October 22, 2010

Keep it Simple- Pottery

Keep it simple. It is so easy to say and so hard to do. The only path I've found to find simplicity is experience. As art teachers, we teach about the human experience and yes, we make it look simple. Our projects do not come out of a copy machine or workbook, they come from our hearts. They embrace paint, glue and clay and on our best days we make it look simple.

The art work of Maria Martinez appeals to me for this reason. Her experience has created the most perfect, simplified forms.

Mention the name Maria Martinez and most elementary art teachers will nod their head like you've mentioned an old friend. They might even go into their cabinet and pull out this well loved movie for you to borrow.

Click here to order a copy for your library.

This movie shows from start to finish how the clay is harvested, how pottery is formed, fired and decorated. It is a slower movie then most kids are used to watching, with long cuts and moments with little sound other then the hush hush of a sanding stone. It shows students how much experience and work it takes to make these simplified forms.

Maria is fortunate to represents a Native American tradition black pottery. She and her husband Julian Martinez invented a way to create matte and shiny jet black finishes on a single piece of pottery. I think this pottery raged in popularity with collectors because there is something very modern about the finish, geometric designs, and simplicity. It is interesting that such an ancient art form appeals to a "modern" aesthetic. Just goes to show there are no "new" ideas. Just opportunities to distill and simplify.

Here are some of our black coil pottery inspired by Maria Martinez's. I have done this project many ways but this is the simplest and by far my favorite!

The coil pots are painted with black acrylic (much easier than glaze when working with large groups), designed with white oil pastel and sealed with shiny Modge Podge.

If you have a simple way to teach coil pottery or another way to simplify the pottery experience, please post your ideas or links in the comment box. I will be starting pottery soon before my belly makes it impossible to reach in the kiln!


LT said...

I actually have used watercolor to decorate fired bisque and it comes out wonderfully! The colors kind of merge together as they do on paper. Plus, it dries immediately! If you're worried about smudging, you can also have students seal it with gloss medium or Mod Podge.

Unknown said...

Cool! I will have to do this because glaze is not practical for my little ones this year but playing with clay is so important. Thanks for the idea!

LT said...

One of my art teacher friends also mentioned something about painting the bisque with acrylic, but then rinsing it off in some places. She said it created a kind of antiqued/aged look that was cool. Haven't tried it just yet, but I am certain it would look interesting! :)

Unknown said...

That does sound awesome! I might grab a piece of old bisque and try that.

Phyl said...

I don't have a kiln, but my 4th graders make coil pots with air-dry clay, painted with acrylic to add strength. With the air-dry clay being more breakable, it's important to make sure all coils are sealed together well, and no open spaces where light comes through. My student teacher had a great idea last year - she had the kids bring in small tissue boxes that were used to transport the clay pieces home safely.

shar said...

I am wondering if I could pick your brain - I hope you don't mind.

With Diwali coming up I am planning to make 'diyas' with the children. I think I am going to make simple little pinch pots although love your coil ones so now might let the children choose (they are 4yo). Do you have any idea of how long it will take for these to air dry? We don't have a kiln and it has been ages since I last made little pots that I have forgotten.

Thank you :)

Unknown said...

Hi Shar,

The air dry clay that I used was from a little place in CT called Sheffield Pottery (prices are awesome if you are in the area.) It was dense and took 4-5 days. We made little birds that were constructed with balls (I was afraid regular clay would blow up in the kiln they were so dense.) Pinch pots might take 3 days? What do you all think? Coil is difficult for my 3rd graders but could probably be done with a suburban 2nd grade easily:)

shar said...

Thanks so much for the reply and to Phyl too for her reply on my blog.

I currently live in Dubai in the Middle East so probably won't be in the area ;) I received a chunk of clay as part of my art supply for the year. The supplies come from a school resources supplier in the UK and I have no idea if it is air dry clay or not.

We have a Diwali celebration the school at the end of a week so perhaps we had better start them the week before so they have the weekend to dry. Thanks for the heads up re the coil pots - I will stick to the pinch pots :)

Thanks again for taking the time to reply.

Kati said...


Pinch Pots with feet!

Lauren- I wish I would have seen your watercolor comment about two weeks ago. : ( I would have had my K/1 do that.