Wednesday, July 9, 2014

In the Art Room: Ceramic Chinese Dragons with Third Grade

 Well, kids, it happened. I got That Note in the mail. You know, the one with the return address from your school.  In the middle of summer that could only mean one of two thangs: it's yer walkin' papers or, worse, a note containing a  listing of "Back to Cruel, er, School" meetings. That's right. Tuesday, July 9th marks the beginning of the end of my summer. Cue loud and obnoxious horror film-esque scream...
Make no mistake, this has left me in a rather fire-breathingly fowl mood. So what better time to share with ya these here Ceramic Chinese Dragons by my Amazingly Awesome Third Grade Artists!
 Since I've been spending my blogging time sharing travel pics and rando Pee-Wee packed posts, I've fallen a pinch behind on my In the Art Room adventures. My apologies. So whatcha see here is a project that I think my third graders would agree was one of their faves. Now, for those of you out there that are kilnless, hang with me as Ima gonna show you how you can create a Chinese dragon with a ceramic clay-ternative. But before we get into all that, lemme tell you how this all came about.
 Because we were learning about all-things-Asian last school year, I settled on the idea of having the kids create Chinese dragons. After a quick search on the interwebs, I found this post by my art teachin' buddy Rina over at K-6 Art. I loved her lesson as she broke it down into baby steps that were just perfect. Now she did her dragons with the younger set (first grade, people and they rocked it!). Since I was doing this with third grade, I knew I'd have to get 'em to step up their dragon makin' game. But first, a lil dragon-y background, emrkay?
Not all dragons are alike, y'all (Y'ALL!! This is off-topic but what else is new: I was recently BUSTED as a Mid-Westerner wearing Southern's clothing {which would be overalls and Crocs, in case you were wondering}. It turns out I've been conjugating "y'all" all wrong! Thank you, kind commenter, for pointing out my Big Fat Hairy Southern Poser mistake. Hopefully my Southern license won't be revoked {penalties include grits restriction and consumption of unsweetened tea}).

WAAAAAAAIT, what were we talking about? Oh, yeah. Dragons. Let's address the Chinese ones first, shall we? They're kinda like Mid-Westerners, after all. They've got a snake-like body with feet like that of an eagle. Which doesn't really make them Mid-Western-esque at all but their affinity for Pabst Blue Ribbon and corn hole does (can somebody please explain that fascination to me?!). Also, they can fly but don't have wings. And they like their possessions deep-fried as is evidenced by the fried pearl (the Chinese dragons are often seen with a pearl which is believed to be their source of power).
 My students were pretty unfamiliar with the characteristics of the Chinese dragon because they're usta seeing this European/Fairy Tale number. The Euro-dragon is much lie a Southerner in that when it says "Bless your heart" it really means "I hate you and wanna breathe fire down your neck". Also, when it's not flying with it's wings, this dragon can be seen wearing copious amounts of seersucker. And loafers without socks. And shirts with GIANT Polo logos. Ahem.
 After that brief chat with the kids, we spent three / thirty-minute art classes crafting these bad boys. On our first day, we began by creating a base for our dragon. For that we pounded our clay onto a texture and into a slab as thick as a cookie. Check out this post to see what I'm talking about. After our texture was in the clay, we cut the clay out with our wood skewers into a choice of base shapes: round, square or flower-like (which was later folded up to create water-y like waves).

With the excess clay cut off from the creation of the base, the kids rolled a thick coil that was about 5" in length. Once that was complete, we draped the base and coil in a damp paper towel, gently placed it into a zip lock bag and wrapped it up until our next 30 minute class.

The following class I gave the kids a rough and rapid idea on how to create their head (see below in just a momento). I don't like to get too detailed because I want them to come up with ideas of their own. I also had loads of Chinese dragon pics available for them to draw ideas from if needed. At the end of that 30, we didn't attach the heads (I had visions of them falling off whilst sealed in the damp bag) but placed them on the base with the coil.

On their third and final day, heads were attached and an environment for the dragon was created. If details like spikes, limbs, horns, fire, you-name-it's were desired, the kids added 'em then. After drying out and being fired (kinda sounds like I'm talking about Lindsay Lohan, donnit?!), the kids spent a coupla days glazing with Mayco's Stroke and Coat. And, viola-ness! Ceramic Chinese Dragons, y'all!

 Now, let's address the kiln less folks in the group, shall we? A similar dragon can be created with one of my fave kiln-free clays: Scupley. Almost every year, my students engage in a Sculpey bead-making project and almost every year, this is all that's left. Lots and lots of white.
 No worries! You can create any color of clay using that white stuff as your base. Case in point, a dragon's head. Just roll the desired shape in white, flatten your color to a paper-thickness, wrap it around your shape and roll smooth.

 Which might look a lil like the left. If you have white spots, fill 'em with some Scupley Band-Aids and roll again.

Now, these are the same rough and rapid directions I have the kids when they were creating their dragon's face. Use that skewer to skewer a mouth. It kinda mashes the shape a bit so you'll have to resculpt that face. But you can do it. 
 I like to use my fingers to create the indentions of eye sockets. Now roll some small spheres (because we don't say "balls" in the art room, ahem) and place them in the sockets. Remember if you are working with ceramic clay, you gotta slip and score. She slips! She scores!
 It's all about the details, y'all. Add some teeth, fire coming outta the mouth, a tongue (although preferably not all three as that's a mouthful. Literally.)
 I created a coil body in the same white-covered-in-green way as the head. Although this time I used two kinds of green and left some of the white areas alone. I was kinda digging the camo look.
 I know, right?
 Attach that head to the coil and shape. Bake in your oven at 275 (I think, check directions. I burn everything on a regular basis so my clay-cooking advice might not be the best) for abouts 15 minutes. And your finished!
 Suriously, yous guise, the kids were so thrilled with their dragons.
 I love watching the kids work with clay. It's a medium that kids who aren't fascinated with 2-dimensional art can really bloom. I mean, this artist was so into his dragon-making, he even created a baby dragon!
 You'll notice that most of the kids included a pearl...and many of them had a story to go along with their dragon. I love the detail in the face on this orange guy.
 And there you have it, y'all! Chinese dragons by the third grade set! Have y'all ever done a project like this before? If so, I'd love to hear what your students created. Special thanks to Rina for the inspirational-lesson!

Chat at Y'ALL soonish!


  1. Hello! I love your blog so much :) I was shopping on Modcloth today, and saw these #2 pencil flats, and they reminded me of you so much, I just had to share.

    1. Hey friend! Okay, those shoes may or may not have been the inspiration behind THESE shoes: Heehee! Thank you for thinking of me...and leaving a lovely comment :)

  2. this is Maddie widman . I love your blog! i miss you and i wish I could be in Tennesse doing art with you!

  3. Cassie, my question for you is how much clay do you provide to each student?? I am hoping to do this project with my 2/3rd graders.

    Thanks a bunch!
    Happy Teaching!


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