Projects: Part One


In the next several chapters we will be taking a look at different student projects. Projects can be used to teach or reinforce many of the concepts we have touched upon previously. They are good practice for those who wish to deepen their understandings of 3D art’s foundations, or also good to implement into a classroom to teach beginners. Each chapter contains a project description, the learning goals of the project, and real student examples. The project we will be looking at in this chapter is Kitsch: The Ashtray From Hell.


Project one: The Kitsch Project

Learning Goals:

For students to gain an understanding of ceramic terminology.

To learn the principles of working with ceramics as a medium.

To create a ceramic piece by starting with concepts and developing them into form.


Project description:

In this project, you will be using clay and your mold making skills to communicate the idea of Kitsch. Using molds of your chosen piece of fruit and hand create at least 5 multiples out of clay. Using these pieces and a slab-built clay cylinder/vessel (2.5″ high x 6″ wide), combine them into a visually interesting, dynamic kitsch ashtray from hell.   Think about how the viewer’s eye moves!  This could be up and over, through or any way you decide as long as the overall composition is Dynamic! Be sensitive to the repetition and gesture of the pieces to direct the viewer’s eye movement throughout the composition.


Project Worksheet and Vocab:

Slip and score– attaching clay to itself require the action of wetting the surface of both parts with water or slurry and then aggressively scoring both surfaces to create a firm connection. Think of this process as creating ceramic Velcro, with interlocking teeth, to connect surfaces.

Slurry– clay that is of a wet mud or pudding consistency used for making connections between wet to leather hard pieces of clay.

Greenware – any clay before being fired in a kiln. Greenware consists of three stages of dehydration.

While working on this project students were also asked to read up on Kitch. That article can be found here, but feel free to incorporate your own readings. They were also given this study guide to help reinforce their understanding of Kitch.


Student Examples:

The first student example we are going to take a look at is Ainsley Campbell:

Ashtray From Hell


Project Description:

For this project, we used plaster to create molds of our hand and fruit and used clay to construct a kitsch ashtray from these structures. The goal was to create something kitschy, and dynamic.

Lateral Thinking:

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 favorite 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.


For drawings, I only did one sketch, as I wanted the ashtray to be pretty fluid and come naturally. That is how I prefer to work with clay most of the time. For my sketch, I focused on the gesture of the hands and came up with the idea of the apples to appear melting. I also sketched out a quick view of it from the top, with two hands holding it together with apples in between. I drew the base as an organic shape.


For this project, we did not do maquettes since the scale of the final piece is fairly small.

Material Studies:

For material studies, I simply did a few test runs of putting clay in the mold and taking them out and blending them together. I have worked with this clay quite a lot before so I did not need to do too much material study. I instead focused on the clay in the molds aspect, as that is a new technique to me.


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. While my piece shifted a good amount from my sketch, I still think it communicates the ideas I was going for. I tried to give the fruit a melting appearance but it simply wasn’t looking how I wanted it to, so I decided against it. 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.

The second student we will be looking at is Sherry Lin 


Project description: For this project, I was challenged to explore the idea of kitsch through a clay medium and by incorporating it into the form of an ashtray. The clay parts that I was required to use 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. The clay medium was not a new territory for me as I had taken a ceramics class in high school. Building something that was conceptually based rather than focusing on the functional aspect/purpose of the final ceramic piece, however, was something I had not explored before. The idea of kitsch was also new to me so doing some prior reading on what it is was essential in understanding how to make the ashtray be categorized as kitsch. 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. Making a mold was something else I had never tackled before so learning this process was a crucial step for this project.

Sketchbook/drawings: To help me brainstorm what my design for the ashtray will look like, I came up with three different ideas or forms that would make up the main base and sketched four different ways to go about it. In the first idea, I simply experimented with the basic, traditional design of an astray. Here, I primarily explored different placements of each piece. I found that the arrangement of the fingers, hands, and apple pieces were dynamic but there was limited space to place these pieces due to the short height of the wall.

My second idea features a taller wall to allow more space for the pieces to fit better. I also started to think about texture and where to incorporate it onto the design. I had difficulty coming up with different ways to create texture onto the clay medium so I just applied one style onto the sketches and planned to create some texture material studies on the clay later on when I would be working with it. I also tried to 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.

