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Clay Sculpture: Gargoyles
An Art Lesson contributed by Rebekah Short.
Art Teacher, Westview Elementary, Topeka, Indiana
This page is hosted by Goshen College
Goshen, Indiana 46526

AGE: Grades 4 to 12

VOCABULARY: gargoyles - sculptures of fantastic beasts found on cathedral rooflines. 
modeling - to form the clay by pressing, pushing, pinching with the fingers and tools.

VISUAL AIDS: drawing studies of animals, Web site for Walter S. Arnold, gargoyle sculptor.

CONCEPTS: Gargoyles were sculptures of imaginary beasts created during the Middle Ages. They were located along the roof and downspouts on cathedral buildings. Their function was to drain the water away from the stone carvings on the buildings. However, they were created fierce and fantastic looking to serve as a reminder to the people that the spirits of hell were awaiting them if they did not believe the religious beliefs of the church and try to follow them.

Medieval artists created their gargoyles based on animals they had observed, especially noting the way animals look when they are defending themselves or attacking and need to look terrifying. To make them seem strange and other-worldly these artisans combined features from different animals, exaggerated characteristics like eyebrows, lips, and wrinkles, and used their imaginations to create creatures which would inspire fear and obedience.

PROCEDURE: Have students keep their pencil and drawing paper. They should wear their art shirt if they brought one.

Read the CONCEPTS to the class. Then proceed through the following steps, allowing time for the students to work where Time is noted. Read the bold face instructions to the class. Distribute index cards.

Write your name and class # on your index card. Use ideas from your drawing paper when they are helpful to you; you do not need to copy them.

ASSIGNMENT: Create a gargoyle sculpture by modeling the piece of clay you are given. Your gargoyle should be a bit smaller than the index card. Make your gargoyle look fierce and nasty by creating animalistic features that are exaggerated. Your sculpture must be upright; crouching or sitting is best. (Lying down is not acceptable, standing is too difficult and not necessary.) Its mouth should be open for the water to drain out, and to help it look fierce. Your sculpture should be strong enough to stay together, and will be finished by the end of class.

You will need to listen very carefully to the instructions that are given to accomplish this. No talking.

Distribute wet paper towel rolls and clay. Clay is in the OUT barrel at the back of the room. Please be sure to close the barrel tightly after use.

Keeping the clay in your hands, gently roll and squeeze it to form sort of a cylinder; don't try to make it perfect because the shape will change as you work. Time. Check the size of your cylinder against your index card. Remember that your sculpture must be smaller than your card.

Using your fingers, gently model the clay by pressing, pushing and pinching to form the main body and head form. Try to imagine your gargoyle perched, sitting or crouched on the edge of the roof. Time. Gently squeeze in to form the neck. Think about the form of the head, including the snout or jaw. Try to make the jaw stand out from the neck. Time.

Turn your sculpture around and look at the back and sides. Think about ways to show the hips, shoulders or spine. Time.

Think about legs and arms. By pushing into your clay with your fingertips you will be able to make some of it stand out to begin forming limbs. Think about the way animals (e.g. dogs) fold their legs beneath them when they are seated. Time.

Look at the head of your sculpture. Using your pencil eraser, push gently into the clay to begin forming eye sockets. The eye sockets will make a space for eyeballs, and will also help you to begin forming eyebrows, nose, and cheekbones. Remember, exaggerating these features will make your gargoyle more fantastic, alive, and believable looking. Medieval artisans wanted their sculptures to be unreal, but convincing. Time.

About 30 mins before the end of class…

Distribute the slip containers and small wooden tools. (These are located on the counter by the window.)

Use one of the small wooden tools shaped like a tongue to press into the clay and open the mouth of your gargoyle. Think about the way the dentist uses tools to help open your mouth…gently! You will be able to make the mouth opening quite deep if you are careful. Time.

Using the tools also create spaces for nostrils and ears. Your gargoyle will look more expressive if there are spaces into the clay as well as things that project outward. Time.

You may add pieces of clay for features like wings, tails, ears, spines, tongue, teeth, etc. Remember to use slip to attach pieces of clay. Wings and tails will be stronger and more alive looking if they are curved rather than straight. Wherever possible attach them to the body in more than one place to strengthen the joint. (e.g., the tail on the gargoyle drawn on the board.) Time.

Use a pointed stick or pencil to carve your name and class # onto the undeside of your gargoyle. No name…no fame…and you might not get it back.

CLEAN-UP INSTRUCTIONS. Allow about 10 minutes for cleaning up.

Leftover clay should go into the IN barrel.

Tools should be wiped off and returned, along with slip containers to the back counter.

Tables will need to be wiped off with several pieces of damp paper towel so that they are clean.

GARGOYLES should be placed on a clay cart on top of the index card.

Please put one class on the shelf and lightly cover with plastic. Extra shelves and plastic are on top for the second class.

EXTENSIONS / NOTES: This lesson is part of a unit on Medieval Art. The unit includes: Radial design Rose Windows, Gargoyles, Handmade Paper (vat technique), Illuminated Manuscript Page, Drawing Studies, and Constructing an Image to Convey Meaning. The gargoyle sculptures are preceded by a drawing lesson which focuses on animals that are attacking or defending themselves.

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© Rebeka Short, all rights reserved
Note: For permission or copy or publish, e-mail:
SOURCE: Rebekah Short, Westview Elementary School, Topeka, IN 
April, 1999