Clay Play: Beginning Techniques | Kendra Ortner | Skillshare

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Clay Play: Beginning Techniques

teacher avatar Kendra Ortner, by hand at home

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.

      Clay Play — Beginning Techniques


    • 2.



    • 3.

      Safety First


    • 4.



    • 5.



    • 6.

      Making a Slab


    • 7.

      Using a Clay Form Mold


    • 8.

      Using a Planter Tray Mold


    • 9.



    • 10.



    • 11.

      Congratulations and Thank You!


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About This Class

Learn beginning techniques for hand-building with clay! 

Are you interested in working with clay? Or perhaps playing with clay? Then this course is for you!

 In this class you'll learn:

  • Basic safety tips
  • How to make a slab
  • Tips for drying your piece
  • How to use texture tools
  • Techniques for using different types of forms or molds
  • Carving with sgraffito and underglaze

Most of all, you'll get an idea of what is possible with the very basics of clay and use your imagination to create inspired ceramic works of art!

This is truly just the beginning! It's so fun and so easy that you'll soon discover even more fun ways to work with clay!

This class includes lots of suggestions for ways to explore and create with hand-building. It's up to you what tools you choose, and how you continue to experiment!

You'll gain the skills to create: hand-built, personalized, functional ceramic plates!

This class is perfect for beginners who want to start making with clay in a fun and accessible way.

Be sure to share your clay play posting a picture of your process and whatever you come up with!

You can also find Kendra here:





Meet Your Teacher

Teacher Profile Image

Kendra Ortner

by hand at home


Kendra Ortner is an eclectic artist; designer, painter, fiber-lover, ceramicist, teacher, and all-around creative visionary. As a handwork teacher, she witnessed the magic in children's abilities and skills to create. She loves sharing fun, approachable ways that absolutely anyone can experience this joy! Her company is "by hand at home" because she believes that the art we make with our hands can truly bring us to a feeling of being at home in our souls. 

