The Portfolio Drawer
Choosing Materials and Techniques
One day while working with clay in the outdoor studio, Emma had found a leaf on the ground and set it on the table in the center of where Ellie, Zari, and Seon were working with clay.
Ellie sees the leaf on the table and picks it up: Look I put a leaf on top.
Zari sees Ellie’s leaf and puts it on her clay: I want a leaf too.
Ellie: Hey she took my leaf.
Emma: I think there are enough for all of us. Can you find another leaf nearby?
Ellie: I found some more!
Seon: I want a leaf too.
Seon proceeds to also go look for a leaf, finds one and presses it into her clay: I put the leaf and pushed it in. Let’s see what happens.
Seon begins to slowly peel the leaf from the clay: Woah that’s so cool! It stamped it. It made the leaf so silly (she was noticing the clay left behind on the other side of the leaf).
Seon examines the mark made from the leaf in the clay: Look at this! It looks like a fossil.
Emma: Wow it really does! Where have you seen a fossil before?
Seon: On the ground.
Emma: What kinds of fossils are there?
Seon: Of leaves and a lot of animals.
From these and other similar conversations with the children, Karen and Emma decided to support them in using natural materials to make prints in small rectangular slabs of clay for the tags. Many of the children were already familiar with this process. During the Brown Room year, the children used leaves and other natural materials to print into clay slabs to fashion centerpieces for the annual St. John’s Thanksgiving Feast. To introduce the studio experience, the children were presented with a sample of their work from the previous year during morning meeting and asked what they noticed.
Creating the Tags in the Studio
Upon entering the studio, the children explored a selection of materials including pine cones, natural fabric, sea shells, sea glass, sticks, bark, moss, dried botanicals, feathers, rocks, metal, acorns, nuts and seeds, and vertebrae. Each child was given a collection box and invited to choose five pieces from the materials to begin their print.
Ford and Ava
Ford pressed an object into the clay and then pulled it out: Look I made prints!
Ava looked on and chose a different object: Look!
Ava: Pinecone. It’s sticky to the table. Look at me! Look at me! This one (the seashell print) is a very good one.
Seeing the quality of Ava’s print, Ford asked: Could I please have some shells, please?
Whit and Bailee
Whit and Bailee looked over the spread of materials.
Whit: I did this one (acorn).
Bailee: The seashells.
Whit pressed down a piece of metal into the clay and watched it sink in: I can’t pull it out!
Bailee peered over at Whit’s clay slab and saw the print that the metal loop had made.
Bailee: I want the other one (another metal piece).
Whit noticed as he pressed the acorn into the clay and pulled it back out: The mushroom (acorn cap) came off.
Rawls and Ellie
Rawls approached the collection of materials. He counted his items, “1, 2, 3, 4, 5…” as he carefully chose his materials. One of his chosen materials was a small seed head. He pressed it gently into the clay and then looked at the print that it had made, “Seeds.” Touching the imprint he observed, “soft.”
Ellie quickly gravitated towards the seashells in the materials collection. She looked over several and then chose one that resembled a scallop shell for her first print: It’s Ford’s symbol.
Rawls looked over at Ellie’s chosen material for her first print: It’s a seashell.
Charlton and Seon
Charlton and Seon were thoughtful about their choices. They both gravitated towards the bones! This was not as surprise as they both have expressed interest in fossils before.
Seon: Look at my print.
Charlton: Look, I made a print. Look at this (the print made by the peach pit). Look at my print (pointing towards a print made with a bone highlighting the long thin portion of it). It makes a pirate sword.
Seon: I doing my print.
Fay and Louisa
Fay picked up a seedpod from a sweetgum tree: I don’t know what these are called.
Karen: Where do you think it came from?
Fay: From a tree.
Karen: That’s a seed pod from a sweetgum tree, I call it a gumball.
Fay picked up a peach pit.
Karen: I remember someone sharing seeds from their collection.
Karen: Do you remember which fruit this one came from?
Fay: The peach!
Fay picked up a pinecone: A pinecone tree.
Karen: I wonder what a pinecone tree looks like.
Fay: It has leaves on it and pinecones.
Fay picked up a shell and then a feather: This (shell) comes from a beach. This (feather) comes from nature.
Fay picked up a vertebrae from the basket of bones and hypothesized: A muscle from a big dinosaur or a bear. I think a dinosaur.
Louisa: I want to try it.
Louisa tried a number of materials and then picked up a vertebrae.
Karen: Louisa, which print do you like the best?
Louisa pointed to the print made by the vertebrae.
Fay picked up the sweetgum seed pod: I think that’s not going to make a good print.
Karen: What makes you say that? Why?
Fay used the sweetgum seed pods to make an imprint in the clay. She looked at the imprint. Then she picked up another seedpod that was a texture that was similar to the gumball.
Fay commented on her work: Not good. Just like the gumball.
Fay: Let’s see what happens with the rock (acorn).
Isabelle and Mimi
Isabelle and Mimi looked over the collection of natural materials.
Isabelle picked up a piece of bark: I think it comes from the playground.
Mimi: I think it comes from the country of China because there is supposed to be a very beautiful collection that they people there see and they bring them home.
Isabelle: It’s a shell.
Mimi: Just a circle.
Isabelle: I’m some to do one more shell. It’s different cause it’s a pinecone. Peach pit!
Isabelle reached for the bark and used the end of it print: I try this one.
Isabelle picked up a piece of metal: Like a leaf..
Isabelle stood the metal piece up on its end and pressed it into the clay similar to the way that she had placed the bark.
Mimi: I want to try a rock.
Cal and Zari
Cal noticed different natural materials and chose the ones he wanted to print on his clay. He found rocks, pieces of metal, natural fabric, and seaglass. Then he saw the vertebrae.
Cal: What’s this one? It looks like a dolphin. I can make something with them.
Cal printed the vertebrate on the clay: I made a bone. It looks like a bone.
Cal then saw a pinecone and began to roll it on the clay: A pinecone steamroller. I rolled it.
Zari looked over the natural materials.
Emma asked her: What do you see?
Zari: Seeds and sticks and rocks. I’m putting the stick in here.
Glazing and Firing the Tags
When the children were finished imprinting their clay with natural materials, they set it out to dry for a couple of days. Once hardened, the children carefully used small brushes to paint on glaze.
The portfolio tags then needed to be fired in the kiln. The children helped load the kiln and patiently waited overnight for it to work its magic. The children were eager to see how the kiln had changed the color and texture of the clay portfolio tags. The process in and of itself was beautiful, but in looking at the fired tags we were all in awe of the different colors, textures, and imprints.