Wednesday, September 29, 2010

3rd Grade: Ceramic Fish and Some Clay Tips

One of my main clay projects that I do every year with 3rd grade is the ceramic fish. The kids love this project and are always get excited when I announce what we will be doing. It has taken several years to perfect this project and this years clay fish have to be the best I've seen so far. I am excited to share them with you when they are done.


Students start with a 4.5" x 6" piece of paper to draw their fish shape. I pass around images of tropical fish and show them step-by-step how to construct a basic fish shape. I make sure to tell them that they can be creative about the tail, fin or mouth shapes because I do not want all their fish to look exactly the same. Below is an example the fish images I pass around and one of my fish drawings.

Here are a couple of student drawings. You can see that one student was really enthusiastic about the color choices.Clay

This project is made from slab clay. Slab clay is when pieces of clay are pressed flat. You can use a rolling pin and yard sticks or...

a slab roller. This machine save you lot's of time pressing clay.Tip: Make sure that you do not press your clay too thin. You want to stay close to half an inch. If the clay is too thin your clay project may start to curl when it dries. You also do not want to pick up the clay too much because it might warp.

Students place their drawing on top of a piece of clay slab and trace using a pencil or clay tool. Lift drawing, retrace and then cut around the shape. I picked up a few butter knives from a thrift store that work really well cutting clay.

The kids then add texture and pattern to their fish using clay tools and other odds and ends that work well with clay.
Drying and Firing.

It is a good idea to let your clay air dry for several days. It is not a good idea to set it out in the sun because the clay could dry too fast and warp. So be careful. If you fire your clay and it is still not completely dry that is when explosions will happen. I have had my share of ceramics blown up in the kiln. It is not a good feeling when it happens though the kids get a kick out of the idea of something blowing up, go figure.

Tip: I recently found out that when you are firing your dried clay you can sometimes stack them to have more kiln space. I usually do this with clay fish. You have to be careful doing this because the clay is very fragile and brittle before firing. Here is an example of how I stack the fish in the kiln.

Underglaze and Glaze.

After I pull out the fired ceramic fish it is time to add come color. You have a choice of using colored glazes or underglaze that will need to be dipped in a clear glaze to make them shiny. Colored glazes allow you to paint and put it directly into the kiln to fire. I use underglazes because I think the materials last a lot longer and I get more uses out of it.

Here are the rules I give the students when they get ready to paint their fish:
1. Do not mix colors. (Because this is not like regular paint it is hard to know what final color you will get when mixing colors.)
2. Paint at least 2 coats. (The more coats you paint the darker and the more vibrant the color will be.
3. No more than 3 colors to be used on your fish. (It is a good idea to limit the number of colors because the kids tend to go crazy.)
4. Paint with one color at a time. When you are ready for a new color come to the counter and trade colors. (Because underglaze is so expensive I try to conserve it as much as possible. I have found that trading paint keeps them from wasting so much. It worked really well with the color construction guides.)

Dip and Fire.

When dipping your clay pieces make sure it is a thin and even coat. If you have too much glaze on the ceramic it will cloud the color. Make sure to place all glazed fish on stilts in the kiln, you do not want them to stick to the shelves.
That all I have for you. I will be posting some finished ceramic fish very soon. For those of you who are new to clay, I wish much luck.


  1. I love the textures! I don't have stilts area they expensive? Are they metal? I am a novice just do pinch, coil and simple projects!

  2. Thank, the stilts are pretty reasonably priced and are important if you are going to glaze and fire. I have seen a couple of teachers mention dipping the bottom is a homemade wax so that the glazed projects can be set directly onto the shelves. The wax just burns away in the kiln. You can find stilts at any clay/ceramics store.

    Here is a link about how to use stilts. I will post some book suggestions on clay with kids soon.



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