school year is upon us and with that comes great changes to the art room. I am excited to shift the focus in my classroom. We will be working with a “new” way of becoming artists. We will focus on building artistic behaviors and creating artwork from conception to final work. The students will have more control and choice over materials and techniques to solve “problems” given to them. And we will be writing about the process and the decisions made along the way. This is a way of teaching art called TAB (Teaching for Artistic Behavior).

~First blog entry on my art classes’ new website.

Why am I shifting focus? Sometime last year I had found this Facebook group for art teachers and it was a gold mine. Here was this group of people like me from all over the world wanting to share and discuss all things about teaching art. It was from this group that I was introduced officially to this idea of choice or modified-choice in the art room. Some of it was familiar as I was starting to offer more choice to my kids, but I was still a mostly “teacher-focused” art room.

One day as I was standing in the hallway between classes (as teachers are supposed to do) I was focused on the display cases in front of me and something occurred to me: every single painting in the case was identical. I mean there were some differences in the trees and the clouds and the mountains, but for all intents and purposes they were the same. It was then and there that I decided no more. I wanted my kids to think, to have a voice, to create something “original”. And choice was going to be the way.

Back to the Facebook group. It was from this group that I was introduced to Katherine Douglas, a pioneer in TAB, Ian Sands, Melissa Purtee and the other art teachers at Apex High School in North Carolina, and Colleen Rose, an art teacher from Ontario. Along with a few other TAB teachers, they helped me to understand what TAB could do for me and, more importantly, for my students. The teachers at Apex wrote this 5 part series on choice in the HS art classroom. This helped me to see how wonderful it could be. (parts: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5) I would like to thank them for all their help over the past few months.

I tried out choice several times during this past school year (here, here, and here), well, sort of choice. I guess it was more of a modified choice. I learned a lot about how my students would handle have such “freedom”. I learned what I could handle. And I saw first hand what my students could create without me. That was the best one.

So, I decided to make the shift from a teacher-focused classroom to a student-focused classroom. I no longer wanted to come up with the lesson where the outcome has already been decided. I want to be surprised. I want my students to go through journeys similar to the journeys I go through when I make art. I want them to know why they made a certain choice. I want them to be able to talk about their work. I want them to stop copying others. I want them to learn from their mistakes and to take chances. I want my classroom motto (stolen from Ms. Frizzle of Magic School Bus fame) of “Take Chances. Make Mistakes. Get Messy.” to actually mean something.

And, I think this fall, it will.

Altered Books Revisted


My Art 2: Painting/Drawing students finally finished their altered books, and let me tell you what… they are fabulous.  (As a side note, I think I have been in Texas too long if I just wrote the phrase “let me tell you what.”)  Anyway, I knew some were going to be a home run, but I wasn’t prepared for almost every book having at least one amazing page.  Normally I get some great books and a few that could have been great, but were never finished.  And, of course there are the ones that should have never been allowed to become artworks.

This year, I had a hard time deciding which page in several books to display.  It makes me feel so good as a teacher to see such exploration.  And, throughout the process, my kids just weren’t learning from me or on their own…they were ASKING OTHER KIDS about what they were doing.  And some of the kids didn’t even like each other.  AWESOME!!!!

I will be doing this again, but much sooner in the year as I think it really opens up the definition of what can be done with art. In fact, perhaps I will introduce the Altered Book to Art 1 towards the end of next year.

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Art 1 Final Project (Part 3: In Progress)


We have been working on the final project in art 1 for 4 days now.  And, let me tell you, it has been a blast.  After making monoprints, I introduced the idea of surrealism.  Then, as a class we talked about the “requirements” of the final project.

I talked about composition and how it was important to invite the viewer in and keep them in by creating an entryway, “lines” that help the viewer to move around, and depth to keep them there.  I told them that an artwork is a 2-way street–both the artist and the viewer are important.  Not only can you use the artwork to say what you, the artist, had to say, but you also want to create something that the viewer wants to look at.  I told them that they could have this horrific subject matter, but if they created depth and interest that the viewer could get lost in and move around in, then they have won.  They have solved both problems and their artwork is a success.  I told them of a painting I saw in Vienna that was so bloody, but had so much depth, that I went and stared at it for over a half hour, just lost and wandering.  I never showed them the painting, although I have thought about it.  I can still just stare at it for quite some time and get lost.

“Kreuzwegstation”, Hermann Nitsch, 1961. (Translation, “Station of the Cross”)

But, back to the art 1 assignment.  The last part of the assignment was the use of multiple mediums.  I told the students that I wanted them to explore mixed-media art.  I let them know they could use any technique or material we have used.  I told them they could try new things we haven’t used.  I was open to anything.

And off they went to collage.  And, off I went to collage. We have been having a blast.  The kids are loving looking through magazines and having me make photocopies.  Every piece is so different.  Some are serious.  Some are fun.  Some are just plain awesome.  I can’t wait to see where they end up.

One student today said to me as I was walking around looking and asking questions, “I don’t know if I am doing this right.  Is this what it should look like?”  “It looks exactly like what it should look like,” I said, ” Yes you are doing it right.  I am coming up with mine as I am going along.”  He seemed very pleased with this answer.  I know he is working hard and I can see he is making carefully planned out choices.



A serious piece about words that hurt us–I think she is still looking for the “right” eyes.



Yesterday, she said she wasn’t sure what to do.  All she could come up with was trees.

P1030942Today I was joking around with the bottom half of some penguins I added to mine and told her to glue them to look like the feet were hanging out of the tree leaves.  She did.  And now she is painting in a volcano under the tree that the penguin will fall into.  I told her this is awesome.  It is so not serious, which is so different than her normal work.


This student has been inspired by both the highest point, Mount Everest, and the lowest point, the Black Sea.  She chose the former.



Simple, at least for now, with just a set of eyes.  Can’t wait to see what the conte will bring.



I have one student that pulled about 5 monoprints.  She is creating multiple mixed media pieces and then will decide which one is the most successful and will turn that in.  Here is one of them.  I love the energy and her intensity with which she is working.


I have been having a blast, not only watching my students create and make choices and collaborate, but also creating mine.  I think that the energy I am bringing to making my piece has rubbed off because the energy in the room is different.  The way the students are working is different.  And that is a good thing.

The students are funny.  They are like, “Who are you?”  “You are never like this.”  “You’re examples are never this crazy/weird.”  I told them, “Not weird, Awesome!  My artwork is just awesome and you are jealous of it’s awesomeness.”  Of course, this is all in good fun and they jab me right back.  (Then the whole penguin thing occurred, so….um….yeah.)

But, here is my example, just in case you were wondering.  Yes, that is a duck ship.  Yes, it is beaming up an armadillo.  And, yes, that condor is shooting laser beams at the unicorn. But, no, I don’t know what’s up with the monkey.  And, no I don’t know which side the fish are on.  I just know it is Animal Armageddon in Penguin Town.


The students have 5 more class, plus their exam period to complete their surreal mixed media artworks.  Every day I look forward to my 3 art 1 classes.  I can’t wait to see what they do next.