Lesson Plan: Gargoyle Ceramic Lidded Box

Gargoyle Ceramic Lidded Box

Submitted by: Judy Decker

LESSON PLAN: 6th Grade - Ceramics

2 weeks UNIT: Medieval Art - Gargoyles

PROJECT: Ceramic “Guardian” box (Gargoyle on roof)


Objectives: The learner will

  • Create a ceramic box with architectural elements and textures

  • Create a beastie inspired by gargoyles of the Middle Ages.

  • Utilize ceramics vocabulary.

  • Demonstrate craftsmanship in forming and glazing

3”x 4” (7.6 x 10 cm) cardboard for sides - card board for bottom of box, Masking Tape., plastic bags, Rolling Pins., guide sticks, Stoneware Clay., slip dishes, Clay Modeling Tools., texture gadgets, Glazes., Brushes., wood boards, plastic bags


Gargoyles - sculptures of fantastic beasts found on cathedral roof-lines.
Modeling - to form the clay by pressing, pushing, pinching with the fingers and tools. Slab construction.

ceramic gargoyle
Detail of image


Instructional Resources:

Video: "Gargoyle: Guardians of the Gate"
(Previous lesson)

Video: Fantastic World of M.C. Escher (selections)

Internet: Lots of pictures of Gargoyles



Gargoyles were sculptures of imaginary beasts created during the Middle Ages. They were located along the roof and downspouts on cathedral buildings. Their function was to drain the water away from the stone carvings on the buildings. However, they were created fierce and fantastic looking to serve as a reminder to the people that the spirits of hell were awaiting them if they did not believe the religious beliefs of the church and try to follow them.


Medieval artists created their gargoyles based on animals they had observed, especially noting the way animals look when they are defending themselves or attacking and need to look terrifying. To make them seem strange and other-worldly these artisans combined features from different animals, exaggerated characteristics like eyebrows, lips, and wrinkles, and used their imaginations to create creatures which would inspire fear and obedience.

  1. Watch the video "Gargoyle: Guardians of the Gate"

  2. Internet Lesson: Medieval Tessellations

  3. Demonstrations

  1. Making cardboard box and rolling clay slabs (day two)

  2. Pressing textures into sides of box – assembling box (day three)

  3. Making lid and gargoyle (day four)

  4. Adding extras (day five)

ceramic gargoyle
Detail of image

Optional video: Fantastic World of M. C. Escher (I was out on a professional day so I had the substitute show this video - It gave the students a lot of ideas for combining their animal/beastie with architecture. I gave instructions what parts to show and what to fast forward through)


Alternate Lesson: Clay Gargoyles by Rebekka Short, Goshen College you will notice I "borrowed" a lot of her words in writing this lesson. The box is my original lesson idea.



ASSIGNMENT: Create a ceramic slab box featuring a gargoyle sculpture on the lid to “guard and protect” the contents. Make your gargoyle look fierce and nasty by creating animalistic features that are exaggerated ---give your gargoyle an interesting expression. Your sculpture must be upright; crouching or sitting is best. (Standing is too difficult –legs will be fragile). You will need to listen very carefully to the instructions that are given to accomplish this. No talking.

1. Distribute plastic bags, cardboard for boxes and tape. Tape box together and write name on the bottom. Clay is in the blue barrel at the back of the room. Students may make a rhombus shaped box, square - or rectangle if they desire. Cut cardboard bottom of box to fit. Tape box together. (Note: we used the cardboard to help keep the slabs flat for our boxes - we didn't have time to let them get leather hard for assemblage)

2. Clay box is to be assembled first. Roll out slab of clay with rolling pin –use guide sticks to insure uniform thickness.  Press textures into clay. Cut to fit inside box. Put bottom in first. Gently place slabs inside box to insure texture remains.

3. Scratch surfaces where clay will touch – apply slip to hold the clay together—fuse seams.

4. Cut lid slightly larger than top of box—press in textures.

5. Make clay gargoyle (while lit is getting leather hard) -- Keeping the clay in your hands, gently roll and squeeze it to form sort of a cylinder-- the shape will change as you work. Check the size of your cylinder against the lid. Remember that your sculpture must be smaller than your lid.

ceramic gargoyle
Detail of image

6. Model the clay by pressing, pushing and pinching to form the main body and head form. Try to imagine your gargoyle perched, sitting or crouched on the edge of the roof. Gently squeeze in to form the neck. Think about the form of the head, including the snout or jaw. Try to make the jaw stand out from the neck. Turn your sculpture around and look at the back and sides. Think about ways to show the hips, shoulders or spine.

7. Think about legs and arms. By pushing into your clay with your fingertips you will be able to make some of it stand out to begin forming limbs. Think about the way animals (e.g. dogs) fold their legs beneath them when they are seated.  Make arms/legs with coils of clay.

8. Look at the head of your sculpture. Using your pencil eraser, push gently into the clay to begin forming eye sockets. The eye sockets will make a space for eyeballs, and will also help you to begin forming eyebrows, nose, and cheekbones. Add very thin coils to shape eyelids. Remember, exaggerating these features will make your gargoyle more fantastic, alive, and believable looking. Medieval artisans wanted their sculptures to be unreal, but convincing.

9. Using the tools also create spaces for nostrils and ears. Your gargoyle will look more expressive if there are spaces into the clay as well as things that project outward.

10. You may add pieces of clay for features like wings, tails, ears, spines, tongue, teeth, etc. Remember to use slip to attach pieces of clay. Wings and tails will be stronger and more alive looking if they are curved rather than straight. Wherever possible attach them to the body in more than one place to strengthen the joint.

11. Measure the inside dimension of your box—mark dimension on under side of roof. Fuse supports/lip on the underside of the roof to keep the lid from sliding off if someone would bump it accidentally.

12. Fuse the gargoyle to the roof…remember to scratch and slip a couple times to insure he/she will stick.

13. Use a pointed stick or pencil to carve your name and class # onto the underside of your gargoyle treasure box.

14. Smooth rough edges with damp sponge - allow to dry --Bisque fire.

Note: Students who finished early wrote a creative story about their gargoyles. Those who took longer to finish wrote their stories as homework assignment.

15. Glaze - make gargoyle a different color than box if desired. Make lid a different color if desired.


ceramic gargoyle CLEAN-UP INSTRUCTIONS. Allow about 5 to 10 minutes for cleaning up.

Leftover clay should go into the barrel.

Tools should be wiped off and returned, along with slip containers to the sink counter.

Tables will need to be wiped off with several pieces of damp paper towel so that they are clean.


GARGOYLES should be placed on a wood board inside your plastic bag. Put name on bag with masking tape. Place in assigned cupboard.



Review vocabulary

Review forming techniques

Review lesson criteria



Ceramic forming techniques – box construction - use of textures.

Originality in design – box and gargoyle (transferring ideas from 2-D to 3-D)


Glazing - aesthetics with the piece


Note: Many thanks to Rebekka Short: Gargoyle Lesson Plan e). My Gargoyle Box is my original idea, but I couldn't find my gargoyle mug lesson plan to revise... so to save me time, I borrowed some words from Rebekka.



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