Thursday, January 31, 2013

Clay Penguins

It's a big year for penguins around here.  The Calgary Zoo opened their penguin exhibit and I have had lots of requests for penguin projects.

Here are Grade 1's clay penguins.

Isn't this one adorable with the little penguin sliding away on it's belly!


- clay, if you don't have access to a kiln try air dry clay
- black, white, and orange glaze,  if using air dry clay use acrylic paint
- cloth placemat
- penny nail
- a wooden skewer
- small cup of water


Put your cloth placemat on your workspace.  The cloth stops the clay from sticking.

Gather your supplies:
- rolling pin
- nail
- wooden skewer
- little cup of water

Roll out a slab with your rolling pin.   Cut a piece off your  clay block and then roll to about 3/4's of an inch thick.

With the nail cut a nice oval shape for your base.

For Grade 1, I pre roll the slabs, I can often get 2 ovals from a slice off the block.

Dip your finger into the water and smooth any rough edges around your cut edge.

Now we will start making the penguin body.  Take a lump of clay and roll into a fat sausage shape.

I want a flat bottom to attach to the base so I lightly pound it on the table to make it flat.

With the wooden skewer make little scratches on the bottom of your penguin and on the base where you want it to go.

Dip your finger in the water and rub a little on the scratches.  At school the kids all know my "scratch, scratch, water, water" chant.

Attach the body to the base.  I tell the kids that the scratches have to kiss, that usually gets a lot of giggles but they remember it.

Take some more clay and roll a head between your hands.

You want a good place for your head to sit so take your finger and make a depression at the top of the body where your head will sit.

Now in my sample I scratched in a line to separate the belly but I found it easier to skip this step with Grade 1.

"Scratch, scratch, water, water" your head.

Take some more clay and roll it out.  With the nail cut 2 wing shapes.  It is like a leaf or eye shape.

Attach to the body.

Cut 2 triangles for feet and attach these in front of the body or up onto the body like the penguin is sitting in the snow.

With the skewer you can mark in the toes.

Make a little triangle and attach for the beak.   Using the skewer mark in the eyes.

Now you can add some snowballs to the base.

Finally I want to make sure my penguin dries out fully so I take a pencil and poke a hole down thru the back.

Place the penguins aside to dry.  Drape with a garbage bag or plastic tablecloth for 1-2 days to let it equalize.  When leather hard then remove the drape and let it dry out completely.

I let them sit for 2 weeks to make sure.  We are lucky in Calgary as the air is very dry.

Do your bisque fire.

Set up for glazing.

I put a wax coat on the bottom of the penguins to stop them from sticking to the kiln shelf.

Place the penguin on a paper towel, explain the rules of glazing, ( 3 coats, wash brushes thoroughly before changing colours, blot out excess water on paper towel, and must wash hands after glazing no exceptions)

Glazing is always an adventure especially with young kids.  Despite our best efforts we still have a few orange bases but that is part of the charm.

Do your glaze fire.

That's it.  Takes a while but it's a great project.

Great work Grade 1!


  1. they are darling! will have to try with air dry clay. thanks for sharing :)

  2. I love the little penguins. Didn't know how to paint air dry clay so am very glad of your tutorial - thankyou!

  3. really cute! wish I had room to work with clay, this would be a great Winter project :)

  4. You are so lucky to have a kiln at school! You can do so many beautiful things! thanks for sharing!!

  5. You could also push a hole through the bottom.