Exploring Line Connections.
Part I: Drawing Line Patterns
The students first examine lines that are visible in nature. I use slides that show a variety of lines, such as a spider web, a tree, patterns of lines on animals and reptiles, leaves, shells, etc. We then look at the way artists interpret line in drawing. Discussion centers on the properties of line--straight, curved, dotted, jagged, wavy, etc., and on line qualities such as dark/light, thick/thin, slow/fast, static/ dynamic, definite/hazy, relaxed/nervous, or delicate/strong.
Students are shown that lines can simulate texture, lines can show value, movement and rhythm, and line can be used in combinations to create patterns. Repetition can provoke a sense of balance.
The students are now ready to begin their own drawing of line patterns in a repetitive design. A simple, low-risk project is for the students to divide their 9 x 12" (23 x 31 cm) white drawing paper into at least five irregular shapes. Drawing directly with black markers, they create line patterns within the shapes, remembering to repeat the line patterns in another part of the paper. I provide the class with two different sizes of markers which adds to the contrast and line variety.
Another good introduction assignment is to have the class use contour lines to draw an object such as a chair or a bicycle that shows good negative shapes. Line patterns are then created within the negative shapes.
The use of a face (either animal or human) from a magazine is yet another way to help the students visualize shapes and contour lines. After they draw the basic shapes, they fill in the shapes with black line patterns. The use of brown paper for the background gives a unique appearance to these textural line drawings.
Additionally, the use of concentric circles is a fun assignment for middle school students. I have a variety of poster board circles that students can quickly trace. (I have found this to be faster than using compasses with a classroom.) In this assignment at least six concentric circles on 18 x 24" (26 x 61 cm) white paper are required. Each circle then contains a different line pattern. The students then cut out the final.
In all of these assignments, the criteria for evaluation of the drawings is based on the variety of lines developed, use of line in creating interesting line patterns, contrast in value and texture, and repetition. After the assignment is completed, each student then has his or her own individual repertoire of lines and patterns. Feeling confident about their ability to draw, we move into the next experience of working with clay where the connection to the drawings is bridged with the use of line.
Part II: Coil Pots with Line Patterns
Many wonderful examples can be used to demonstrate line patterns in pottery throughout different cultures and time periods. My personal favorites are Greek and Pueblo. Similarities and differences are discussed as we examine the form of the pot, the use of color and the use of line in incised or relief surface patterns. The function is discussed along with the form. I also show examples from previous seventh grade students as the criteria for the assignment is stated. I have found that the current students always think they can do much better than the previous students and the standard of excellence continues to rise from year to year.
Forming a Clay Pot
The students are required to draw the pot they intend to make showing the form. I demonstrate how the pot can have a mouth, a lip, a neck, a belly, a base and a foot. Spouts and handles are optional. After the form is determined, I ask the students to connect their pots to the line drawing assignment completed earlier in the quarter. Some of the line patterns developed for the drawing are to be incorporated into their pot designs. While the method of construction will be clay coils, individual students may choose whether to incorporate the coils into the design or to smooth the surface and then add an interesting line pattern. The pattern should vary in size as the shape of the pot changes.
Building a Clay Vocabulary
In preparation for working with the clay, we view a video with Maria Martinez creating and firing her famous black pottery. I also demonstrate the process of making a coil clay pot while explaining the vocabulary that is unique to working with clay. The students are required to know and use the following vocabulary list during the clay project: kneading, wedging, coil, slab, score, slip, bone dry, fire, kiln, bisque fire, glaze, relief. Before the end of the unit, I test them on their knowledge of the clay terms and the clay tools that they use during the process.
After I approve their drawings of their pot ideas, I give each student a large ball of red low-fire clay. They are allowed to get more clay each day as they need it, but they are reminded that new clay always has to be wedged and kneaded. Each student receives a small board and a plastic bag to use for storing and transporting their clay until the assignment is completed.
I require that their finished greenware pots be at least 8" (20 cm) tall. The tables are covered with vinyl mats, with canvas-covered wedging boards and containers of slip on each table. The rolling pins and clay tools are located in an area that is accessible to everyone. A variety of plastic lids stored in a gallon pail are useful for tracing around to create the bottom of the pot.
On the first work day, the students wedge and knead their clay, create a slab bottom for their pot (keeping in mind the overall form as they select a size for the bottom), put their name on the plastic bag, and learn how to store their project on the transportation board and in the plastic bag. The clean-up process is explained and students are given about ten minutes to store their project and clean-up. This all happens in a forty-two-minute period.
During the second day in the clay room the students roll out the coils for the pot. They are advised to roll "ropes" of clay and to make sure that the coil is long enough to go all the way around the pot without having to piece the clay.
Standing up makes rolling coils easier for most students. Students are reminded to score the clay and to use slip between each coil. The first coil needs to be attached securely to the base. What may seem obvious to adults needs to be explained in a sequential manner to middle level students.
Forming a Sturdy Vessel
Once the students are creating satisfactory coils, I demonstrate again how to make the form of the pot go in and out with the placement of the coils. Students create an 8" (20 cm) high pot before smoothing any of the coils. This gives the clay a chance to become firmer over a few days and thus less likely to collapse. As the pots get larger from day to day, crumpled newspaper is placed inside the pot. The newspaper absorbs moisture and will need to be replaced each day, but it does help hold the shape of the pot. The students must have their drawings out and beside their work each day. This is a tremendous help to me as I go from table to table. I can readily see what each student is attempting to create with their clay and help with problems they may encounter.
Smoothing the Surface
After the entire pot is formed with the coils, I demonstrate how to scrape the surface of the pot smooth. One hand must be kept inside the pot pushing against the exterior area being smoothed. The surface design may then be applied in various ways: a needle or ribbon tool may be used to incise or carve the design into the clay; assorted objects may be pressed into the moist clay; areas of the clay may be carved with a ribbon tool or a fettling knife creating a variety of depth in the clay (low relief) and/or negative spaces; clay may be added to the surface of the pot creating a higher relief.
I emphasize craftsmanship and remind students that little "tid-bits" of clay will be very sharp after a bisque firing. After students carve their names and periods into bottoms of the completed pots, the greenware is stored in the kiln until bone dry. Depending on the size of the pot, the drying process can take up to two weeks. Therefore it is essential that this assignment occurs in the first few weeks of the quarter.
Fired-up for Color
After the bisque firing several weeks later, the students are ready to consider the role of color. Slides of pottery examples are briefly shown again. I ask students to use color in a way that enhances their surface line design. Glaze test tiles are available to help the students with their color selections. At this age level, the students need to be constantly reminded that the glazes appear very different after firing.
The bisque fired pot is rinsed with water to eliminate kiln dust before glazing with three good coats. Demonstration is once again very important in the process. The inside of the pot is usually glazed with a pouring method (only 1 coat is needed if poured) while the outside glazes are applied with a brush to allow for more control.
Everyone is excited and proud when the beautiful glazed pots emerge from the final firing. Clay projects are possible in an exploratory art curriculum and provide another way of bridging your lessons together. From the drawn line to the textured line patterns--it's a great connection!
RELATED ARTICLE: NATIONAL STANDARD
Students select and use the qualities of structures and functions of art to improve communication of their ideas.
Karen Watson-Newlin is an art teacher at Verona Area Middle School in Verona, Wisconsin.