CLAY SLAB FIGURE – Form, Texture, Proportion

Students use slab handbuilding techniques to create a standing figure out of air-dry clay. Once it is dry they paint it with acrylic paint.

Required Time

120 Minutes

Grade Level

Grade 4 to Grade 8


Language Arts
Visual Arts



Crayola Air-Dry Clay - White Crayola Acrylic Paints Crayola Paint Brushes Water Containers Paper Towels Flat Wooden Slats - .5 cm thick - 2 per group Rolling Pins - 1 per group Plastic Container Lids - about 15 cm (8") diameter - 1 per student Piece of Burlap or Other Textured Fabric - about 15 cm x 25 cm (6" x 8") - 1 per group

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CLAY SLAB FIGURE – Form, Texture, Proportion - Step One

Step One

Set Up 

  1. Tape a piece of burlap on the desk.
  2. Tape a wooden slat on each side of the burlap.
  3. Place a rolling pin beside the set up. 

Roll a Slab

  1. Press a small ball of clay between the wooden slats.
  2. Place the rolling pin on top of the wooden slats and roll the clay flat.
  3. Make sure the slab has uniform thickness.
  4. Roll the clay slab big enough for a 1/4 circle - about 17 cm (8") diameter.
CLAY SLAB FIGURE – Form, Texture, Proportion - Step Two

Step Two

  1. Cut out a ¼ circle of Bristol board with a 17 cm diameter.
  2. Trace the shape on a piece of copy paper to use as a template.
  3. Fold the Bristol board shape into a cone and tape it in place.
CLAY SLAB FIGURE – Form, Texture, Proportion - Step Three

Step Three

  1. Place the paper template on top of the clay.
  2. Use a plastic knife or pin tool to cut out the shape.
  3. Remove the paper pattern.
  4. Remove the clay slab.
CLAY SLAB FIGURE – Form, Texture, Proportion - Step Four

Step Four

  1. Wrap the slab around the Bristol board cone.
  2. Use a pin tool to score the edges of the clay.
CLAY SLAB FIGURE – Form, Texture, Proportion - Step Five

Step Five

  1. Paint slip on the scored edges. (Slip - watery clay the consistency of a thick milkshake.)
  2. Join the clay at the scored and slipped edges. 
CLAY SLAB FIGURE – Form, Texture, Proportion - Step Six

Step Six

  1. Make a small clay mask for the face.
  2. Remember to score and slip before joining pieces of clay.
CLAY SLAB FIGURE – Form, Texture, Proportion - Step Seven

Step Seven

  1. Attach the face to the top of the cone.
  2. Add lots of details.
CLAY SLAB FIGURE – Form, Texture, Proportion - Step Eight

Step Eight

  1. Allow the figure to dry for about 1 week.
  2. Place a plastic bag loosely over the figure to allow it to dry slowly.
    This will help prevent the thinner pieces of clay from drying too quickly and breaking away from the rest of the figure.
  3. Remove the plastic bag after 3 days and allow the figure to dry for 4 more days.
CLAY SLAB FIGURE – Form, Texture, Proportion - Step Nine

Step Nine

  1. Once the figure is completely dry, paint it with acrylic paint.
  2. Place the figure on a plastic lid cover so you can turn it around without touching it.

Learning Goals

Students will be able to:

  • create a clay sculpture of a standing figure;
  • add details to communicate the figure’s personality;
  • demonstrate skillful slab handbuilding techniques;
  • demonstrate technical accomplishment and creativity;  
  • support their ideas with evidence found in the works.


Have students:

  • work in teams to create step by step How To videos demonstrating how to make clay slabs;
  • research other slab projects they think would be fun to make;
  • choose a slab project and make a sample of the project;
  • make a small poster outlining the steps to make it;
  • present their work to the class.


  1. Prior to this lesson you may want to have students explore clay techniques with the Score and Slip lesson on this website.
  2. Make a batch of slip - watery clay the consistency of a thick milkshake, enough for groups of students to share.
  3. Have students make pin tools by taping an open paper clip to the end of a pencil.
  4. Set up slab rolling stations one per group of 4 - 6 students.
  5. Download images of clay figures from the Internet, e.g.,
    Clay Figures 
  6. Photocopy the All About questionnaire - 1 per student. (Downloads - AllAbout.pdf)



  1. Ask students what they know about clay.
  2. Share with students that scientist have discovered pots and other containers in East Asia that are 20,000 years old.
    - early humans discovered that when clay is baked it turns into a glasslike material good for making all kinds of things especially bowls and other containers
    - clay is soil made of minerals, decomposed plants and animals
    - it is usually found where streams or rivers once flowed
    - clay looks like mud but when it is 'fired' - baked at a high temperature, the chemical transformation makes it permanent
    - handbuilding - using only hands and clay is the earliest method used to make things with clay
    - around 5000 BCE the potter's wheel was invented
    - it is a simple machine that allows the potter to make a bowl much faster 
    - both methods are still used today
    - clay continues to be used to make containers, sculptures and all kinds of things
  3. Explain that they will be using air-dry clay so it won't have to be baked in a kiln, but it will become permanent once it is dry. Things made with air-dry clay are only for decorative purposes.
  4. Display 2 images of different sculptures side by side. (e.g., Annamirl and Clay Figures)
  5. Discuss how these artworks are different than a painting or drawing.
  6. Talk about what is interesting about each piece, and compare them, for example,
    - use of texture;
    effects of materials on how we relate to the work;
    - personality of each piece and how it is achieved;
    - body language and how it makes us feel about the figure.
  7. Introduce the challenge.


The Challenge

  1. Create a clay sculpture of a standing figure.
  2. Add details to show the figure’s personality.
  3. Demonstrate skillful slab handbuilding techniques.
  4. Demonstrate technical accomplishment and creativity. 
  5. Support your ideas with evidence found in the works.

The Process

  1. Make sure everyone understands the challenge.
  2. Establish success criteria with your students, for example,
    I know I am successful when I have:
    - created a standing figure
    - added details that show the figure's personality
    - used my own ideas
    - used skillful slab handbuilding techniques
    - created a work that is in good condition
  3. Guide students through the steps outlined in this lesson plan.
  4. Observe students as they work. 
  5. Provide individual assistance and encouragement.


  1. Have students work in groups.  
  2. Provide a piece of coloured fabric for each group to place on their tables.
  3. Ask groups to work together to arrange their sculptures as if they are at a gathering.
    Introduce each character to the others in your group by sharing some of the answers to the questionnaire. (Downloads - AllAbout.pdf)
    Think about their personalities and body language as you group them.
  4. Ask students to gather in front of the displays and to look at the works thoughtfully.
  5. Ask them to find an interesting thing about any 3 of them.
  6. Move from display to display discussing the sculptures at each spot.
  7. During the discussion include references to:
    Personality – how the artist has communicated ideas about the figure
    Technical accomplishment – carefully constructed work
    Creativity – unique qualities about each piece
    Conversations – what the figures might be saying
  8. Have students share some of the quiz information as comments are being made to confirm or expand on viewers' interpretations.


  1. Observe students as they work – thoughtful focus, discriminating, seeking more information, elaborating, experimenting.
  2. Observe students as they discuss their artworks – speaks with a clear voice, looks at audience while speaking, points to details on the sculpture, provides accurate information, answers questions from the audience effectively.
  3. Observe students as they listen – looks at presenter, asks effective questions, supports ideas with evidence found in the artwork.
  4. Use a checklist to track progress. (Downloads - StandingFigure_tracking.pdf)
  5. Have students use the self-assessment form to evaluate their work. (Downloads - StandingFigure_self-assessment.pdf)