How to Make Clay Human Figures


war veterans art center

MoMA’s ‘How to Make Pottery and Ceramic Sculpture’ was initially published in 1947. Photo source:

MoMA’s 1947 publication, How To Make Pottery and Ceramic Sculpture, by Julia Duncan and Victor D’Amico, contains 20 hand-built ceramic projects, from pinch and coil pots to slip casting. Here is Project VII – The Human Figure.

20140129-081215.jpgMoMA clay figure step by step

The projects in How to Make Pottery and Ceramic Sculpture were taught at MoMA’s War Veterans’ Art Center. Did you know that from 1944-1948, MoMA operated an art center just for WWII war veterans?

The War Veterans’ Art Center was devoted to the rehabilitation of veterans. Its goal was “to discover the best and the most effective ways of bringing about, through the arts, the readjustment of the veteran to civilian life.” The work of the War Veteran Art Center was considered progressive within the field of art therapy in the United States (source:

Over 1000 vets took classes in painting, sculpture and ceramics, jewelry, design, illustration and more. The War Veteran’s Art Center couldn’t accommodate all the vets on the waiting list, so MoMA put out a series of art manuals that could be used for self-instruction or as an aid to any teacher of large groups.

The 20 hand-built projects in the ceramics manual are well-written and well-photographed. Stay tuned – I may feature more later this year.


Happy Throwback Thursday! Stop by on Thursdays to see what I’ve found in my vintage art education collection.

Creative Self-Portraits at Young Art Show


Young Art 2013 at San Diego Museum of Art

For over 80 years, the San Diego Museum of Art has held a juried exhibition of student art. This year’s show is all about identity. Young Art ‘The Story of Me’ is on display right now at the Museum at the Center for Community and Cultural Art. Learn more in this article.

Our school had a record 12 pieces in this year’s show. Congratulations to all our young artists! Here are all their fabulous projects, arranged by grade:

First Grade: Clay Self-Portraits

matt and grace

 First Grade: Royal Self Portrait

L. and her royal self-portrait

L. and her royal self-portrait


Second Grade: Super Hero Self Portraits

super hero collage young art

Dream Catcher Girl

Third Grade: Heritage Self Portrait

Gavin’s heritage self-portrait, ‘Flag Face’, incorporates the flags of France and Italy.

Fourth Grade: CD Case Double Portraits

cd case portrait collage


 Fifth Grade: Charm bracelets and dog tags

Mo and his charm necklace

Mo’s self-portrait is a T-shirt and neck chain, with charms for skiing and Spiderman.


Bella's charm bracelet has charms for Mexico, swimming, Disneyland and more.

Bella’s self-portrait charm bracelet includes charms for Mexico, swimming, and Disneyland.

Jacob's salute to his family's military background includes a camouflage shirt and individual dog tags for family members in the service.

Jacob’s salute to his family’s military background includes a camouflage shirt and individual dog tags for family members in the service.


Well done artists!!!! The show is up until May 26, 2013. Hope you can visit!

Thanks to the fabulous art education team at SDMART for making Young Art happen. Our community truly appreciates all your hard work.




Clay Project Ideas from Prague

I just came back from Prague. WOW. In addition to castles, cathedrals and pastry, I had the joy of checking out hand-made crafts in small shops throughout the city. These clay sheep and owls were so adorable I just had to try them myself!!!

czech clay sheep

I saw these charming clay sheep tiny gift shop on the Charles Bridge. The shop was so tiny only two people could enter at a time! The ceramic sheep are wheel-thrown clay bells, covered in clay spiral ‘wool’. They are unglazed.

My version of the Czech sheep:

spiral clay sheep

Top view

Top view

I started with an inverted pinch pot, stuffed it with newspaper, and added face, ears, and spirals. I will let them dry, bisque fire, then do a cold finish by painting with tempera or watercolors, then rinsing off in the sink.

I think this would work for grades 4-6, and take around 45 minutes -1 hour to teach.

Verdict: I showed my sample to my 6th grade helpers: they LOVED it.


czech clay owls

The Czech Owls:

These beautiful, textured clay owls were hollow clay cylinders with closed bases. A hole was poked in the base to keep the owl from exploding in the kiln.

My version of the Czech owl:

I started with two pinch pots, stuffed them with newspaper, and sealed together to form a cylinder. I smoothed the cylinder by rolling it back and forth on a board. Next I tapped the bottom on the board to flatten. Finally I wiped the cylinder with a damp sponge to smooth it out.

I textured the clay, and added wings and a beak. I would have liked to have some different texture stamps for the eyes….still, they turned out OK.

I poked a skewer through the bottom to let air escape when firing.

I will let dry, and bisque fire. These owls could be glazed, or just painted with watercolor and sprayed with clear gloss.

clay owl 1


These would take about an hour to make. Sixth grade and middle school.

You could also simplify this by using a single inverted pinch pot for the owl body. Be sure to stuff with crumpled newspaper before adding texture. This could work for grades 4-6.

Verdict: my 6th grade helpers thought my owls looked like penguins!!! They recommended making smaller eyes and bigger wings. They definitely preferred the sheep.

Although I did not bring home the Czech clay sheep or owls, I couldn’t leave that awesome gift shop empty-handed! I left with this fabulous Beethoven sgraffito mug as a gift for my husband.

sgraffito mug


Well, spring break was awesome but it’s over. Back to work!





Rainbow Fish: Glazed Clay Fish

rainbow glaze clay fish

So many fish in the sea!

Our sixth grade finished the slab clay fish project. Although I provided a choice of  just three templates, students were able to customize them through re-shaping, texture, and glaze. We ended up with a wide variety of fish.

These three rainbow fish started from the same template. Artists scratched lines into the wet clay to make stripes. Later they painted these defined areas. Students who did this technique ended up with neatly glazed fish. Caution: avoid scratching a line across the narrowest part of the tail – it will be more likely to break.

mariel's fish

Want to make a rainbow fish? Make shallow lines in wet clay with a skewer. Glaze fired clay – try to stay inside the lines!


Morgan's fish

Here is a different rainbow fish.  The artist used a different template, then created texture with tiny balls of clay and the eraser tip of pencil. The fish is trimmed with a thin clay coil, which the artist later glazed shiny black.


I wrote how to roll and cut the fish here and here. More glazing examples here. More examples next week!

The Jackson ‘Pollocks’: Glazed Clay Fish

Jackson Pollock glazed clay fishSixth grade just finished the clay fish project. The students had open use of my glazes – some chose to do an ‘Action Jackson’ Pollock-inspired pollock.  The fish were base coated with a solid coat of underglaze, then splattered with a variety of underglazes. No clear top coat necessary.

This technique worked best on untextured clay.

The entire project took three class periods. You can read about the entire clay fish process here and here.

More glazing techniques next week!

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