See full profile

Level: Beginner

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1. Clay Play — Beginning Techniques: Hello. Are you curious? Perhaps you have been wanting to work with clay that you just don't know how to start. Good news. I want to show you how easy and exciting it can be to play with clay. Hi, I'm kindergartner of by hand at home. I believe that art brings us a feeling of being at home in our souls. That's why I create and share my art. I'm going to collect the artist and teacher. And I work in digital design, surface pattern design, illustration, wool, knitting, crochet, embroidery, beading, paints, and ceramics. I have beginning classes in knitting, crochet, embroidery, and BD here on Skillshare. And you can find my work online at by hand at I absolutely love creating with clay and I want to share that magic with you. In this class. I'll be teaching you how to make a hand-built ceramic plate using texture, molds and my favorite techniques, graffito, where you carve away a layer to create your designs. I highly recommend finding a local art center that has a Clay Studio to access. So you can use a tilde and other supplies and learn from others as well. I hope this class will spark your imagination and give you some ideas for making your own ceramic creations. Thank you for joining me today for clay. Clay. 2. Project: For our class project, I really want you to feel free to experiment. Show me what you've found to use as a mold or Texture tool, experiment with different shapes or stamps, or using a fork as a stab or try something completely new. Even if you only have access to Plato or air dry clay. See what you can make of it. Take pictures or make sketches of your ideas and progress and share them here in the class projects section. Whether you finish a little dish or not, share your art. My students are always surprising me with their creativity and innovation. I can't wait to see what you make. In the next section, I am going to talk about the tools that I use in my studio. But remember, you can create with just about anything. So let your imagination run wild. 3. Safety First: Hi friends. So you want to work with clay? Well, let's start with safety first. I wanted to cover a few safety tips for working with clay. You really, really want to avoid working with dry clay. Clay dust inhalation is dangerous, especially over time. So you need to take precautions. Always clean your clay area with a wet sponge or mop and never sweep or vacuum. The other primary safety concern is for your plumbing. Most studios will have a clay trap to catch particles, but if you are working from home, you will want to wash your clay things and your hands in a bucket or outdoors. It's also smart, terminates any laundry that gets a lot of clay on it in a bucket or outside with the host before you put it in the wash. Many potteries have developed bucket systems for rinsing their hands and their clay tools. And you might want to consider wearing an apron as well. Now that we've covered some basics, let's talk about my favorite tools to use when I'm playing with clay. 4. Tools: Welcome to my home studio. I have a large clay table that holds a big piece of MDF board. That's short for medium density fiber board. Unlike other surfaces like a plastic or wood tabletop, clay will not stick to MDF. It can be wiped with a wet sponge and derives easily, although it will eventually warp and need to be replaced. I absolutely love it as a working surface, it even seems to bounce back from knife marks and scratches. Now, if you don't want to buy in store a piece of fiber board, you could consider using a piece of canvas. Ideally, this would also be tightly wrapped to a board so you don't have any wrinkles. After you have a good working surface, you'll want to get a set of potters tools. A lot of beginner sets for pottery will include the basic tools. You will need. A wire for cutting your clay, a rib for smoothing your clay, a clay knife for making straight cuts, and a sponge for adding and taking away water. You can also use your needle tool to trace an object you wish to use as a mold. I'll show you exactly what I mean by that. In a future lesson. For now, I want to suggest some additional tools that you may find useful in your clay way. I really love working with a silicone rib. They are a bit bendy and flexible so they don't catch on the clay easily when you're compressing it. I often use these little wooden skewers instead of a needle tool. My clay teacher introduced me to these and I love using them. I'm also going to be using a rolling pin that measures thickness. This is a great solution for getting a nice even piece of clay to work with. I'm also going to play with some texture tools like lace and stamps. And I have some cookie cutters as well. I love making ceramic ornaments and using a regular straw is perfect for making the hole in the top. When making little plates. I am using these planter trays in various sizes. You want to make sure you get trays that are smooth and don't have any letters or numbers stamped in them. Glazed trays will also stick to your clay while these Terracotta trays absorbed moisture and help your piece dry evenly. I also use these wooden forms made by GR pottery. And I have a little wooden heart dish I found at a gift store that I use for making little heart plates. If you want to work with a wooden form like this, you will need a piece of foam. If you'd like to try using a found object. Wood and plastic are great choices because the clay will not stick. You can try other materials but consider covering in the object with a piece of plastic. I sometimes do this to make a spoon shape using a metal