Kitsch: Ashtray From Hell

The idea of kitsch was explored through the medium of clay and incorporating it into an ashtray. Clay parts that were required included my hand and a piece of fruit—these were shaped by the clay through the use of a mold. These parts were then arranged and integrated onto the body of the ashtray (made up of a slab built clay wall and bottom base) in a visually dynamic composition. Besides the focus on making a kitsch piece, the primary goal of this project was to encourage the viewers’ eyes to move around. Going into this project, I knew that the piece of fruit and the hand was going to make up the bulk of the final product. This meant that mold would have to be built properly and precisely so that the pieces will come out well. 

For the initial lateral thinking for this project, I looked more into the meaning of “kitsch”. I am personally a big fan of kitsch, and so I looked into several artists that work with this idea. I looked into Jeff Koons, as I already have seen his work and even own one of his miniature balloon animal figures. Another artist I found was Karen Mabon, who makes these illustrated scarves, often with themes of kitsch. Next, I thought about one of my favourite fashion designers, Erin Robertson, who definitely uses kitsch in her work. Her use of pink and yellow screams kitsch to me and inspired my piece.


  I also tried to add texture to the clay and think of more techniques to make the composition dynamic such as cutting the apple pieces diagonally in half (making it abstract) rather than keeping the top and bottom halves in its original form.



No maquettes were built for this project. Before starting the building process, I created five clay pieces for each mold, making it a total of fifteen pieces. Having these many pieces allowed me to explore different ways to cut each piece, scrape ones that did not turn out as well, and play around with arrangement with as many pieces as I would like. To attach these pieces use the technique of slip and scoring. This means wetting the clay and then scoring the clay with cross hatches, so the clay can Velcro together. The lines can’t be the same when scoring they have to be at different angles, like this #. 


The addition of color was another element to create a dynamic composition. I think that painting each individual finger a different color on the hand helps make the viewer’s eye movement around—if the whole hand was one color, you would look at the hand as one object and then move onto the next. I found that a solid block of color for the blue interior and the red exterior in the beginning made it too plain and static. To combat that problem, I resolved it by adding spots of paint using a bright color that would contrast the dark tone. I think that it turned out successfully in filling up the space and it creates a sense of a pattern to the piece. I wanted to create a sense of unity and repetition within the piece.

This piece was created to communicate the idea of kitsch through repetition of a common object and visual- hands and fruit. My final piece is successful, in my opinion, in communicating this idea, as well as my personal visions for this project. The pink and yellow colors I used in my final piece came from some of my initial inspiration for this project.  As for the hands, once I started working with them, I realized I could manipulate them to doing different hand “Symbols”. I manipulated one to do a “finger gun” and the other to an “alien peace sign”. I thought that these symbols made the piece even more kitsch. In addition, I learned a lot from this project. I learned how to use plaster, make molds, avoid undercuts, and use plaster molds to mold clay successfully. I also learned the meaning of “kitsch” and how it is created. I learned that a repetition of common objects, and “cheesy” or “cute” themes can help translate work into “kitsch”, something I am interested in. One way I think that I could improve this piece, would be adding a painted kitschy pattern on my piece, like polka dots. Another way would be to add another type of fruit or object. I could achieve this by making a mold of a banana and including that in my piece as well.


Original writing by:

Ainsley Campbell,

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Sherry Lin,

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.


AR 1065 Design & Meaning Handbook Copyright © by Phil Lonergan. All Rights Reserved.

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