Claywork – some terms and notes from Ursula Kolbe

Still looking over Ursula Kolbe’s book, Rapunzel’s Supermarket.

She writes:

  • A good way to begin is to offer each child a grapefruit-sized amount of clay divided into two or three pieces. Very young children may prefer a number of small pieces – to some a large lump seems daunting, and at first they may only wish to pat small bits.
  • Even if you don’t care for clay yourself, show children that you feel positively about it. For example, knead the clay or roll some coils or build a column. In this way you alert children to interesting possibilities. Try not to flatten the clay into pancake-like pieces because this tends to limit children’s thinking. Resist the temptation to make something specific, like an animal, because children may stop working and beg you to make more things for them.
  • Try to avoid asking What is it? as this assumes claywork has to ‘be’ something. Often there is no need to say anything – children may only want you to watch sympathetically. If they want a response to their work, comment on their achievements – for example, I see you’ve made yours stand up/ you’ve joined your pieces carefully. This helps them to focus on what they’ve achieved and gives them confidence to continue.
  • Remember that it takes time for children to learn to make things stand up. Being subject to gravity, clay forbids flights of fancy and structures often collapse. So be ready to give help: for example, Shall I hold your elephant while you put on its trunk?
  • Talk things through with children who need help in starting. For instance, to a child wanting to make a crocodile, you might say: Tell me what you know about crocodiles. Any part of a crocodile named by the child – whether head, body, or even the tail – can be a starting point.
  • Remind experienced children to join pieces firmly and to avoid making them paper-thin, as these will crumble when dry. Invite children to collaborate on a large piece or several related pieces. Help them to set themselves a goal and work out how they might start.
  • Encourage children to help each other. Experienced clay builders are often generous in giving assistance.” (p.70)
  • Be experimental in your approach: for instance, you might say, Let’s see if this will work. If it doesn’t, we’ll try something else.” (p.71)

Coils  Rolling coils is a skill that requires practice. Make a few and then let children take over. It’s important to use the full length of your fingers; coils tend to break if you only use the pads of the fingers. Work from the middle of the coil outwards.” (p.71)

“It takes practice to roll what potters call ‘coils’. Coils can be used in many ways. When children master this skill, they become more able to use clay as a means for representing ideas.” (p.71)

“Slabs  A slab is a flat rectangular or square piece of clay which lends itself to all sorts of uses. Roll clay to between 1/2 and 1cm thick and slice it into tiles (rectangular, square, circular, oval or irregular shapes). If the clay sticks to your working surface, roll the slab on a piece of paper.” (p.71)

“Children can use slabs of clay like building blocks.” (p.71)

Caring for clay

“Clay must be kept moist. When it’s been worked for an extended period, its moisture evaporates and must be replaced. Encourage children to help you in the following steps:

  • After use, roll clay into grapefruit-sized balls.
  • Make a thumb hole in each ball and fill it with water. (A doll’s jug is useful for this.) Use more or less water depending on the condition of the clay. Store in an airtight container in a cool place.” (p.74)

Recycling is necessary when hardened pieces accumulate.

  • collect completely dry pieces in a plastic tub or basin. Remove any leaves, dirt, etc.
  • Traditionally the next step is to hammer the dry clay into small pieces. While this quickens the softening, clay dust can be a health hazard when a large quantity is crushed, so consider omitting this step.
  • Pour sufficient water over the pieces (crushed or uncrushed) to cover them.
  • When all pieces have softened (which may take hours for crushed clay or days for uncrushed), tip out any excess water and leave uncovered for more hours/days.
  • When the mixture is no longer liquid (usually after a few days), scoop it out onto a canvas cloth or board.
  • When it’s no longer sticky, roll it into balls and store them in an airtight container.
  • When washing tools, note that clay lumps may clog the sink.” (p.75)

Claywork terms (p.70)

armature: internal support used by sculptors to hold up a structure.

coil: a potter’s term for a rolled length of clay.

earthenware: type of clay, either white or brown. Recommended for children’s use.

glaze: shiny surface on ceramic objects obtained by applying glazing material after first firing. Objects are then fired a second time.

kiln: special oven for firing clay objects. Operates at very high temperatures.

slab: piece of clay rolled flat with a rolling pin and cut to shape.

slip: mixture of clay and water used as a decorating medium by potters.

slurry: similar to slip but contains less water. Used as a paste for joining pieces.

stoneware: type of clay which is fired at a higher temperature than earthenware.

terracotta: type of clay, always brown. Recommended for children’s use.

wedging: vigorous banging and kneading of clay to expel air. Necessary if clay is to be fired, as the presence of air may cause an explosion. A new packet of clay, however, is usually free of air bubbles.” (p.70)

Ref: (italics in original, bold blue emphases mine) Ursula Kolbe (2007) Rapunzel’s Supermarket: All about young children and their art. Second Edn. Pippinot Press: Byron Bay, NSW.


About backyardbooks

This blog is a kind of electronic storage locker for ideas and quotes that inform my research... literary research into fiction for young adults (with a special focus on New Zealand fiction). Kiwis are producing amazing literature for younger readers, but it isn't getting the academic appreciation it deserves. I hope readers of this blog can make use of the material I gather and share by way of promoting our fiction. Cheers!
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