Ceramic Fish Art Project

There is nothing more rewarding than manipulating a big slab of clay into a shiny piece of art. Despite ceramics requiring a great deal of prep, it’s really the most wonderful of all the tactile art lessons. My Kinders were thrilled to see that they would be creating a ceramic fish bowl. Attention was sharp as I demonstrated how to make a ceramic fish.

How to make a clay fish. I used a kiln but you can use air dry clay and acrylic paints for a great clay activity at home or school.

Here’s what you’ll need:

About 25 lbs of clay (25 kids). I buy Laguna Clay in 50 lb boxes. I used a multi-slab cutter to divide the 25 lb slab of clay into 25 tiles. Tools can be anything you have on hand. I use small wooden dowels, but you could use an extended paper clip taped to a popsicle stick. Or the handle of a skinny paint brush. For texturing, I use my texture tools that I have used with my painted paper projects. But anything in your recyled tool box would be great ( plastic berry cartons for a grid texture, straws for holes, buttons for circle impressions, popsicle sticks for scales, etc.)

For the underglaze, I mostly use Laguna Glazes but I have used Amaco glazes as well. For glaze, I use Duncan Dipping Glaze. I love it and it’s super easy. And it’s purple so it’s a fun color for the kids.

How to make a clay fish bowl

To start, place a clay tile on a piece of fabric (even construction paper will do). Set out some slip (some dried clay moistened with a bit of white vinegar and lots of water and stirred well), texturing and tracing tools.

Setting up a work station for a ceramic project for kids

I used some fish templates that I had left over from an old project and asked the children to place the template on the clay tile. If it didn’t fit, I went around with a rolling pin and rolled the clay out a bit to flatten it. Children traced their fish, pressing hard with their wooden dowel so they cut through the clay. Then they smoothed the edges with their fingers dipped in water.

Steps to make a ceramic slab fish with little kids. You can substitute air dry clay and acrylic paints.

The fun part was certainly decorating the fish. Some children used extra clay to add eyeballs or fins, but mostly for this age group, the children simply added texture. We put the fish ‘down for a nap’ by placing it over a small styrofoam bowl. We placed some balled up tissue on top of the bowl so the bowl’s ridge wouldn’t press into the fish body. We gently hugged the fish into the bowl. This creates round bowl shape.

The stand

We used the left-over clay to cut a long strip of clay. We joined the edges to form a circle then scratch-attached the circle to the bottom of the fish. The children worked hard attaching and smoothing the “stand” to their fish, but of course, you will have to make sure the stand is securely attached. We wrote names on the back, placed the sleeping fish on a table and covered loosely with plastic wrap so the fish wouldn’t dry too quickly.

Once dried, I fired to a Cone 05.

Painting the clay fish

Steps to make a ceramic slab fish with little kids. You can substitute air dry clay and acrylic paints.

How the children love seeing the fish once they come out of the kiln. The kiln must be some magical, mysterious place for the kids as the fish arrive back onto their tables hard and white. Not at all how they left their soft, sleeping fish!

Painting with the underglaze is quite an experience. Children notice straight away how fast the paint dries. I explain how the underglaze is made up of clay, just like their fish, and they seem to understand. After painting, the fish get dipped into the purple dipping glaze and then they are off to the kiln one more time. My kiln is old and funky but it usually gets the job done. This time however, I set the timer for too short of time and it turned off before the kiln setter dropped. This resulted in the glaze not turning as shiny as I would have liked. A bit of “cloud” formed, but since it is a Kindergarten project, there really wasn’t a huge need to re-fire to get the glaze set properly.

I know there are some glazes on the market that combines the color and glaze together. I have never used this type of glaze but when my current glaze runs out, I intend too. Does anyone know of a good one to try?

Have fun with this project!

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  • amy

    I just finished a tile project and used all Duncan color glazes. Quite successful, but they require two or three good coats to get the bright colors, unless you like the translucent effect.

    • Tammy

      I have always made slip with just clay and water. I read in this post to use clay and vinegar. I was wondering what the purpose of the vinegar is?

      • Patty Palmer

        Vinegar does funny things to clay and bisque. When used on bisque to fix cracks or fuse two broken pieces together, vinegar acts as a breakdown agent to dissolve the hard bisque. When making slip, the vinegar tends to break down the stubborn lumps easier than when just adding water.

    • Pats

      Just wondering if I can make these fish with AMACO Air Dry Clay. Thanks!!!

      • patty.palmer@deepspacesparkle.com

        Hi Pat,
        Oh yes, I think it would work well. I made one with Laguna air dry clay and it held up really well.

  • Kierna

    These are gorgeous, I am hoping to do some outdoor ceramics with my class next month but these are tempting too. Kierna

  • Kathy

    For 30 bucks, I’ll have to get one of those slab cutters on my supply list for next year. I’m sure I’d really used it quite a lot.

