Clay Sea Rocks

5th graders made clay 'sea rocks'. Allow three 40-minute sessions.

Want an ocean-themed clay project with high success? Super fun? Colorful? Only one firing? And……NO SLIP!

Try this sea rocks lesson plan!


  • clay
  • newspaper
  • white vinegar in small cups
  • Q-tips
  • toothpicks
  • pencils
  • Popsicle stick or other clay tools
  • gallon-size Ziploc storage bags (if more than one session is required)

Day 1:

Look at photos of sea life that attaches to rock.

Coral reef.

For another artist’s take on sea life, view images from Disney movie ‘Finding Nemo’. Look at the sea life on the ocean floor.

Inspiration: colorful sea floor from Disney movie 'Finding Nemo'

Download this clay sea rocks powerpoint from CAEA conference (we think this project was presented by clay educator Barry Bernam around 2005).

It all starts with a pinch pot. Stuff with crumpled newspaper for support and turn upside down. Apply starfish, urchins, coral etc. to top of rock using vinegar to attach.

Vinegar, clay tool, toothpick



If you don’t finish, wrap clay in damp paper towels and seal in Ziploc bag.

Day 2:

Finish adding sea life to rock.


I let them dry for 12 days, then fired on slow setting.

Although no slip was used to attach decorations, only one decoration came off during bisque firing.

Day 3:

We painted with pan watercolors and tiny brushes. Students had option of rinsing off excess paint (they called this ‘fading’). Also could draw on painted ‘rock’ with colored pencil.


I will add shine with a little spray gloss (I use Rust-Oleum Painter’s Touch Spray Gloss ).

A huge thank you to SDAEA’s Carol Catalano Webb, who brought back this lesson from California state conference AND made the YouTube movie. A huge thank you to the clay teacher who created the Powerpoint (we think it was Barry Bernam-please leave a comment if you know Barry!).

Martin Fine Art Classes for Kids and Teens

7 year olds drawing still lifes? With charcoal? Or painting in oils? Its possible with the right instruction.

Elementary age student paints still life in oils.

Martin Fine Art Classes teaches all these skills to kids in kindergarten through high school. Albert Martin, an educator with over 20 years experience in public and private education, has developed a Young Masters Art Program focused on the fundamentals of drawing and painting.

Students first learn to lightly sketch objects on paper through still life or sequential step drawings.They learn to correct size, placement, and proportion of initial sketches. Then they begin to master the concepts of drawing and observation by completing drawings of still life and animals, landscape and marine, using charcoal pencil and soft pastel.


This 8-year old uses chalk pastel to shade her drawing.

When they are ready, they can move on to acrylic and oil painting.

Martin Fine Art Classes offers 90 minute day and after-school sessions. In Summer 2012 he will offer 3 hour morning sessions as well. I wish I had gone to a fine art camp when I was a kid!

I have personally observed the after school sessions. Before I went to his studio, I never thought is possible for students this young to sit and focus for 45 minutes. In fact, many students increase their ability to concentrate on their artwork the more classes they take.

Students go home with a pastel still life their very first session!


5 and 6 year old students start out painting in acrylics.

These are skills many will not develop until after a couple of semesters of high school art.  Why wait for high school? Learn how now.

5-7 year olds also learn how to use simple shapes to create fun animal drawings. Alternating between still lifes and this type of drawing help keep interest high.

Also has instruction for adults and teens with a separate curriculum.

Instruction is available for middle school students.

Students can purchase materials for classes right at the studio, or bring their own from home.

If students are fortunate to have art in school, it is often in large group. Many students learn better, and develop skills more quickly with individual or small group instruction. At Martin Fine Art classes the top ratio is 1:8, with each child encouraged to learn at their own pace.

Teens can learn to draw and paint realistic still lifes.

I can personally recommend Mr. Martin as I take his class once a week . It is a TOTAL LUXURY to make my own (grown up!) art after teaching my own students all week.

