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kids, raku, and "playing with clay"

updated thu 12 aug 10


James Freeman on wed 11 aug 10

John post asked off list how my raku firing went with my young nieces
and nephew. I thought I would share my response with the list, as I
found the experience quite interesting. I wonder if anyone else has
observed similar things when working with children?


Great fun was had by all. I think I inhaled a couple of bushels of
burnt grass! Now I know the sheer joy smokers must feel whenever they
light up! The kids were fascinated by the idea that they were melting
crushed rocks to turn them into a glaze. They thought the "paint" for
pottery was something you bought from the store. They were also
amazed that the dry grass they raked up from around the pond could
turn the blue pots to copper. The 13 year old asked how it happened,
but the younger ones were happy enough with the magic.

It was really interesting and informative watching the little kids
work. The little guy, age 5, informed me before we started that he
was going to make a tea set with a teapot and two cups. I thought I
would have to spend hours working with him, and end up with pots that
were more me than he. All he heard me say was to scratch up the clay
and wet it before sticking it together before he was off and running.
He pinched out his cups with no instruction, nor anyone even telling
him that pinching was a thing to do. He tried to pinch out the teapot
body, but could only get it as high as the cups, so he started adding
"snakes" and pieces of slab until he reached his shape. He completely
enclosed the pot. When I asked him how he would get the water in, he
informed me that he was going to cut the top off and use it for a lid
so it had to fit. He proceeded to poke a hole in the pot. roll some
clay around a stick, and stick it on over the hole to serve as a
spout. He added a knob to the lid and a handle to the pot, and I'll
be damned if he didn't have a tea set, wonky as heck, but undeniably a
tea set.

He then made a few tiles, drew on them with various pointy things,
then just started making impressions with various objects he picked up
around the studio. He followed this up with a mug, and a large vase
fashioned from pinched, coiled, and slab parts, using whatever worked
to reach his form. He finished up by making an alien with a big
antenna on his head. He never asked how to do anything, nor if you
could do thus or so, or if something would work; he just did it,
directly, and without fear or hesitation.

My 10 year old niece asked a lot of technique type questions. What
happens if you press a leaf into the clay? What can I use to draw on
the clay? How can I make this bigger? How can I put the tail back on
my dolphin? She wanted to know how to do things, but was then off and

The kids found a bunch of marbles at the bottom of the lake where our
neighbor's kid had thrown them from the dock. The 10 year old asked
what would happen if we put the marbles in the kiln. I told her there
was only one way to find out. I showed the girls how to make rigid
slab boxes that we could fill with marbles and fire in the raku kiln.
I didn't think the 5 year old had been watching or listening, but he
started picking up the girls' slab scraps, cut them to shape, and
fashioned his own slab box without help or instruction. All of his
seams cracked, but it was still pretty impressive.

My 13 year old niece was the most hesitant. Her questions were more
concerned with whether or not something was "right". She also asked
permission to do things. Can I make a bowl? Can I make the fenders
for my car this way? Are they the right size? Is this good? She
made a monster for a kiln god, but asked if it was "OK". She seemed
to feel that there must be rules for everything, and was very
concerned that she was following them.

Certainly, every child has a unique personality which affects how they
work, but I found the differences in attitude, based largely on age,
to be fascinating. It seemed to clearly bolster the idea that young
kids are essentially fearless, guileless, and uninhibited, which
wonderful traits we strangle out of them as they age, ultimately
leaving inhibited, self-conscious adults largely lacking in
self-confidence and overly concerned with propriety and appearance.
Just an observation, and I wonder how well it comports with your
observations as a teacher of the younger set.

While the kids worked, I picked up some of their very coarse raku clay
and absently started pinching out some pots. I had never before spent
any time making pinch pots, nor had I even seen anyone make them. I
must say that I found the process thoroughly relaxing and enjoyable.
I pinched out several fake gaijin tea bowls, then hand-carved the
feet. I found the pots to be far more "alive" and far more
interesting than my typical thrown work, and orders of magnitude
better, or at least more honest-looking, than the fake wonky bowls I
had made on the wheel by beating up and wonkifying my tightly thrown
work. Though I have to spend the next couple of months preparing for
the workshop I have to teach on my sculptural vessel techniques, I can
easily see myself spending a lot more time exploring pinch pots
afterward. What a lot of fun.


James Freeman

"All I say is by way of discourse, and nothing by way of advice.=3DA0 I
should not speak so boldly if it were my due to be believed."
-Michel de Montaigne