Students create a relief panel that shows their feelings about the environment by pressing natural objects into multiple slabs of air dry clay, arranging the tiles in a composition, and then painting the dry clay with watercolour paint. 

Required Time

180 Minutes

Grade Level

Grade 7 to Grade 10


Visual Arts


acrylic paint air dry clay balance composition contrast emphasis harmony shape texture unity


Paint Brushes Crayola Acrylic Paint A Sturdy Panel Rolling Pin Air Dry Clay Natural Objects

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CLAY ENVIRONMENTAL STUDY – Texture, Harmony - Step One

Step One

Collect natural objects from the environment such as sticks, flowers, leaves, rocks, berries and bark. 

CLAY ENVIRONMENTAL STUDY – Texture, Harmony - Step Two

Step Two

Paint a sturdy board or canvas with acrylic paint. Choose a colour that would be natural to the environment.

CLAY ENVIRONMENTAL STUDY – Texture, Harmony - Step Three

Step Three

Roll out a slab of clay big enough for you to cut it into squares that will fit your board.

CLAY ENVIRONMENTAL STUDY – Texture, Harmony - Step Four

Step Four

Use a square of wood or cardboard as a template to cut out enough pieces to fit on your panel. Be sure the tiles will fit onto the panel without too much negative space.

CLAY ENVIRONMENTAL STUDY – Texture, Harmony - Step Five

Step Five

Press the natural objects into the soft clay. Use a rolling pin on top of the object to make deeper textures in the clay. 

CLAY ENVIRONMENTAL STUDY – Texture, Harmony - Step Six

Step Six

Gently remove the objects from the clay and allow the shapes to dry for 24 hours. 

CLAY ENVIRONMENTAL STUDY – Texture, Harmony - Step Seven

Step Seven


Brush black watercolour into the textures and let the paint dry. Make sure the dark colour goes into all the textures. Paint lighter colours on top allowing the dark colour to show the textures. Arrange the squares on the board in a balanced composition, and use Crayola Project Glue to glue them in place. Cut out some meaningful words from magazines and glue them onto your clay shapes. Allow the work to dry for about 3 hours. 

Learning Goals

     Students will be able to:

  1. Apply the creative process to create an original art work using clay and found objects.
  2. Use the elements and principles of design to communicate their feelings about the environment.
  3. Apply the critical analysis process to communicate understandings in response to environmental art works.
  4. Demonstrate technical accomplishment and creativity; and
  5. Support their ideas with evidence found in the works.


  1. Once all the panels are completed have students work together to organize a display their art work.
  2. Have students explore man made textures on clay.
  3. Have students work in groups to create one large panel, and then discuss the choices they made when arranging all their tiles onto the panel.


  1. Create a sample.
  2. Collect enough magazines for students to share.
  3. Make sure you have a large collection of natural textures such as twigs, leaves, pinecones etc.
  4. Cut panels to size. (Masonite or a wood canvas would work well as the base panel.)
  5. Prepare a storage area for the panels and the clay to dry.
  6. View clay techniques in the Techniques section of this web site to see how to roll slabs and make pin tools.
  7. Download the OISE Environmental Ceramic Tiles image from the Internet.
    Environmental Tile Artists    
  8. Download images by environmental artists from the Internet.


  1. View works by environmental artists such as Andy Goldsworthy and Patrick Dougherty.
  2. Discuss how texture enhances the meaning of the works.
  3. Show students your sample and discuss how the tiles are made.
  4. Make a list of natural textures to collect.
  5. Introduce the challenge.


The Challenge

  1. Create a relief panel using clay tiles.
  2. Collect objects from nature and impress them into the clay.
  3. Design a pattern for the tiles that will fit on the panel.
  4. Colour the tiles with watercolour paint.
  5. Find appropriate words from magazines that express how you feel about the environment.

The Process

  1. Make sure everyone understands the challenge.
  2. Demonstrate how to make a pin tool, and how to roll a slab of even thickness.
  3. Guide students through the steps outlined in this lesson plan.
  4. Encourage students to think about balance and contrast as they choose the natural objects they will impress in their clay. 
  5. Observe students as they work. 
  6. Provide individual assistance and encouragement as required.



  1. Once all the panels are complete display them for a group discussion. Remind students of the challenge.
    Look closely at the panels.
    - Choose one that interests you for some reason.
    - Share thoughts about the work.
  2. During the discussion include references to:
    elements – how colour, texture, shape, and line have been used to create contrast and areas of emphasis
    - principles – how balance, movement, harmony and unity have been created
    - technique – how different techniques have been used to create effective textures


  1. Observe students as they work – thoughtful focus, discriminating, seeking more information, elaborating, experimenting
  2. Observe students as they discuss the art works – active listening, insightful contributions, supporting ideas with evidence found in the artwork and from personal experience.
  3. Use a checklist to track progress. (Download - PANEL_tracking.pdf)
  4. Have students use the self-assessment form to evaluate their work. (Download - PANEL_self-assessment.pdf)