Project: Perfect Pigments
Science topic: Working Scientifically
Participants: Year 3 pupils
Artist: Ammie Flexen
Back in ancient history, how did anyone discover that we can turn clay into a vessel to cook food and carry water? How do we make clay bowls that don’t leak? What can we do with clay on a very big scale? Using early Stone Age history as our inspiration, we are investigating the mysteries of how accidental discoveries happen, and testing out the wonders of clay for ourselves. By squeezing and rolling, pressing and bending, building and stretching, we’ll find out just what this muddy substance is. Inspired by Stone Age cave paintings, we’ll have a go at mark-making, burnishing techniques, and using slips and pigments similar to those used in the cave paintings. By trial and error and careful recording, we’ll find out that sometimes we discover amazing things in unexpected ways, and that sometimes our experiments don’t work first time but it’s always worth another try.
Session 1: 8th February 2017
Today we met with Ammie, who is working with us to develop our creative skills and explore clay. We have been studying soil in Science, so we were able to tell her what we already know – for example that clay comes from the ground and can be sticky and wet. We have been studying the Stone Age too, and we talked about cave paintings. Ammie told us that the pigments that the cave paintings were created with are also used in clay, like iron for red. We explored the clay for the first half of the session – squeezing, stretching, manipulating and seeing how different shapes can be stuck together. We discovered that if we squeeze clay through a sieve it makes a grassy texture.
Next we made a long coil of clay, as long as we possibly could, then helped Ammie wrap it round a drainpipe tube to see how tall we could make it. Ammie asked what might happen when she took the tube out. We predicted that it might fall over. Ammie took out the tube and the clay stayed upright with some help, but the bottom began to collapse. We talked about the different properties of clay and how some houses are built with clay bricks. We learned that the bricks are fired to stop them collapsing like our tube. Finally we made some shapes using smaller coils of clay (like worms) and made patterns and textures. We are leaving some to dry to see what happens to the clay. Some will be fired in the kiln to see how the clay pieces might change. We could have carried on all day and we are looking forward to meeting Laura from Cummins Turbo next week.
Miss Sewell, our teacher, asked us how we felt after the session:
“The clay couldn’t hold its own weight”
“I liked making the patterns best”
“I liked it all”
Session 2: 8th March 2017
This week we met Laura from Cummins who joined us for our workshop with Ammie. Continuing with our clay investigations from last time, we tested the clay to see what would happen when we added water to it at different stages. We discovered that adding water to dry clay makes it darker and its absorbs the water quickly. We had lots of science questions about clay including “why does the clay fall apart when we add lots of water?”. Laura, Ammie and Miss Sewell demonstrated by holding hands in a line, being clay particles. Some of the class were the water and the more we squeezed in between, the harder it was for the clay to hold hands! Eventually they came apart and we could understand how clay worked. Next we tested out coloured slips (a technical word used in ceramics that we have learnt). Ammie explained that the colours in slips are the same pigments used in the Stone Age. Our last task was to make a mind-map of ideas for our final piece of work. Working together on the board helped us to think collaboratively. We are really looking forward to trying out some ideas next time.
“I feel really proud of myself”
“I thought you couldn’t paint on clay. I’ve learnt something new”
“I know now that there is water inside the clay”
“I enjoyed making shapes in porcelain”
“I enjoyed drawing the pictures onto the clay”
“I found it interesting that the paint changed colour once it dries”
“I liked working with the porcelain. I didn’t know you could see through porcelain when it was thin enough”
Session 3: 22nd March 2017
Today Laura told us about her job at Cummins and how she became an engineer. She told us how much she gets to travel as part of her work. We worked with different clays today, and tried out terracotta for the first time. Terracotta is smoother than the grey clay we have been using and is a deep red-brown colour. That is because it contains iron, so we were careful because it stains. We were using coils of the red clay to make our hand shapes. We were able to have some interesting conversations with Laura about engineering while we were working. We asked her “Does the engine get hot? How fast does it spin? Do you have to go to university to be an engineer?” We have also been thinking ahead and planning our final pieces of work for the exhibition. Inspired by the Stone Age, we have tested out clay and colours that they would have used in those days. The same pigments were used on cave paintings that Ammie uses in her slips to make the clay different colours. One of the words we have learnt is collaboration. We used our drawings and ideas to create a big piece of design work on paper on the wall together. We had to measure, divide up the circle equally, and create our ideas on paper. In our final session we will be trying some new techniques in clay and working out how to develop our paper ideas into clay pieces.
“I liked making the handprints with the clay because I enjoyed creating patterns”
“My favourite part was creating the different designs and using the materials to show a range of colours”
“I found making the spear difficult at first but I used the different tools and then I did it”
“I enjoyed creating shapes and lines and using my Maths to help me”
Session 4: 5th April 2017
In our final session, we experimented with coloured clays and coloured slips and worked in smaller groups. With the clays we made pebble shapes, mixing different coloured clays together to make marbling effects, like pebbles on the beach. We have painted with slips in session two, where we made our tile designs, but today we poured, dripped and splashed the slips onto wet clay. Because the slip was wet, we were able to move it around by dragging it and swishing the clay around. We found that when we put one colour on top of another, it caused it to move the first colour and make it spread out, rather than just stay on top and hide it. We also made coin shapes for our final piece for the exhibition. We played with different ways of making textures and patterns by pressing string into the clay to impress designs and by making coils of clay, and we stuck the clay on to the circle to make it 3 dimensional. We worked with Laura, the scientist from Cummins and Miss Sewell, to think back over the four sessions we have had and what we have enjoyed learning. We used photos and wrote on Post-its as a new way of recording our thoughts together. Now the last session is over, Ammie is going to take our work and fire it in the kiln. We are really looking forward to seeing it finished!
“Watery Fun, sticky fun. We had lots of fun when we put water in the clay”
“We made snakes of clay, then we made a tower. It fell down because it couldn’t hold its weight”
“We really liked the part where we got to make the vehicles because we got to use the tools”
“I liked making the design because you had to work as a team”
A few final words from our teacher
“Children have naturally started to use scientific vocabulary within the wider curriculum during lesson time. It’s been great to hear children using these new words with their friends, and teaching them to children in other classes. The children have loved learning new creative skills too. Clay is a medium that they haven’t had much chance to explore, and getting messy and creating beautiful pieces has been something that they often talk about to me. I’ve also noticed that the children have worked together well, sharing ideas to improve each other’s work, and discussing what art tools they have used and why. The experience has been something for ALL children to enjoy – we have all learnt and created together. This has shown children that although we sometimes work individually, it all comes together as one big class piece.” Colette Sewell – Year 3 Teacher