Lesson Plan: Organic form in Clay - Nature Abstractions - Ceramic Sculpture

Nature Abstractions

Submitted by: Maria Lengauer, The High School for Creative and Performing Arts in Philadelphia, PA
UNIT: Ceramic Sculpture - Organic form
Grade Level: High School (adaptable to middle school)
Organic Sculpture ( for those who do not have clay)
Ceramic Sculpture Lesson Ideas



These are samples of a Georgia O'Keeffe unit Maria did with 11-12 graders, abstracting natural objects. Students studied the work of Georgia O'Keeffe, then did personal research into forms in nature. Sketches were made of natural objects - then the fun began abstracting them. Clay forms evolved and changed throughout the construction. Draped slab method was used for construction - along with other hand building techniques.



Organic slab sculpture and vessels by Val Lyle (see his Georgia O'Keeffe vessels and flowers)
Sana Musasama - see her Garden series
Titling Turban by Laurie Spencer - description
Double Dish with Spoons by Eric Van Eimeren
Cabbage Villa by Alan Barratt-Danes


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Click images for larger views See finished See finished form



Georgia O'Keeffe Museum Collections. - Published to mark the tenth anniversary of the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico, it showcases 335 works

Georgia O'Keeffe World of Art. - This book gives the reader a great outline of O'Keeffe's life. The author matches the artist's personal development with her work so that one can travel in O'Keeffe's footsteps and appreciate both her outlook and inner eye.



Red Hills with White Shell by Georgia O'Keeffe
Two Pink Shells by Georgia O'Keeffe.



Georgia O'Keeffe prints (See a few above), assorted shells/natural objects, books with nature photographs, Clay (a good sculpture clay like Amaco Buff Clay., Wire End Clay Tool Set., Canvas., boards, plastic bags, Rolling Pins., guide sticks, Slip. dishes, newspapers, Glazes..


Objectives: student will

  • research and synthesize visual images, themes (nature), and ideas to create a work of art which reflects personal experiences and intended meanings

  • explore how artists get ideas (inspiration from nature) - abstract nature - investigate the formal influence of growing things as a theme in creating a ceramic work

  • create an idea or theme in more than one medium - 2-D interpreted in 3-D form - creating multiple solutions to visual arts problem

  • combine hand building techniques to create a sculptural form - demonstrate craftsmanship - explore surface decoration

  • select glaze for aesthetic quality to enhance sculptural form.


  1. Show (and discuss) works of Georgia O'Keeffe

  2. Show examples of organic form in clay


  1. Choose a natural object (shell, pine cones, seed pods, flower, etc..)

  2. draw one realistic pencil drawing - include value shading

  3. Abstract form at least 4 times emphasizing specific elements and principles

  4. Choose one sketch and enlarge to 18 x 24, create volume (choice of watercolor, acrylic or oil sticks)

  5. Critique drawings

  6. Create two mini models in clay of 2D painting translating into 3D sculpture

  7. Choose one and enlarge full scale

  8. Construct organic form with draped slab method and other hand building techniques. Forms can be supported temporarily with newspaper. Adapt and alter as the form grows.

  9. Allow to dry - bisque fire - glaze with earth tone glazes (Amaco textured and luster glazes look nice - also high fire stoneware glazes.)

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National Standards:

  1. Students will be able to understand and apply media, techniques and processes.

  2. Students will be able to use knowledge of structures and functions.

  3. Students will be able to reflect upon and assess the characteristics and merits of their own work as well as the work of others.

  4. Students will be able to understand the visual arts in relation to history and cultures.


Submitted by: Judy Decker
UNIT: Organic Form - Sculpture
Lesson: Plaster addition - organic forms



Scrap wood for working bases, sanded wood for finished bases (if piece requires a base), Sandpaper., wire window screen, aluminum foil,.Plaster Gauze., 1/8 Sculpture Wire., Thin Wire., Plaster of Paris., plastic dishes. Wood Stains,.shoe polish,.Needle Nose Pliers,.Wire Cutters., Drill / drill bit,.File Set..



This lesson would begin much the same way - have students examine organic forms in sculpture - and look to artists inspired by nature. See work of Henry Moore

Students would create some sketches abstracting a natural form (bones work well for inspiration).

  1. Make a wire armature using 1/8" thick sculpture wire. Drill holes in working base (scrap wood) for wire ends (for pieces that will be mounted on finished wood base).

  2. Cut strips of aluminum mesh window screen and shape around armature. Use finer wire to attach to armature. Allow for some open/hollowed areas.

  3. Apply layer of Plaster Gauze. strips dipped in water - smoothing to fill in holes. Refine shape as needed. Apply second layer.

  4. Add textural elements with pinched/scrunched up gauze if desired. Secure with strip of gauze

  5. Smooth surface with plaster of Paris mix. To mix plaster: Only mix enough plaster to use in about twenty minute period. Put about one cup of water in bowl. Sprinkle in plaster until you see plaster to mound up in center - then mix with hand. DO NOT begin mixing until all plaster has been added. It will take about as much plaster as water. You can smooth on the plaster with special sculpture tools - or simply plastic knives.

  6. Once completely dry, smooth with sand paper and files.

  7. Stain and build up patina with shoe polish. Polish to a soft sheen. Alternate finish: faux metal. Spray with black and brown spray paint - then dusting of Metallic Spray Paint..

  8. Mount on finished - sanded, stained and varnished wood base. Drill holes for wire ends.

Alternate Method: Paper Mache. with Paper Mache. pulp.

Ceramic Sculpture Ideas for High School

Rattles - grouping of three that relate in some way:

Forming methods:

  1. Form two pinch pots - put fired "peas" of clay inside (you can use bone dry pieces of clay - but these may stick to the inside walls). Fuse the two pinch pots together. Paddle to shape and sculpt. Put pin holes in rattle form so air is not trapped.

  2. Take a baseball size chunk of clay (or desired size). Wedge clay and roll into ball. Cut ball in half with string or wire. Hollow out both halves to about ΒΌ" to 3/8" thick. Put pea size pieces of dry clay (or fired clay) inside and fuse hollowed cup together (score and slip edges). Carve and sculpt form to desired shape. Put pin holes in to prevent trapped air (trapped air will make form explode in Kiln. during firing).

Organic Pods/Rattles by Kelly Jean Ohl


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Minnesota artist, Kelly Jean Ohl, makes sculptural objects, bowls, rattles, and small installations, incorporating organic textures and shapes. Shown is a collection of her organic pod rattles. Students can make these using the above techniques - texture with various tools - stain with oxides. Rattle forms could be glazed or painted. Students may want to make a textured bowl to display their rattles.


Ceramic Pod Totems - Patz Fowle


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Here are two examples of stacked pods from Patz Fowle. After Patz taught the "Patz Process Ceramic Technique" for hand building clay animals to teachers and students in Japan, Ms. Jenny Thomas in London shared with Patz the idea for the ceramic pods. The examples here are from students at the South Carolina Governor's School for Science and Mathematics. Here is one photo from Japan. Patz students used a non-toxic finish on the ceramic pods -- students stained with acrylic washes, dry brushed with acrylics and sealed (outdoors) with sprayed on glossy or matte ceramic sealer.


Ceramic Sculpture Sites of Interest:

Ancient Images: Sculpture by Norman Ernsting



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