When we think of clay, we think of commercial modeling clays,
oil-based plastalina or homemade play dough for an
enjoyable afternoon of play. But how many of us have wandered
with our children into the wonderful world of earth clay?
Clay from the earth is very friendly. Clay appeals to hands
of all ages.
When children are well supervised in very small groups or one-
to-one, the experience we all discover is that clay is
responsive and seems to remember the hands that formed it.
Best of all, it is relaxing and therapeutic. Tension seems to
disappear into the clay as our hands work with it. The earth
absorbs our stresses and our human power as it takes the
directives of our hands while we make vessels for use.
Clay is lengendary. It is real and natural and straight from
the earth. It is a byproduct of decomposed rock made through
the action of water and weather. Added heat turns clay into
pottery. Remnants of ancient vessels record fragments of
history. Clay reminds us of the close relationship man has to
the earth. From a lump of clay, the potter makes jugs for
water and old wine, plates, cups and oil lamps.
Avi's hands make forms from clay: a cup, a bowl, the basket
that held the infant Moshe, a bikurim first-fruits
basket. He feels masterful as the clay responds to his touch.
The clay holds its shape as Avi's fingers roll, pull and
pinch ropes, coils and slabs into place. He doesn't always
know what he is doing but that doesn't stop him. The clay
goes along with him. It is yielding and accommodating. There
is almost no fight. It is there for him to shape into pizza
pies and vessels. He is the captain of the ship of clay.
Not all children like to touch and play with clay. Chani
finds clay dirty and messy. We don't push her. When she is
receptive, she is given a small piece in her hand and told to
roll it like a ball. She is then shown how to roll the ball
into a rope and then how to make five or six more ropes, all
laid out in a neat row. She counts them over to see how many
she has made in a moment of accomplishment. The clay is no
longer frightening to her and she is beginning to enjoy her
control over it. She attaches the ropes into coils, layering
each one on top of the next until she completes her bowl. A
deep breath of approval is released as she proudly hands the
masterpiece to her mother.
Clay can be bought by the roll which resembles a log. It is
brownish, reddish or gray and sometimes whitish. Keep it
wrapped well in two plastic airtight bags to prevent the air
from starting the drying process. Handling the clay will also
remove its natural moisture. Likewise, it will dry out the
hands. (Clay facial masks are used to dry out oily skin.)
Slightly dried clay can be made moist by placing it into a
double plastic bag in a covered plastic can, (a coffee tin
etc.), pressing a thumbhole in the center and adding
Clay may take a little getting used to because its properties
are not those of commercial modeling clays or homemade play
dough. Earth clay may be cold and damp or turn dry and
cracked; powdery and dusty when broken into little pieces;
muddy with too much water. But when clay is approached with
enthusiasm for its own merits, the rewards and inner
satisfaction can be great.
With care, small objects can be made at home on the kitchen
table. Clay works as well indoors as outdoors. Make clean-up
easy by covering the table with several layers of paper or
with plastic. Wash tools and work area before clay hardens,
for easy clean-up. Wear aprons and have a can of water, a
cutting board or large flat tray to work on or put the
finished work of art on, to dry out of the way.
Choose tools according to age of child for safety and easy
manipulation. Use clay tools or make your own. Use strings of
dental floss to cut off slabs of clay. Use scissors to level
the tops of bowl, snipping around the top. Stay away from
cookie cutters but do use stamps from small pieces of wood,
doweling etc. Use rolling pins or the sides of cups to make
flat thick slabs. Keep slabs and all the clay work thick
to prevent cracking and breaking.
Begin by cutting pieces off the clay roll with dental floss
or pulling by hand. Work the clay as if you are kneading
challah. Children enjoy pounding the clay on the
worktable for a few minutes. Continue on to balls rolled in
the palms of the hand and ropes rolled out between the palms
or on the table. If the clay gets dry, add drops of water
to your hands or on the surface, a little and not too
much. Add pieces by slightly damping the two areas to be
jointed, scoring with a fork or toothbrush, applying the two
halves firmly and smoothing over the joints.
