Nature Prints in Clay

a roller is used to carefully press nature into a clay slab

Much of the texture of an object goes undiscovered when we study something with our eyes. But when we feel it with our fingers or even our cheek, we are able to discover the bumps, nooks and crannies of an object. Printing allows a viewer to discover the textural qualities of an object by sight. By printing nature into clay and glazing it with this specific technique, students will be able to now view the texture with their eyes that they could only feel with their hands before. View our most recent faux fossil creations that skip the clear glaze for a more natural, authentic fossil appearance.

nature is carefully removed from the clay slab

Prior to this activity, students take part in monoprinting with ferns and nature. They carefully roll white ink over a fern (from the center out) and press on blue or black paper. Fadeless paper works well for relief and monoprinting with students because it is thin and smooth and therefore transfers texture easily.

finished fern prints in clay

Motivation: I have often used this activity as a way to integrate with science when students are learning about fossils. I will introduce the medium and invite students to create faux (fake) fossils using nature and clay. Any textural item can be used to make prints in clay, however, nature prints create a stunning quality product. I discusse texture and invite students to share ideas about nature and texture and how, as artists, we may be able to tell a story of texture in a work of art.

Lesson Development: This is a two-session activity because the glazing must be applied to fired clay or bisqueware. White clay works best for this clay activity. Printing: You may want to have pre-rolled slabs for younger students and if your class duration is quite short. If you are working with older students, this activity is a great opportunity to introduce techniques in rolling out a slab. Students may want to share their successful strategies with others for a meaningful cooperative learning experience. After choosing the nature that they wish to press into the clay, students can arrange the nature in a pattern or design and carefully roll over the clay with a wide dowel or rolling pin. When rolling over the plant matter, be sure to start from the center of each plant and then roll to away from the center in all directions. Just as you would roll a slab from the center out, it is best to follow the same strategy or the plant may tear or buckle. Glazing: Fire the finished slabs and gather a selection of under glazes for the first step in the glazing technique. I tend to offer natural earth tones such as darker greens, warm and cool browns and black. Paint your bisque slabs by dabbing the glaze on so that it makes its way into all the cracks and grooves of the printed nature. A bushy watercolor brush works best for this activity. After the entire textured slab is covered, use a wet but not saturated clay sponge to remove the glaze on the surface leaving the grooves filled with glaze. If you feel that you removed too much, repeat the painting and wiping process. The underglaze does not need to be dry before sponging. The students will begin to see how the glaze stays in the cracks allowing the texture to come into view. You may want to talk about how this is opposite the visual effect that relief printing achieves because in relief printing, the grooves go untouched by ink. You could even take it one step further and discuss basics of intaglio printing, which has similarities with this glazing technique.  After the surface is quite clear of colored under glaze, cover the piece in a clear gloss glaze and place them in the kiln for a glaze firing. (Note: the slab could be cut into a rectangular form and rolled into a cylinder to create a vessel using this glazing technique.)

Materials: White clay (fires to cone 06-04); Underglazes ( I tend to offer earthtones for this technique such as Jet Black, Hunter Green, and Red Brown ); clear gloss glaze; clay sponges. I buy all my ceramic materials from Ceramic Supply Inc. in New Jersey. A link to the glazes can be found by clicking on the colors above.

Skill Level: Third Grade and above.

finished fern print
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