Grade Level

7-8, 9-10, 11-12


10-13 classes, 45 minutes


Clay, glaze, a variety of clay tools (ribbon tools, fettling knife, needle tools, sponges, etc)



Lesson Objectives

For the student…
To Understand the difference between high and low relief.
To visually create a sense of space in a low relief.
To demonstrate subtractive carving.

Introductory Activity

Introduce students to the concept of a relief and look at examples of how artists create a sense of space in relief sculptures. Identify how a viewer determines where things are located in space (foreground, middleground and background). Discuss the difference between additive and subtractive sculpture techniques.
Have students locate a photo reference to interpret in clay. This can be one photo or a compilation of photos. If using the photos as reference, students should create a sketch as a plan for their relief. the size of the relief itself. If interpreting a photo, students should print to the desired size of the project.

Lesson Process

Students will cut a thick piece of clay and shape to the desired size for their project. Students can lay their sketch or photograph on the clay and trace (supporting image one). Once they have traced they can start subtractive sculpture, also known as removing clay, leaving what is in the foreground (supporting image 2). Student should continue until there is a sense of the foreground, middleground and background (supporting image 3). From there, each image can be refined and detail developed (supporting image 4).

I have students dig clay out of the back of the thicker sections to avoid having any area too thick (which will retain wanter longer and delay firing). Students allowed the clay reliefs to dry slowly to avoid warping. I recommend drying in a bag with the bag open a little. Drying too quickly will cause the slab relief images to warp and/or crack. Fire to the appropriate clay cone. Once fired, glaze with appropriate underglaze and glazes. I recommend not glazing the sides of the relief.


background, foreground, middleground, space, clay, relief, depth, ceramics. additive, subtractive


Relief Tile – Sarah Western

Author & Website/Blog

Supporting Images