spoon with a layer of plastic bag between the spoon in the clay. For this graffito lesson, I will be using this loop tool to cut away a design in the under glaze I use to make these pieces here. So you'll see me use the under glaze and a brush. You can consider what other types of tools you would like to experiment with. As you get to know, clay. And some kind of bowl for water is important as well. In this class, I will be using a mid-range clay called the mix by Laguna. This classifier fires to cone five or cone six, and we'll shrink by about 12%. I have a 25-pound bag here, but you will only need a few pounds to make little plates. Many studios will sell smaller amounts. If you don't have access to a Clay Studio, you can still make textured plates using air dry clay or whatever you have access to. I would love to see what you come up with. We're almost ready to start our project. But before we do, let's talk about how to take care of our scraps and wedge our clay. 5. Wedging: Now I want to show you how to take care of your scraps when you are working with clay. Wedging clay is a process that compresses the air out of the clay and aligns the particles, making it ready to work with. I have to say that I find wedging to be an art of its own. When I'm using fresh clay from a bag, I don't bother wedging it since it is already well compressed and I will be compressing it further when I roll it out. After I've been making plates, however, I will have a lot of scraps and I usually throw them into a separate bag to wedge later. Then when I have a good amount, I begin to wedge by compressing the clay together into a shape called a ram's head, bull head or cow head. Doing this over and over. We'll get the clay ready to use. Usually, I will end up with a few air bubbles even after I wedge when I rolled this out. And you can see these as little raised air pockets. And if you just use your needle tool or your skewer and pop them, you can compress the clay again. However, if there are too many, it's back to the wedging board. So now I'll show you what I mean. These are all scraps from my hand building. So you can see that there are a lot of different little bits in here. And I'll just take a large amount. Let's see. It looks like I already partially rolled this one together, but if I combine it with these two, this looks like a good amount for work with for me. So I'm gonna begin by slamming it on the table. That's my favorite way to begin with. Clay. Slam it again. And now I'm using my hands in this shape and pushing it down. It's a little bit like meeting. But unlike needing, you don't want to introduce any air. Then I'll bring it back and push it down again. And I'm kinda forming that both head or sheep's head in this way. So there's like with my hands like this, I'm holding onto the clay. I'm not gripping it with my fingers at all because I don't want to make any marks in it. I want to compress it. So I'm pushing it down using my weight and making that shape of a ram's head. And then on the ends, I'm going to just slam it into the table to make sure the air is getting out. And I'll press it again. I can see that it's getting some big cracks in it. So this is going to have to be wedged a whole lot more before it's ready to work with. I might even let it sit in the bag for awhile. Like this. I'm getting a little wide here. You don't really want to let it get too wide. But like I say, there's an art to this and it takes a lot of practice to get better at. So that's, that's how you can recycle your clay. There's also ways to re-introduce water if it becomes too dried out. A lot of people like to introduce water into the bag, close, tightly, submerge it in a bucket of water, and that will force the water you've added to the bag to re-integrate with the clay that's underwater. Just the pressure of the water will do that. So there are a lot of ways to keep your clay in a good working state. You can also cover it with plastic to keep it moist. So we'll talk more about that later. And now, let's cut a fresh piece of clay and talk about exactly how we get our slab ready for hand building. 6. Making a Slab: We're finally playing with clay. I'm going to use my wire tool, Helene, It taught to cut off about an inch or a little bit more from the top of this piece to play. This, pulling it towards me as straight as I can. Now, one of the most satisfying find things to do with a nice piece of clay is to slam it on your working surface. If you can do this repeatedly, it will really compress the clay and start to flatten out. You'd want to make sure you keep it small enough to fit the width of your rolling pin. I've sent my rolling pin with the one-quarter inch or six millimeter circle and then I'm going to roll it out. It's best if you can roll it out in all directions to keep it evenly compressed. But if you can't because of the size of the rolling pin you are working with. Just be sure to do that when you're smoothing it with your rib, flip it over, do both sides. You can see I'm kind of going in all directions so that my clay really gets evenly stretched. If you do it all in one direction, it will create a weakness. So you wanna make sure you're doing diagonally and up and down. If you work in a Clay Studio, they have a special tool called a slab roller. When you work with a slab roller, usually you're using a piece of canvas or they have a special paper so that your clay won't stick and you'll put your clay in-between the canvas or the paper before you roll it out on the slab roller and however thick that Canvas is or the paper is, you'll want to account for that when you're rolling out your slab. Since we're doing this right on our work surface, we