Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Turtle Tower

I like to make these turtle towers a classroom challenge project, challenging students to see who can make the most or the smallest turtles.  I also challenge students to create a different texture/pattern on each of the turtle shells, giving examples of different designs can be helpful for sparking ideas here.  This project can of course be completed by making just one turtle per student.

Start by rolling out a long snake or coil of clay, about 15-18 inches long and about as thick as a pencil.  Scratch the entire length of the coil and then wrap it up into a spiral shape blending in the end piece.  You can smooth out the spiral design or leave it there, this piece will be the turtle shell.  Next roll out another snake of clay the same thickness but only about 6-8 inches long.  Cut this snake of clay up into 6 pieces; 4 for the legs, 1 for the head and 1 for the tail.  You can shape them with your hands as needed.  Scratch the ends of each of your pieces and the belly of the turtle shell and attach them on.  HINT:  Make sure to overlap the pieces when you attach them on to have a larger surface area of attaching, so don't attach them edge to edge, they'll be more likely to break off when you move them in and out of the kiln.  You can now add on a face to your turtle and start to decorate the back of the shell with a pattern using tools.  The smaller turtles will be built in exactly the same way, just using shorter lengths of coils to build them.  HINT:  I have my students stack up their turtles without scratching-to attaching them on. This way, when they glaze them it's easier to make each turtle a different color.  When they are finished glazing they re-stack them and in the kiln the glaze melts and fuses them into a tower.  You can also play with color theory on the glazing and have them make primary and secondary colored turtles or paint them in rainbow order.  You'll need to dry, bisque fire, glaze and glaze fire all the pieces for them to be finished.  
!!!B CR8IV!!!


  1. Jenni -
    Thanks so much for posting such detailed instructions. I never thought of glazing the turtles (or anything!) separately and letting the glaze fire fuse them together. I pinned it!

    Rina at

  2. Thanks Rina!
    I found that sometimes you get better end results if the kids don't have to have the fine motor skills for keeping the glaze in its place and letting the kiln do the work for them! enjoy!

  3. Jenni, thank you so very much for this fabulous site and so many creative ideas. My Jr. High advanced ceramic students worked on the turtle tower and the build a better burger projects and I thought I would share some issues that came up. First I love the idea of glazing separately and attaching via the glaze firing, however, fired at cone 05, the turtles tended to slip and slide off each other in the kiln, making sure they fit and balance is paramount the more surfaces that come in contact with each other the better. The burger, while the successful ones were fantastic, I had some sliders (pun intended) as well as several split and break in the glaze kiln, the successful burgers were not more than 5 inches in diameter and not super heavy, the larger heavier pieces tended to be the ones that split and cracked.Again, lots of surface contact is important for the glaze to melt together, I also sandwiched them layer by layer with clear glaze after the students turned them in to be fired. I will amend my lessons going forward, but thought my results may help someone else. AML

    1. Thank you so much for your comments and glaze problem solving! I have never had a problem with the glazes not sticking or sliding off if they are well balanced to begin with in the kiln, but most of my projects are on the smaller end (6 inches or so in size) and yes, having the glazed pieces make contact at multiple points will be the key to fusing them together. Sometimes the splitting or cracking of the clay can be due to rapid drying of larger or thicker pieces. Sometimes this can also happen if you are slicing a slab off from the bag and using it without wedging the clay first. When the clay is bagged it is extruded in a spiral formation and sometimes the clay has a memory of the alignment of that spiral and it will create an "S" crack in the center of the piece. This doesn't always happen, and some clays are more sensitive to this than others, but as I tell my students, "this is ceramics, there are no guarantees!" I hope through some experimentation, you'll find a consistent process of what works best you and the materials that you are using. Thanks for trying out my projects and keep the comments coming! : )