    • Patty

      It is SO worth it. If you buy one, make sure to wipe off the clay after use. It can rust the thin wires. That’s the only negative.

    • Jennie

      We love the slab cutter! No directions come with it, but I push it using the wire side down and the wooden frame turned up. I have to rock it back and forth to start it on red terra cotta clay, some blocks are just harder than others. Then turn the cutter and clay over and pull up to get the wire completely through the last 1/2″ of clay. You are wrestling with a 25-lb block of clay. Makes 26 pieces including the “heels” for those of us with 24+ kids. Once sliced, I layered it on our wallpaper mats good to go for one class. I sliced other blocks and had no more mats but learned to leave it out – if you cover clay block up slices will start to go back together.
      Patti I now see the wisdom in simply contoured templates! I used a butterfly template which was a little too complicated. Next time . . . .

  • Keri Pye

    these are great!! Please (when you have time) sell a pdf booklet of clay lessons! ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Patty

      I have one…it’s called Easy Clay Projects. Simple and easy…just my style!!! Look for it in the shop or go to the menu under Shop for Lesson Plans.

  • Maria

    I use Amaco glazes. They have quite a variety and I’ve never had any problems with them. 3 coats and you’re good to go. The LG gloss work best for elementary because they are at least in the color range of the finish product. They give a good discount if you order directly from them via phone or the prices in the Sax arts catalog are pretty good.

  • Betsy

    If you use the slab clay cutter don’t I still need to have the children work the clay to get the air pockets out? or can we place a template directly on top of the slab?
    Thanks and I have your Easy Clay Project pdf. and love it!

    • Patty

      Good question, Betsy. I wedge the big block of clay before I cut it into tiles, then after I lay down all the tiles on the table, I use a rolling pin and two 1/4″ slats to roll the pieces. This forces out the air bubbles. It is an important steps as the tiles will most likely crack if you don’t do it.

      • Kristina

        I have been using the slab cutter for over a year now with frequent use. I do usually use a rolling pin to make the slabs a little larger and thinner, but I never wedge or have the kids do so. I have never had a tile crack or explode.

  • Gail

    Hey Patty,
    Love the fish! After lots of trial and error I found Mayco Stroke and Coat to be the best. 2-3 coats with no clear overcoat.

    • Patty

      Yes, that’s it! Mayco Stroke and Coat. I heard this is a good one. Thanks!

    • Katie

      I love Mayco Stroke and Coat! Also, Mayco has the Foundations line which is more economical. The two lines can be used together as well. I’ve also tried Duncan and Laguna but have had much better results with the Mayco products.

      • Patty

        Another great recommendation! I’ll need to experiment with Mayco!

  • hope

    I have used Amaco, Stroke and Coat, and several others. This year I tried Blick brand and have been very pleased at the color quality. It was a good bit more affordable than the other brands. I would give it a try.

  • Elizabeth

    Finally I can reciprocate some knowledge! I have been doing “Clay on a Cart” between 3 schools in Reno and we use the White Laguna Clay as well. The shiny underglaze I’m using is by Laguna and called “Creatable Colors”. It is an underglaze that fires with a glossy finish. I actually use it on dry greenware and only have to fire once! (Nevada’s zero humidity and kindling/soaking at 190-200 degrees before firing probably have something to do with the success too!) The color is awesome- I highly recommend it!!!

    • Patty

      Thank you!!! I’m placing my order! I love Laguna glazes and these sound amazing.

  • Wendy

    I’ve never wedged the block of clay. I’ve always used it straight out of the bag and haven’t had any problems. Of course, if they clay has been worked with at all, it would have to be wedged but I never reuse clay. We have the Laguna “gray” clay at our school. (I’m not sure of its official name.) I also have the slab cutter Patty recommends. Be sure to clean it and dry it off before you store it. I didn’t last Spring and when I went to use it this Fall 14 of the wires were broken. I contacted Chinese Clay Art and they replaced it. (The owner said that he had invented it after teaching a class for kids and seeing the need for it. Also said that he’d never seen one with 14 broken wires…!) Patty, when you use underglazes, do they still have to paint on three coats? I always use glazes and I find that it’s hard for my first graders to paint a design somewhat neatly if they have to go over it three times. Even with glazes, you have to go over it with a clear glaze if you want to make sure every bit is covered. It doesn’t seem to be a problem to give the colored glazes a coat of clear glaze.

    • Elizabeth

      Hi Wendy,
      ANOTHER thing I love about the Laguna Creatable Colors glossy underglaze is that they are thicker- trait of the underglazes- and so the kids only really need to put on one coat! HUGE timesaver and beautiful design possibilities!

