Art & Literacy: Lois Ehlert Clay Flowers

Lois Ehlert’s, Planting a Rainbow, was a great fit for Studio Sprout’s summer curriculum because it combines the themes of art and garden. I love Ehlert’s educational approach through simple story telling and bold visuals. Planting a Rainbow is a great read because it gives children the opportunity to name colors, shapes and flowers.

planting a rainbow
Clay is a loved medium in my studio. I decided to take mimic Ehlert’s style of silhouette shape making in our clay flower project.
The first step to working with clay is wedging. I gave each child a chunk of clay and asked them to work the clay on a canvas covered board for a few minutes. They were encouraged to work the chunk evenly, pressing it down with both hands and turning it over several times. Wedging works out air bubbles in the clay and creates a stable piece that is less prone to cracking.
Next we rolled our clay into slabs. I use large paint mixing sticks to create even thickness. My younger students need help with pushing the clay down but everyone enjoys using rolling pins so we make sure they get to hold the rolling pin even if an adult is creating the pressure.
I provided plastic templates and bowls for my students to carve their flower shape. After carving the initial flower shape we balled up all the scrap clay from the negative space and spent a few minutes exploring the medium. I provided traditional clay tools made out of wood and metal, plastic palette knives, scrapers, garlic presses, and butter slicer. It’s really important to give children time to discover how clay works. It’s like no other medium and takes time to get a hang of. Clay requires a firm but gentle touch.
As students showed readiness we moved back to our slabs. I encouraged texture making with a variety of tools that I mentioned above.
After creating patterns, designs, and textures we dipped our finger in a small cup of water and ran it along the edge so that all the rough parts were smooth.
I do not have a kiln so we use air dry clay. I’ve had great success using tempera paint directly on wet clay. The colors mute when dry but the process and product are still fabulous.
You will notice a piece of straw in the photo below. We use cut up straws as tools to create holes so that we can hang the slab art later. Each student chose one or two holes.
Never is my classroom as quiet and focused as when we do clay. There is a magic with clay that I haven’t found in any other medium.
Our final touch of detail was made by pressing beads into the clay. This is an engaging way to develop fine motor skills and really adds a lot of pop through color and texture.
Each clay flower was set to dry on a piece of cardboard for a week until we met again for class. The final steps for this project included a coat of mod podge and creating a hanger out of a pipe cleaner.


Below you will see a variety of complete flowers:


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