A professional potter fires or bakes his ceramics twice in a
special oven called a kiln: once to harden it and once to
melt the applied glaze, making it waterproof. A special trick
to preserve the finished object, I discovered as a teenager,
making a clay toy that I still have a few decades later, is
to make the objects very thick, at least one inch, let them
dry thoroughly and coat several times with white plastic
glue, drying between coats. Acrylic (plastic) paint can be
added to the topcoat, or applied alone. Broken pieces of
pottery can be fixed with white plastic glue. Apply several
coats of glue to the dried patched area.
Acrylic (plastic) paint can be added to the topcoat or
applied alone for added variety and color. Mix soft tints
from white and drops of color. Try mixing two parts white
with one part yellow and one part red for a lovely orange-
rose hue. Try to come up with your version of colors similar
to the natural color of clay but in variations.
Let's see what we can do with a lump of clay.
Five easy and popular hand-built modeling techniques
1. The Pinch Pot Method
Make a CUP.
Roll a ball that fits in your palm. Press your thumb one
third of the way in the center. With the ball in your right
hand, use your index finger and thumb of your right hand to
gently squeeze and press the clay, beginning from the bottom,
in a counter-clockwise circle around several times until a
thick cup is formed. Check the walls for evenness. If clay
cracks, wet it with fingers. Level off the top with scissors
or press the top upside down on the table, gently. Let dry.
Coat with white plastic glue. Color with acrylic paint.
2. The Coil Method
Make a BOWL.
Roll out ropes between the palms of the hand or roll the
coils on the table. Make six to ten strands about the length
of half a pencil for young children or a full size pencil for
older children or adults. The base of a bowl is made from a
small `plate' from one coil. Press all the seams together.
Attach a coil around the base. Continue adding coils until
you have a bowl. Smooth the seams together from the inside
and the outside.
Optional: Add a short thick coil on the bottom of the pot for
a `foot' (base). Attach this in from the outer edge of the
bowl. Look at bowls in your home for ideas. Attach thick
handles, `ears,' that do not extend too much. Let dry. Cover
with plastic glue. Paint or leave the natural color.
3. The Slab Method
Make a BOX.
Roll six balls. Place one ball at a time on a board. Use a
rolling pin or side of a cup to roll balls into six flat one
half inch slabs about 3 x 4 inches each or other size easy to
Use a ruler for measuring and marking off straight lines.
Work on a board because you will have to put the slabs aside
while they become `leather dry' before assembling them.
For a rectangular box, make four long slabs (3 x 4 inches)
for top, bottom and two sides of box and two short (3 x 3
inches) for two ends.
Or, for a square box, make all six of equal size.
Put board with slabs aside until they become `leather dry'.
Leather dry is when the clay is firm enough to stand up
without collapsing. It retains some moisture and is not so
dry that it is impossible to work with.
Join the bottom with two long sides. Continue with the two
short sides. Smooth the joints. Add clay inside the box at
the corners for support if needed. Fit the top. Remove and
let dry. Cover with white plastic glue and paint if
4. The Subtracting Method
Make a WALL HANGING.
Roll out a thick slab, one inch thick and approximately 5 x 6
Trace a piece of paper over the clay.
Draw a simple decoration on the paper.
Black in the areas to cut away and leave white areas to
Transfer design onto clay with a pointed object.
Remove cut away areas with a dull knife or ceramics tool.
Cut out a hole at the top for hanging.
Let dry. Cover with white plastic glue. Paint if desired.
5. The Adding-On Method
Choose an OBJECT.
Add on balls and blend onto an existing form to build up and
mold objects of your choice.
Devora Piha is available for art lessons, art therapy, in
groups or individually, and for consultation. 02-9920501,
Ramat Beit Shemesh.