Pushing and Pulling: Encouraging Positive and Negative Space in Clay


By working with an initial ball of clay and both opening the solid and pulling protuberances, we can create an interesting sculpture that has compelling positive and negative shapes.
• You will each be given a fist-sized piece of clay.
• Your hands will be your only tools until we begin to address the final surface treatment of your clay.

Goal: Create a non-representational clay sculptural form that is interesting from all sides (it should “lead” the eye around).

Your sculpture must:
  • Have at least three trapped negative spaces, at least one of which must fully pierce the form
  • Have at least three well-formed protuberances (these should be no thinner than your thumb)
  • Be pleasing to hold (recall the feeling of holding a tumbled-smooth rock or a piece of very smooth driftwood—smooth natural items which are comfortably turned over and over in your hands)
  • Be burnished to create a very smooth surface (you will need to time this so your clay is at the right drying point to burnish)
  • Be no more than a thumb’s width thick in any place
  • Rest successfully in at least 3 (THREE) different positions

Student Work

While there should be no “right” or “wrong” base, clearly your sculpture will rest somewhere when placed on a table. Consider this when forming your clay; not only should it feel comfortable in your hand, but it also should have the ability to “rest” successfully in different positions when out of your hand (by this I mean no matter where you rest it, the form is still compelling from all sides).

Please store your clay properly (as according to the day’s directions) and burnish when it is at the leather-hard stage to acquire optimum smoothability.

Reference artists:
  • Barbara Hepworth
  • Henry Moore
  • Jean Arp
  • Isamu Noguchi
  • Joan Miro