For my third idea, I departed from the cylindrical form and decided to cut it in half and stretched it into a taller wall to create more open space. I continued to explore texture and cutting up the pieces. I did not think that this idea was the most successful one due to the nature of the wall separating the front and the back of the piece. I found myself coming up with an arrangement for the front and then something to fill up the space on the back of the wall. This separated thinking did not allow for a unified and cohesive design. Although this did not end up being a strong idea, creating the sketches and further developing the design did make me realize that it would not work out. Overall, I found that these sketches were helpful in making me start to actively think about what would work and what would not work in terms of composition and how the hand and apple pieces function in different styles for the main body of the ashtray.

Lateral thinking: Since I was not too happy with the ideas I came up with and did not think that the composition was pushed dynamic, I brainstormed how to tackle finalizing the ashtray’s design by researching some photos online. I started out with the basic, traditional form of an ashtray in my sketches but then realized that it was too static—a simple circle with four symmetrical indents on the sidewall. Since I recognized that, I focused my research on unconventional designs. I found ones with higher walls, ragged edges, textured surfaces, and asymmetrically shaped bases. This became the foundation of how I would go about the final version.

Maquette: No maquette was built for this project. To figure out how things worked, I simply placed the parts onto the ashtray body as I was in the moment during the building process. The sketches also played a huge role in determining where each piece would go, but ultimately seeing how it works first-hand, physically in front of me is what worked better for me. 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.

The clay pieces were made possible due to these molds of my hand and an apple.
Progress shot of the final composition for the front of the ashtray before drying and firing.
 Progress shot of the final composition for the back of the ashtray before drying and firing.

Material studies: To incorporate the element of texture into the piece, I wanted to use this type of linework of embossed and debossed lines on the surface. I was not sure how I wanted to go about this whether it may be horizontally, vertically, or in a picnic pattern consisting of horizontals and verticals—making this material study allowed me to see what each of these methods look like and helped me practice how much pressure to apply. I ended up doing a horizontal line texture on the exterior of the base while the interior is a random mix or horizontals and verticals. The decision was ultimately decided due to the ease of access/ability to create this texture due to the spaces that I had to avoid and the tight space of the interior. Creating the texture on the actual piece was difficult to control due to the objects that were already placed there and the limited movement of the piece due to the risk of tearing certain areas or creating cracks since it was still at a fragile state.

Experimenting with texture on clay.

Reflection: 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. The varying colors allows your eye to look at each separate finger and not the whole hand all at once. Something else that I think worked well in regards to use of color is painting the interior a dark blue and having the hand and apple pieces be distinguished and stand out. The same could be said for the exterior of the base where it is painted red and the fingers are yellow. Rather than putting significance on the main body form, the focus is on the elements in which plays a large role in the dynamic aspect of the piece. Speaking of the blue interior and the red exterior, I found that keeping it that solid block of color 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 by having the yellow-painted, single pieces of fingers placed all around the entire ashtray. Although I did accomplish that to a certain extent, there is a lack of unity between the front and the back. One has to turn the ashtray around to see different viewpoints and get exposed to different elements which means the pieces are not integrated well with each other—there is no connection. This aspect could have been improved by perhaps rearranging the hand that rests on the wall or cutting some holes in the wall so that there is no distinct barrier with no breakage which completely blocks one side from the other. In regards to the wall, I would also create an undulating pattern on the top edge rather than having it be a static curve. Another improvement I would make is changing the whole shape of the apple, especially the one that makes up the left side of the front wall. There is a direct bullseye on the top of the apple where the stem would be found, making the viewers’ eyes go directly there.

I am not too happy with the overall composition of the piece, but I think that I still communicated the original purpose of this project—to convey the idea kitsch and to successfully craft a ceramic ashtray with no breakage and have an open form. This piece is kitsch due to the excessive use of saturated and loud colors. In addition, there is a mass-produced aspect linked to the making of this ashtray having made multiples of the hand and the two halves of the apple from the molds before starting to build the actual ashtray form. It does have a dynamic composition through primarily the use of color, the angular and asymmetrical positioning of the apple, hand, and finger pieces, and the contrast in textures of the poked, dotted apple pieces and the lined, smoothed surface of the base. During this project, I learned more in terms of the technical aspects of mold and clay making along with the conceptual idea of kitsch. My mind was refreshed with the process of making a ceramic piece and was renewed with the terms and techniques within this type of art-making. Making molds and the concept of kitsch was all new territory for me, but diving deep into it through this project (by actually making molds and incorporating a kitsch theme into the ashtray) allowed me to gain a better sense of how they both work.


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

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