“I love to create, and to me, the ultimate freedom of expression is a blank canvas or a block of clay to capture whatever emotions your imagination gives it.” ~ Daniel Boulud
Earlier in September a friend and I attended a really fun workshop at the Art Gallery of Ontario where we got to enjoy printmaking, drawing, painting and working with clay. As I played with my portion of clay, I realized that this was a topic I have not explored much in this blog. I thought of the many times I have watched children enthusiasticlly transform plastecine and wedges of clay into snakes, cookies, balls and coils and a thousand other things and wondered if I appreciated the full scope of the learning that was going on while their hands were busily creating. The children captured in the video Molding the Future: Child Development Through Work with Clay allow us to observe and describe the different levels of learning that take place when children freely explore clay. The possibilities for imaginative play, personal expression, communication, muscle control and relaxation seem endless.
I have a wonderful book by Cathy Weisman Topal called Children, Clay and Sculpture, which discusses topics like exploring clay; making sculptures; forming animals, heads and faces; figures; and finishing and displaying sculpture. The author explains how to introduce clay to children and maintains that clay is a very inviting and accessible art material for children because they can explore it so very easily using only their hands. Clay can be manipulated in many ways (e.g., poked, pinched, pounded, rolled, squashed and stretched, to name a few). Weisman Topal states that in time children can be introduced to sculpting tools and learn to create “increasingly sophisticated clay sculpture” and also “learn about and gain an appreciation for three dimentional art” as well as for modern and historic art forms. Working independently or in groups, children can build up with clay, squeeze and sculpt, roll coils and balls, make simple push pots and break and rejoin clay, discovering the versatility of the medium and the ever more complex things that clay can become.
Marvin Bartel discusses additional topics such as the fear of getting dirty while playing with clay and how he removes inhibitions by showing children how easy it is to wash up after using clay. He is not an advocate of commercial products (though Play Doh is alright) and feels that gadgets such as cookie cutters and rollers can have a role in stifling creativity. Using hands only at first is best. He encourages a process-oriented approach which can be supported through the use of open-ended questions, and positive comments that describe what the child is doing. Bartel talks about the benefit of teaching children to make their own observations and interpretations in aid of developing their visual thinking. He favours encouraging experimentation rather than having children copy his work because problem-solving and imagination are equal in importance to learning clay shaping skills. His article has further practical advice for parents and educators wishing to introduce children to working with clay. Most importantly, Bartel emphasizes respect for a child’s natural curiosity, capabilities and creativity – things that can be nurtured through play and exploration with clay.
“Your life is a piece of clay. Don’t let anyone else mold it for you.” ~ Unknown