Martin Fine Art Classes is located in Encinitas, California. Find out more information at .  You can email Albert Martin at to inquire about morning, after school, or summer sessions. Phone is 760-944-7913.


Alexander Calder’s Jewelry

Calder’s necklace of glass jewels

Alexander Calder made this pin for his wife, Louisa

Calder’s earrings are miniature mobiles.

Did you know Calder designed wire jewelry? He made 1,800 pieces of jewelry during his long career. Learn more in this New York Times article and related New York Times slideshow of Calder’s jewelry. I was fortunate to see the Calder jewelry exhibit when it came to the San Diego Museum of Art in 2010.

The San Diego Museum of Art has a Calder inspired jewelry and wire sculpture lesson plan for upper elementary students.

Line drawing of Calder jewelry forms. Imagine your students making them in wire!

Calder jewelry-making techniques from SDMART lesson plan

Looking for a wire sculpture lesson plan? Check out my previous post: Calder wire sculpture lesson for 5th grade.

UPDATE: lots more Calder posts:

How to Make a Calder Mobile

Two Calder books to read online for free

Calder wire portraits


San Diego Youth Art Month 2012


The 2012 YAM show was held February 18 at the San Diego Art Institute in beautiful Balboa Park. As always, the student artists felt very special and all the families had a great time.

Here are my elementary-level faves:



Middle school faves:


High school fave:

And here are my school’s entries: 5th grade plaster masks

Our 5th grade plaster masks.


SDAEA's Elizabeth Morton, Bruce Groff and Nancy Reitzler

Thanks guys for all your hard work.  It was a great show!

Calder Wire Sculpture for Fifth Grade

calder wire sculpture pinable

Of all the famous artists we study, students think Alexander Calder is the most fun.  Fifth graders made Calder-inspired wire animal sculptures.

Alexander Calder’s Fish (1944).


5th graders made wire sculptures focusing on contour. Allow 2-3 40 minute sessions.


Notes: When buying wire, the higher the gauge, the thinner and more flexible the wire. The wires below are soft enough for students to cut with our blunt-tip school scissors! Simplify your life and buy pre-cut 18″ floral wire (available at floral suppliers, Wal-Mart and Michaels).


  • spool of  Dick Blick 14-gauge Armature and Sculpture Wire , (cut one 3 ft. piece per student) (note: compensated affiliate link)
  • pre-cut 18″ floral wire, 20 or 22 gauge, ‘bright’ (silver-colored aluminum)
  • pre-cut 18″ floral wire, 26 gauge. I call this super-fine and flexible wire ‘sewing wire’ because it is fine enough to pass through sequins, beads and window screen.
  • embellishments: buttons, beads, sequins, aluminum pot scrubbers, pipe cleaners, aluminum window screen.
  • sketch paper (we use 8.5″x11″ copy paper)
  • markers for sketching
  • optional: Ziploc gallon-size storage bags for storing unfinished work between sessions

We begin by looking at this Calder wire sculpture Powerpoint. Next students sketch a contour drawing of an animal on copy paper. The sketch should touch all four edges of the paper and should be simple. Then students trace the contour with 14 gauge sculpture wire, overlap the ends and twist to secure.

Trace marker sketch with wire.

They can string shorter wires or pipe cleaners with beads, sequins and buttons across the center. Encourage kids to experiment.


We link up the sculptures in a chain (using my favorite paper-clip ‘S’ hooks) and suspend from the ceiling.  Instant group Calder mobile!

Calder’s art is so varied and interesting, you could do an entire unit: a mobile lesson, stabile lesson, a wire sculpture lesson, a circus lesson, even a jewelry lesson.

Do you love Calder’s art? Check out my posts on Calder’s jewelry , Calder wire portraits, and best wire sculptures of 2012.

UPDATE: Calder books to read online for free! Click here

NEW: click here: How to make a Calder mobile!


Note: I am an affiliate of Blick Art Supplies. I have been using Blick Armature and Sculpture Wire for nine years and LOVE it!

UPDATED: 11/23/13

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