Ceramic Heads

Term: 4 Year: 2008
Ceramic Heads 5
Ceramic Heads 4
Ceramic Heads 3
Ceramic Heads 2
Ceramic Heads 1
Ceramic Heads 7
Ceramic Heads 6

Self identity; Clay busts inspired by the art of Ah Xian

Strathcona Baptist Girls Grammar School offers Art to all year levels. Art is a popular subject for girls that are creative
and want to study Arts after VCE. The school has just finished building the much anticipated Creative and Performing Art
Centre which will be operational from the end of August.

The unit of work on self identity was developed for a group of Year 10 Ceramics students and took place over approximately
18 practical sessions (two periods a week) in first semester. Theory was studied separately from this practical class.

The ceramic busts were inspired by the work of Ah Xian, an artist who was born in Beijing and now lives in Sydney. I wanted
the unit of work to have a very strong technical aspect as well as provide an opportunity for each student to develop their
own personal skills and interests. The art of Ah Xian also provided an excellent topic for a class discussion on defining
the role of an artist and the differences between artist, designer and the artist as director.

I began by showing the girls a range of images of Ah Xian’s work and other artists including Ukranian artist Sergei
Isupov. The students were asked to design some imagery that reflected their self identity. This involved sketches and scrapbooking
into their visual diaries any useful and relevant imagery, including other artworks.

Each head was constructed using a range of techniques, beginning with a heavy slab and then adding coils to build up
the basic framework. The slab was formed into a thick, hollow cylinder from which to begin shaping the shoulders, neck
and lower jaw. Using mirrors to reflect their own features, the girls manipulated the clay to fabricate the contours of
the heads. When they began adding the fine details, the heads gained character and changed dramatically in a matter of
days. The girls were able to appreciate some of the general characteristics of facial anatomy and proportion through this.
Some clay animations by Jan Svankmajer provided useful inspiration at this stage.

At this point, I wanted them to achieve a practical understanding of the range of decorative options available in ceramics
and arranged a series of student researched mini-workshop sessions during class while working on the sculptures. Each student
chose a different topic from a list I gave them, to research and present to the rest of the class. I encouraged them to
experiment with a wide variety of techniques including silk screen printing on clay, the use of heavy metal oxides for
decoration and colour, low temperature porcelain, Egyptian paste and earthenware glazes.

It was important to give each student sufficient information about the topics so that she knew what to look for when researching.
Prior to the selection of the topics, I showed the class samples of each technique using photographs and pieces of my own
work. I discussed the topics with each student the week before their presentation.

An important part of this was also learning how to safely handle many of these materials.

The students enjoyed hearing about each new topic from a classmate and they had fun experimenting with each technique.
Because they were able to choose their own topic, it gave them a sense of ownership of their learning. The experience of
these decorative technique sessions was invaluable for the final stage in the decoration of the heads. Several of the research
topics were directly incorporated into the decorative finishes used by the students on the heads.

In the final class each student evaluated their experiences from the semester.

At a Glance

Order of events- over two terms

  • Introduction to Ah Xian and students begin ceramic bust construction after demonstration of techniques.
  • Clay construction.
  • Group discussion.*
  • Development of ideas for imagery (throughout the unit, as students revised and altered their ideas).*
  • Weekly presentation by a student on their selected topic followed by group participation with practical testing of
    the technique and/or material.*
  • Firing of test samples. *
  • Gradual completion of busts and trials for decorative finish.
  • Completion and firing.

*   (Bust construction continued)

Technical information

  • Feenys Buff Raku fired to 1100C
  • Various decorative techniques.
  • Coil, slab and other construction methods.


Some VELS objectives for level 6 Ceramics

“Individually and collaboratively students explore their own works and works by other artists working in different
historic and cultural contexts”

Creating and Making

  • Build strong technical skills in using clay and decorative techniques.
  • Develop a sound understanding of the materials involved.
  • Create a range of ceramic pieces and trial multiple techniques.
  • Develop and resolve ideas and artistic concepts
  • Explore and research using the internet and various other resources..
  • Maintain a visual diary.
  • Build independence and confidence in learning.

Strathcona Baptist Girls Grammar School Canterbury