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Students love working with alternative materials. Clay is an excellent medium for students to work with as it allows them to really engage with a medium. This activity will introduce students to the world of relief tiles and repetition. It will also give them the opportunity to work with line, shape and balance and how it relates in nature.


We suggest that the teacher have a collection of images of animals from nature. Wild animals that can be found around the world would be interesting to have . These can simply be cut out images from magazines such as National Geographic. Students are going to reinterpret these images and carve strong relief lines in clay. Clay can be pre-cut and pressed with a rolling pin into tile like pieces and put aside, covered in plastic, to keep it from drying. This will save time when it comes to giving students their clay. Place the slabs of clay on pieces of cardboard so that they can be easily transported. Make the slabs either 3×3 or 4×4 depending on the amount of clay available.


Note: The example image of Kenojuak Ashevak’s painting will be on display for the class to refer as an example of how animals can be interpreted in different ways.

  1. The students will be asked to identify the 3 birds in the image.
  2. The class will be encouraged to have a discussion about how strong and bold the lines are and how, even in a stylized image, you can still identify the 3 birds in the print.  Following the short discussion, students will  be told that they are going to create their own multiple animal drawing, only they are going to do it in clay.
  3. Students will be told that they are going to be using a plastic knife or pencil and then carve it out in the clay tile piece. They  will  also be told that they can add on to the clay tile by adding extra clay to build out from the base.
  4. After the discussion and description students will be given paper in order to allow them to do preliminary drawings of their altered animals.
  5. Students will be told that they need to blend three different versions of the animal image they chose. After they have finished their drawings they will be given their clay to begin work.
  6. A variety of plastic tools would be very helpful for students to use for carving and marking their clay tile. Plastic knives, spoons, and forks work perfectly for this task.  Students will have to use just a little drop (literally a drop) of water if they want to attach additional clay, as if it is too wet, the clay will not stick.
  7. Students will make sure that they focus on marking bold strong lines when they carve into the clay, to create an animal that can be identified.
  8. Once the carvings are all done, put the tiles aside to dry. When the tiles are dry, students can take the opportunity to paint them.  Use only one prominent colour, with a white background. They can choose any colour they want for the relief part as long as it is one colour.
  9. When they are ready to paint the students will be given their paint tray with the selected colour (which varies depending on resources). Black is a colour that can be used here if wanted, as black and white make a great contrast.
  10. Students who finish their clay tile early can use leftover clay pieces and form a miniature sculpture of their chosen animal. This can also be painted, and displayed alongside their relief tile.
  11. When all the relief tiles are painted and dry students will take turns discussing their tile and why they selected their chosen animal for the  carving.

Tips and Tricks

Drape pieces of wet paper towel over the clay that students are working on to prevent it from drying out. This simple trick can save a lot of clay. Using a hairdryer to help dry the tiles can cut down on drying time.

If using dark coloured clay, the tiles can all be painted white as a primer, and then allowed to dry, in order for the colours to remain vibrant.