Middle School Studio Lesson
More Than the
Sometimes in my lesson devel- opment, two things come together at the same time. Usually I do a bit of research
and find a project or a visual, and I
table one until the other reveals itself.
For this lesson, however, the connection between the elements was almost
I was surfing
the Internet and
and surprisingly beautiful
of living organisms. The colors and
shapes of these individual forms of life
were beautiful, textured, and intricate.
I immediately began collecting the
imagery in a PowerPoint presentation.
Previously, I had been layering
underglazes on tiles and then applying sgraffito to them. When I fired the
tiles, I immediately saw how the linear quality of the sgraffito technique
and the layering of the underglazes
looked like the microscopic structures
I had seen. I decided this lesson would
best fit with the eighth-grade curriculum, and the science department in
my school was excited about the interdisciplinary connection.
ples of living organisms such as nerve
cells, proteins, bacteria, and fungi.
I was so pleased that my students
were also captivated by the surprising
beauty of these images.
We then moved on to the history
and application of sgraffito. Students
learned the Italian word sgraffito,
apply layers of underglaze, and then
scratch through them to reveal the
layers underneath. Students liked the
clean and graphic quality of the line,
but saw that the underglaze could be
made painterly and transparent.
waited patiently for each color to dry
before brushing on the next layer. I
had a hairdryer on hand to expedite
the process. Students understood that
their three different layers would be
scratched with varying pressure to
reveal different layers underneath.
When I fired the tiles, I
immediately saw how the
linear quality of the sgraffito
technique and the layering of
the underglazes looked like the
microscopic structures I had seen.
When the underglazes were dry, students placed their drawings on top of
the tiles and pressed hard with pencils
to transfer the designs. Some chose to
draw their designs directly into the
tiles instead. I encouraged this and
told them the drawings did not have
to be exact replicas of their sketches.
I reminded students that the depth of
the scratch marks would reveal dif-
Sketching Microscopic Structures
Next, I gave students 4 x 4" pieces of
cardstock to use for their biological
image sketches. For each table, I provided color visuals of the structures in
the PowerPoint presentation to use as
reference and inspiration.
Blaise Jacobson, grade eight.
Introduction to Sgraffito
I began by showing students the
microscopic images I had collected. I
hid the descriptions of each image and
had students try to guess what each
was. They were so surprised when I
revealed what each structure actually
was. The images were magnified sam-
Once students completed their drawings, I asked them to think about a
combination of underglaze layers to
use on their tiles. I reminded them
that the medium, if painted thinly,
was transparent, and that they could
create interesting visual texture if the
brushstrokes were applied unevenly.
I required that students layer three
underglaze colors on their tiles. They