Wednesday, May 4, 2011

That Mud Stuff?

Before I moved to China, I was told by the former art teacher that there was a ceramics studio. Then I found out it was more of a space, not so much a functioning studio. And then I found out the kiln had never been fired.

After the previous art teacher left and before I showed up, the kiln had been enclosed by walls. This summer renovation wasn't exactly supervised, and there weren't very detailed plans. Logically, the workers wanted to waste as little classroom space as possible in the mini-kiln room, so they made the walls less than 6 inches away from the kiln. On the kiln itself, the instructions said the kiln needed to be at least 18 inches away from any wall! Oops. Maybe if it was written in Chinese...Also, they failed to remove open cabinets on the walls of the classroom, just cut a hole in the wall to accommodate the shelves. Not exactly sealed off. Free-flowing air was not the point. Why build walls and then leave an opening larger than an 8 1/2 by 11 sheet of paper?

The space was so small, I could barely get in the room closet to get out all the junk that was stored on top of the kiln! Why are we piling random trash on top of the kiln?

Fast forward one year---I gave very detailed plans (literally drawing lines on the floor with our maintenance men) for the new brick wall (the first walls were not exactly flame-resistant) that would be at least 18 inches away and allow for someone to enter the room and load a kiln comfortably. And we took the shelves off the wall, as the first plan had said, so the room could be properly sealed.

Halfway through my second year of teaching, I found a VHS that came with the kiln. (The kiln was purchased about 3 years before I arrived.) I tracked down a VCR, hooked it up to my TV, and marveled at the invention of the DVD. Literally, the lines across the screen were horrible and the table of contents told you what time you needed to fast-forward to if you wanted to rewatch a certain part. Crazy.

Spring 2010, we ran an empty test fire, per the VHS instructions.

This year, the new secondary art teacher has fired the kiln a few times. She had a similar kiln at her old school and was quite familiar with the process. In March, I decided it was time for me to make the jump into ceramics. Ironic how hesitant I was, since taking a high school ceramics class was my first step into a career as an art teacher, but I was very intimidated by being responsible for student projects.

More than a month has passed and the students' pieces have been bisque-fired (my first actual firing!). One second grade class glazed their pieces today. We made trivets (similar to a cloth potholder for hot dishes) that focused on radial balance. I gave the students pre-cut squares with a slight impression of a + and an x. After smoothing the edges, they used various tools to press shapes and textures into their piece. Lastly, I flipped their tile and they scored and slipped four little pre-cut circles onto the corners to create feet.

To glaze the pieces, they were only allowed to choose one color. Glaze or no glaze. Only two options. Positive and negative space. I reminded the students that if they painted one object on the +, they needed to paint the other 3 corresponding pieces.

The kids did a great job. I asked them to coat each spot 3 times, giving them a practice drawing page to work on as they waited for the paint glaze to dry.

I am not sure if they really believe the colors of the glaze will change with the second firing. They noticed that the first firing changed the color of the clay from grey to terracotta, but the glazing process is more dramatic.

I am nervous to see how much the glazes will run. The kids will be sad if their meticulously painted designs become a runny mess. Maybe I need to get underglazes for next year. For now, we used Dark Blue, Purple, and Turquoise, with a coat of clear on top by me. I can't wait for the students reactions when they see their glazed pieces!

First grade and Kindergarten have also completed ceramics projects---a texture tile (coaster) and texture pendant (necklace). Next year, we'll move beyond slabs of texture and start exploring pinch pots and coiling.

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