know exactly how thick it's going to be. I'm going to flip it again and always use your hand. I could tell that it's a little thicker on this side. Okay. That's pretty good. I'll do one more. Yeah, I've got that pretty flat with the rolling pin. Now I'm going to take my rib and I'm going to smooth in all directions. And it's just a gentle pressure. You don't want to be scraping away the clay. Although you can see I'm getting a little bit scraped away as I'm smoothing and out. I got big finger marks in there. I'm going to take us lightly firmer rib and just move those out. Isn't that nice? So I can still use this piece. Maybe that one spot that I really jabbed my finger in there, I won't use. But the rest of this piece should be nice and compressed. Oh, it looks like I can get that finger bit rolled out. How smooth it again with my rib, going diagonally here. And then I'll flip this over and compress the other side using different strokes so that the clay, it's all aligned evenly. Now, we're ready to make some little dishes. 7. Using a Clay Form Mold: Okay, Let's talk about our plan. First. I want to make a plate with leaf texture. So if you're wanting to add texture or stance, you want to do that before tracing or cutting the shape. I usually stamp my logo on the bottom too. If you want to put your name on the bottom, you could do that now, but I find it a little easier to carve. Macleay has slightly hard. As you work with clay, you will find what you like best. I'm going to cut a piece from my plate and stamp my logo near the center. So hope this is a good size. Go ahead and put my logo right there. Just lightly tap it in. We're going to a little bit like so. And then flip it over. And I'm going to apply my leaf texture on top of the clay and smooth it out. And then I'm going to use my rolling pin to roll it right into the clay. When I lifted off. It'll have that beautiful lace impression. Now, I want my form tool. If you're using a form like this, you're going to need your phone to. And I'm going to put this as centered as I can on the piece of clay and use one of my skewers to trace it. Like this. You could also use a cookie cutter for this part, or you could make a template out of paper or cardboard. So here's some of my scrap. And this comes off. This is the most magical part. It's one of the things that really made me fall in love with him building. When you take your clay off, you're working surface and put it on this foam. Then you take your form and line it up as best you can like so and you simply press it into the phone? I always flip it over right on the foam and take the formal way. And there I have my plate. It's going to dry like that for a little bit. And you can use a rib or a lot of times they just use my hand because I don't like to make any extra marks on the bottom. So I'll just use my thumb. Some people use a roller. I usually use the palm of my hand and my thumb to smooth the clay. I'll also leave this to dry. And when it's pretty dry. Not today. Tomorrow or the next day. I'll smooth at more with a sponge. So I'll leave it here for probably an hour until it firms up. If you take it right off the form, it'll just flop. The sides of your plate will flop down more so on a bigger plate, on the little lower plates, they're more forgiving. But if you want the sides to be nice and stand up well and evenly, you want to leave it on this form for a good amount of time. So I'll just set this aside and you want to be sure this is his mistake that I made that I'm sharing now. So hot tip do not put this under plastic while it's still on the form because it will mold your form. So leave it to dry in the air. And then if you do want to come back to it and carpet or, you know, you won't be able to attend to it in many days. You can put it under plastic and it'll stay moist for a week or so. But I'm just going to set this aside for now and let it firm up. Next, we'll make a plate in our little plants or mold. 8. Using a Planter Tray Mold: So now we're going to make a little plate in our plantar tray. I'll again do my logo on the bottom. And just kinda racket back and forth. I might have gotten it stuck a little bit. Yeah. I'm going to smooth it out with my finger. Okay. And then I'll just trace my little planter tray. Instead of using the foam for this one, I'm actually going to use a sponge to press it into the planter form. So this is the one that I will scruffy toe on. And scruffy toe is an Italian word, meaning to scratch away. So I use under glaze to scratch away a layer of my design. It actually scratches the way the paint that I've applied and reveals the clay underneath. So I have it sitting here on the top. And sometimes I just start the process by pressing my thumbs in the centre of the clay and working around to press this in. And I actually don't use the Sponge until it's dried out a little bit. And then I will take my sponge and get it wet, squeeze all the water out, and use it to wipe around on the inside. What that does is it really makes it nice and even and smooth. And when it's dried even further, I'll go ahead and wipe the edges to make the edges nice and smooth. And after all of that, when it's dried out even more is when I apply the layer of paint under glaze before I do this graffito. And they usually wait a couple of days to do this graffito. So I'm gonna go ahead and show you how I do that in the next video. 