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  • Writer's pictureMakalla Shernick

Working with Ceramics

Saturday March 11, 2023

In the first ten minutes of class, I noticed more students using their time to decorate the covers of their sketchbook or free draw. It’s only been two weeks since we introduced the Zine project, but it seems many (save a few) were not motivated to continue/finish their zines. This made me believe that we will need to complete a ‘refocusing’ activity next class. In conjunction with reminding students of the parameters of the project, I think it would be beneficial to do a gallery walk so that everyone can see each other’s zines.

Our lesson today revolved around toys and sculpture. We started class with another video and class discussion.

After the video, Caroline led a great discussion with our students. The questions we asked were:

  • What is your reaction to seeing Nathan Sawaya’s work and how he uses Legos as a material? (Has anyone seen his work before or something similar?)

  • Do you think these creations are toys? Are they artwork? Something in-between? Or something entirely else?

  • Why do you think it is important for Nathan Sawaya to use Legos in his sculptures?

  • What challenges do you think Nathan Sawaya faces by choosing to use Legos to create his work?

Like last week, our most fruitful responses resulted from students being given time to discuss with a group before contributing to the group conversation. Some students mentioned that they were surprised to see this kind of work in a museum, and stated that they had seen sculptures like Sawaya’s only in toy stores. Challenges such as color, form, shape, and engineering were given as responses to our last question. One student expanded on these challenges by adding that it would be difficult as an artist to engage in this medium due to its association with children’s toys, and subsequent perceived lesser value. She went on to say that the artist might struggle with their own self-worth by making art that uses Lego as a material.

After our discussion, we went directly into introducing our artist and clay demo. We looked at the work of Coté Escrivá, whom is based in Valencia, Spain. Escrivá is known for his creepy-cartoon-like style that reflects images from pop culture. He makes toy sculptures of these characters out of clay. We used a project in which he shows his process in making these sculptures to remind students of some of the key fundamentals of working with clay. By a show of hands, all of the students in our class stated that they had worked with clay before. Since we were short on time, Caroline performed small demos at their tables during studio time and I monitored their process to see if they needed any assistance.

Students were challenged to create a toy sculpture using no more than 3 pounds of clay. Before students were given their clay, we set a timer for five minutes. This time was to be spent brainstorming or sketching ideas for their toy sculpture. We showed them a slide with questions to help them generate ideas about what their toy could be. This was an effective way of being able to observe who was struggling with brainstorming an idea and intervene very early in their artmaking process to help them. Another unexpected outcome of this practice happened during studio time. When consulting with students about their work, they were able to easier express their ideas to me by showing the sketches or notes they had made. This allowed for more effective communication to occur, which is a big deal when students of this age are still learning how to express their ideas. By implementing structured use of their sketchbooks, I am hoping that I will gain a better understanding of their individual learning style over time.

After the planning phase, students were able to get to work immediately once they had their clay. I had made it my goal for this class to build better relationships with my students. So, for the entire rest of our studio time, I consulted with each student about the meaning behind their sculptures. The developed understanding of my students that I received from this proved to me instrumental in my ability to make relevant suggestions or advice. As a relatively new educator, I have always struggled with my ‘approach’ with students. I realized however, after this day, that the key to being able to help my students in art was to understand their intentions behind the work. Instead of feeling like I was engaging in a critique with a student, I felt like I was having genuine conversations and offering my encouragement and support.

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