No Kiln? No Problem!

Term: 3 Term Year: 2017

My fondest memories of Primary and Secondary Art classes involve creating with clay. I was lucky that my schools had kilns and my teachers were empowered to use them. These days, kilns can be hard to come by in schools, which might be seen as limiting for planning a modelling unit. 

I’m here to tell you that you can still teach how to use clay without a kiln and have some amazing outcomes. Students of all ages will benefit from the experience of using clay as it provides an alternative creative outlet for those who struggle with other techniques, like painting and drawing. Just the chance to play and be ‘messy’ will have some of your students immediately engaged! So how do you do it?
Introducing the different stages of clay is a great starting point for modelling and showing how clay can be recycled up until it is bisque fired.

Expand students’ Visual Art vocabulary as they work with clay and observe how it changes in different stages. Once bone dry, watch their experiments crumble and dissolve back to slurry, outside or in a bucket of water.

Terracotta or White Earthenware Clays are best to use in a primary school. Both fire at the same temperatures for bisque and glaze firing in a kiln and both are suitable for hand building.
Basic hand building skills include creating and using slabs, pinch pots and coils, joining clay, and decorative techniques. Explore these skills over a series of weeks and build on each lesson by tailoring the level of the skill to the grade you are teaching. Introduced one skill each lesson and allow students to experiment and practise. Left over clay should be kneaded and placed in a sealed container with damp clothes and reused in future classes.

Simple models, such as pinch pots can be kept as final artworks and painted with acrylic paints when bone dry. However, at this stage the clay is very fragile and prone to breakage. Clayworks Paper Clay is a better option for unfired work, as its paper content gives more strength when it dries, though nowhere near as strong as a bisque fired piece or an air dry clay.

After experimenting, allow students to have a session combining skills to make a practice model. Then choose the most appropriate air dry clay to create a final artwork using all the skills they’ve learnt! Two of my favourite air dry clays are Oz Clay and Magiclay which are explored in the following pages. Both are great for creating a final, more sturdy artwork, than bone dry clay.

The results will differ from traditional clay but your students will have learnt a range of modelling skills and the vocabulary to discuss them.

View the Stages of Clay

Dee Zabel
Zart Education Consultant

Supporting teachers in creative education