Modern Folk Art Birds: a clay slab project

Modern Folk Art Birds: a clay slab project

These modern folk art birds are a fun and simple elementary slab project I’ve done in both air dry clay and kiln fired clay. I’ve done this with both first and second grade classes with great success.

The objective here was for students to cut out shapes form clay, learn to piece clay together and once fired, apply color and patterns that contrast, but have analogous elements.  Color, line and shape elements in this project are linked to the work of modern folk artist, Karla Gerard.

 karla gerard, tree of life
Tree of Life, Karla Gerard




I was looking back through my resources, trying to figure out if I had maybe seen this idea for the structure of these birds somewhere before and I have to give a shout out to Denise Panell from the blog, Mrs. Picasso’s Art Room!  Back in 2011 she posted a great tutorial for making this birds, which I want to fully credit.  You can find that post here.


Clay slabs (I like Crayola Air Dry or kiln fired clay)

Half circle stencils for body

Stencils or plastic cups for circle head shape

Teacher tool: stylus to poke holes in clay

Tempera paint

Brightly colored pipe cleaners/chenille stems

Twisteez wire (you could use pipe cleaners here too if needed)

If you’ve been reading my past blog posts, you know I like to have a printed version of the directions on each table with clear visuals to differentiate instruction. Below you can find a version of step by step directions for assembling the clay bird that I would use during class.

So after your students craft the birds in wet clay, the most challenging part can be to get all the holes in for each bird. This is something I recommend doing yourself as the teacher.  When doing this with a whole grade level, the timing on that can be tough. I suggest you cover the pieces with plastic or damp newspaper until you can devote time to it.

Here’s a guide on where to poke those holes! Two legs, three tail “feathers” and a hanger.


Once fired, discuss and demonstrate pattern and analogous color with students.  If you feel you have the right group for it, also discuss how you can use different patterns on the various parts of the bird using colors that are analogous or provide great contrast like this beauty below-

karla gerard, folk artist
by Karla Gerard
karla gerard folk art
by Karla Gerard

Showing images of folk art style birds can bring a little more cultural meaning to the artwork. There are many contemporary folk art stylings of birds out there right now. It happens to be pretty hot subject matter for the adult coloring book market.  However, I like to reference this one artist, a contemporary (Yay! for studying artists still alive!) who lives and works out of Maine. Karla Gerard creates beautiful modern folk art masterpieces full of vibrant color and layered pattern. You can find a nice print gallery of her work at Fine Art America’s website linked here.  She would also be a great artist to use as inspiration for a folk art landscape.             

Give the birds a good chance to dry and then in the next class session work on wire twisting techniques.  Demonstrate how pipe cleaners can be curled around your finger or a pencil or made into a zig zag. If you have Twisteez brand wire to use, it makes great legs just leave the bottom unwound to create feet. The hanging mechanism could be wire or pipe cleaner.  Really want to funk them up-why not bead the wire?

I just love the variety my students create in these!  It’s so fun to create such colorful, funky art with the students. They get so much joy out of the creative color and pattern application of these fun birds.  Thanks for reading!


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