9. Refining: Okay, so this part will require some experimentation. If you are working in a particularly dry climate, your pots may dry more quickly. And if you are in a moister environments, may be able to leave them uncovered for hours. When I first got into a Clay Studio, it was a weekly lesson and my clay pieces were still moist enough to manipulate a little bit smooth or trim, but to dry, to add clay onto. And that was after being covered in plastic for the whole week. These plates have been uncovered for several hours in my cool basement on a rainy day and then covered with plastic overnight. Some types of plastic like those thin grocery bags with the handles will not create a good moisture barrier. While others like bread bag, it's just fine. So that requires a little experimentation to now, I am going to smooth out the edges of these plates with a wet sponge. I'm also pressing them into the trace a little bit. Corners can be very sharp, so I like to refine my plates by creating very smooth edges. I'm just pushing it in. I'm gonna go and do that to all of these. And I'll also lift them out of the tray a little bit to make sure the bottoms don't have any cracks and look nice and smooth. Just like this. And then I'll wipe around this edge. I don't want any sharp pieces. I want it to be nice and smooth around all the edges. And I don't want to add too much water either. So I'm using just enough. I can trim a little off with my finger here. This clay is still moist enough that I could make a mark in it. I could carve some texture if I wanted or this would be a good time to put your name on the bottom. If you didn't already in a shared studio, that's particularly important. And I think it's nice to have your artist's mark there too. So I'll do that for all of these plates, making sure the edges all around our smooth and the bottoms are smooth. And then these little ones, I'm going to show you how I paint those to prepare them for graffito. And I have some other plates that I've already prepped and are ready to carve. 10. Sgraffito: When I am making little scruffy toe plates, I really enjoy using these trace because they help the plates dry evenly and they provide good support when I'm carving a design. First, I'll show you how I paint the plates. And then I can show you some carving. I have some plates here that have already been brushed with under glaze, so they are ready to carve. These pieces have been under plastic for about a week and are still moist enough to carve easily. I like to put a plastic mat down for this part to avoid painting the table and to make clean up a little easier. This blue is my favorite color. First for Phaedo. It's a velvet under glaze by Amoco called teal blue. I paint on three coats, letting each layer dry in-between. I usually do these in big groups of templates or so. So I can paint a second layer on the first paint right after I'm done with the set of ten, or I will do other studio tasks while I let the layers dry with under glaze, the brush strokes can be seen if it's applied thinly or in just one layer. So I'm looking for a more even application in my script veto plates. It's important for me to change direction of my brush strokes as I add each layer. Now, while that's drying, let's use that loop tool to make some designs in these little plates. I sometimes come in with an idea and do a set of four. And other times it's just doodle. My kids love making these two and it's fun to see what they will make. I hope you will try this technique and I hope you have a lots of new ideas to try as you play with clay. One thing I mentioned, I will mention is that since my logo goes up and down, I take a look so I can tell which part of the plate would kind of be considered up. Then I like to start with doing a little spiral, like a little fern growing. And I often do some leaves. This is on the drier side. You can see that as you carve because the flakes are coming up. If there's any little lips like this one right here, I would consider that a little lip. I'm going to want to clean that up so that it's not going to create a raised sharp edge after I glaze, because this is only the first firing that happens with clay. I'll put this in the film and it will be best score biscuit fired. And then I'm going to apply a clear glaze to the whole thing and it will be fired again. Here are some more examples of scruffy toe plates I've made. These are all ready to be asked. And then after the BIS, I will apply clear glaze to these. And I have some examples of some finished pieces to show you as well. These have all been glazed with a clear glaze and they are now ready to use tableware or as fun planter trays or to hold your jewelry or anything you like. And I'm so happy that you've joined me today to learn more about graffito and what you can do as you begin to discover clay. 11. Congratulations and Thank You!: Congratulations for completing this course. I hope you've loved learning more about hand building and playing with clay. Now you have all the basic skills to begin creating your own one-of-a-kind pieces and to try different techniques like using a mold and graffito. I've included a little infographic about scruffy toe in the resources tab for you to download. And there are links to ceramic suppliers in the class project description as well. I encourage you to connect with your local clay community. Thank you for your courage and curiosity to explore and experiment with clay. I truly appreciate you spending your time learning with me. And I can't wait to see your creations. Please do share your ideas in the project section by creating your own project. If you have enjoyed this class, I would love for you to leave a review. Your feedback, so valuable and helps me to keep making an improving my classes. If you enjoyed this class, please check out my other courses and follow me here on Skillshare. You can always be in touch with me online at by hand at Thanks again and have a beautiful day.