    • Patty

      No, I never do 3 coats but that’s with the Laguna glaze. If a child does paint twice, the color is remarkably opaque. The Amaco underglaze is more transparent and does require a couple of coats, but it’s color specific. In these little fishes, I believe the orange, purple and green colors are Amaco. The rest are Laguna.

  • Margaret

    Hey, Patty,
    Love the fish bowls!
    My kinders made fish, too, but we kept them flat and I glued a wire hanger to the back to hang them on the bulletin board in an ocean display. Here in New Orleans, I have access to excellent texture tools–Mardi Gras beads! The kids love using them to add texture to different clay creations–fish, butterflies, hearts and other flat pieces. We use Laguna clay and glaze with Duncan Envision glazes which leave a bright, shiny finish, but do best with two coats. Small plastic knives work well for cutting out pieces from the slab of clay.

  • J. Cooper

    I have no kiln at my school. I admit jealousy that I will never be able to work “real” clay with my kids. However, as a recomendation for other teachers that are in my position I highly recomend the Crayola Air Dry clay. It comes in both red and white varieties. It handles almost as well as the real stuff. You can treat it very similarly too, as far as using slip or scoring to attach peices. When it dries I paint it with acrylics and then have the kids seal it with a non-toxic high gloss varnish.

    • Fred

      Thanks for the post J. Cooper, my school does not have a working kiln and the school district is not fixing the problem (improper wiring). Kiln has not been working for 10 yrs. I was going to post a question on air dry clay until I read your post.

  • Cheryl Hancock

    I don’t ask the students to wedge out clay at all because it is ready to use with out it unless they muck it up and fold it over and smash it up. It is easier to just hand them a new piece . Where did you by the multi slab cutter Patty?? If clay is ruined put aside to make the clay slip in a small bucket and cover with water.The most important thing with clay is firing slowly and making sure it is thoroughly dry. I use my oven at home if I really need to speed up the drying especially in winter.

    • Patty

      Hi Cheryl. It’s good practice to wedge a block of clay just by pounding it on the floor a few times. It’s not always necessary but I’ve certainly had my fair share of cracked tiles (greenware). Sometimes, even if the tile is dried slowly, they can still crack if not wedged. i found that by rolling the tiles with a rolling pins just a few times (really quick), it reduces the chance of cracking.
      I buy the multi-slab cutter from Chinese Clay Art.

  • becky

    Patty I love the fish!!! My team and I are going to make them for a Father’s Day gift!!! The 30 multi-slab cuttert will most definitely be on my wish list as well!! I had a question about the slip. Why dry clay and what does the vinegar do? Thanks for your awesome ideas!!!!!

    • Patty

      Hi Becky…the dry clay is easier to break up with your fingers. I find it takes a while for the water to liquify the clay, so crumble the dry clay really well. Then the vinegar creates a stickiness that water alone doesn’t achieve. I read about the vinegar tip awhile ago and it seems to make the slip better. Hope this helps and good luck!

  • Becky

    Great to know! Thank you so much!

  • Harriet

    I am a new potter, just learning (and I am retired). I really enjoy seeing what the young children are making and have tried many of their projects. Thank you to the teachers for posting them and a special thanks to the students for allowing me to see them.

  • Amber

    Hi Patty,

    Would you be able to post the template you used for the fish and flower?

    We are doing our project tomorrow! I’m excited. I’ve bought your clay pdf and have found it helpful. Is it necessary to cover the finished pieces with plastic wrap?


    • Patty

      Hi Amber,
      No, I won’t be posting the templates, but you can try and make them yourself. It’s really a very simple contour shape with the emphasis on simple!
      As for the plastic wrap: I cover loosely so that the pieces don’t dry out too fast. This can result in cracking. But I do this due to the weather in CA which is dry and hot. If you have high humidity where you are, no need to cover.
      Hope this helps and have fun!

  • Maria Meredith

    Hi Patty –

    I was wondering – do you cut the slabs and roll them before the kids get there or while class is going? If you have 20 kids it seems that would be a lot of waiting until you get to everyone’s slab. Or do the kids roll them? I have an extra-antsy first grade class so i was just wondering how you handled that.


    • Patty

      Yes, I do all prep before class not during.

  • laura reddick-reichert

    I have done clay fish with smaller groups of kids in this way:

    They pre-draw their simple fish on paper (9 x 12inch) and cut it out for a template. The kids pound their own large wad of clay into a ball and then pat it out by themselves into a slab about an inch thick. It’s noisy and the kids are expending energy and having a blast. I have to supervise and remind them that “even” consistency is the goal. We stoop down to eye level with the slab as it is being pounded and check with our eyes to see where we need to pound ot the thick areas and stay away from the already thin ones! Finally, I supervise their using a rolling pin to roll the slab to about 3/8 -1/2 inch thick.( to compress the clay and to make it more evenly consistent in thickness) They place the cut-out fish onto the clay slab and cut it out with a clay knife. We drape the fish over plaster hump molds I made years ago for drying. We add 3 short “feet” to the bottom so that the fish will stand up with a little height on the table surface. Attach the feet in 3 points far apart from each other like in a tiangle to make sure the fish will stand on the table without wabbling. You MUSTattach the feet by scoring (scratching heavily) and slipping (painting the muddy clay/water/vinegar mixture) on both surfaces to be jointed together. I do cover completed fish with thin plastic for several days and then remove plastic for complete drying. Here’s a great tip for firing. Place the completely air dried fish into the kiln. Leave the lid to the kiln open and turn on low for several hours with lid up. At the end of the day, shut the lid while still warm, turn off the kiln for overnight and the do a true firing the next day. This pre-firing is really just making sure that the fish are completely dry. I have never had a fish crack! Have fun!

    • Liz

      How long did the slab making take your kids and what age? Thanks in advance.

      • Hannah

        Hi Liz,
        Thanks for checking out this clay project! This lesson was designed for Patty’s kindergarten class. If you read through the blog she describes her process working with this age group ๐Ÿ™‚ All the slabs (tiles) were done for them before class began.
        -Hannah (Team Sparkle)

  • Helen

    Hi, great posts! Does anyone have a ceramic butterfly lesson elementary students? We want them to be placed in our butterfly garden on campus, and I welcome suggestions of any type regarding clay, colors, etc. Thanks!!!

    • Patty

      You can look at my butterfly mural…search butterfly mural in search box on site.

  • tambra Art Studio

    This year I dipped flower tiles and pinch pot animals into LG Opaque White, then let the Kindergarten – 3rd grade add color with Mayco Stroke and Coat, the Majolica technique. The LG White added plenty of gloss and ensured that the entire project was covered. The students only needed one good coat of the Stroke and Coat. Even if they didn’t get a heavy coat, the semi-transparent colors looked great.

  • Nina

    Can this activity be adapted for home craft? I don’t have a kiln .

  • julie_galea@hotmail.com

    Hi Patty do you know of a supplier in Australia that sell the clay tile cutters, that’s just what I need it’s too hard and time consuming cutting each tile separately and they never the same size.

    • Patty Palmer

      Hi Julie,
      I’m not that familiar with Australian Suppliers. I would do a google search for your area and see what kind of suppliers come up. Amazon is a good source to start with. If you have any luck, consider sharing your source. Ill also ask on my DSS Facebook page.

    • Patty Palmer

      I posted your question yesterday on the DSS Facebook page…lots of good answers.

  • Katrina


    These look lovely. Just wanted to ask your advice. I noticed you placed glad wrap over your fish to dry slowly. Why is that a good thing to do. Just interested because I also do clay with my students and I was wondering if that helps improve the finish.


    • Patty Palmer

      Excellent question! In California, sometimes our days are super hot and dry. Placing wrap over wet clay helps the clay dry slowly thus reducing the potential for the clay to crack. I don’t do this all the time so it must have been a hot week.
      I always encourage slow drying times with anything that is flat or smooth as these are the types of project that tend to show cracks.

    • Liz

      How long did the slab making take your kids and what age? Thanks in advance.

      • Hannah

        Hi Liz,
        Thanks for checking out this clay project! This lesson was designed for Patty’s kindergarten class. If you read through the blog she describes her process working with this age group ๐Ÿ™‚ All the slabs (tiles) were done for them before class began.
        -Hannah (Team Sparkle)

  • Yael

    Hi Patty,
    What is your system for glazing? I know some teachers give a “muffin pan” with small containers of glaze in each hole and others have each table use a different color glaze and the kids rotate around the room from color to color with their project. On one hand I want to minimize glaze contamination (glaze is expensive). on the other hand, I have only 40 minutes a class, rotating around the room might create too much distraction.

  • Sangeetha K

    Hi Patty , I
    I love your site. I have a small studio where I teach a class of 6 students. I do not have a kiln but would love to try this project with my students. Is there any other way I can do this project?

    • Katie Coyle

      i also do not have a kiln and adapt projects for air dry clay. it is a little more brittle, so i make my slabs thicker, but for the most part the rest of the lesson is exactly the same. use acrylics and then an acrylic clear gloss glaze (modgepodge) when they are dry!

  • Shawna

    Iโ€™m a homeschool momma. Can I use my home oven to treat the clay?

    • Patty

      Hi Shawna, It depends of the clay you buy. Read the manufacturers instructions. The clay that I use is not for ovens. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Christy Lantz

    This may be a little late but Mayco Stroke and Coat ROCKS! Thanks for the darling lesson!

    • Patty

      Yes! My last year of teaching art I used this product. The thing I liked most was that the color that is in the bottle is the color after firing ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Vanessa

    Thank you so much for posting this lesson! This is exactly what I was looking for. I love it!!!

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