Model Magic Pots- A lesson plan

VESSEL, 1994. Al Qöyawayma (Hopi-Tewa, born 1938) Ceramic, 8 1/2 x 11 1/2 (diam.) in. Crocker Art Museum, gift of Loren G. Lipson, M.D., 2015.21.7.


Students will use two different techniques, the pinch pot method and coil pot method to create a bowl using model magic, wood tools, and their hands. Students will add design elements to the outside of their bowls using wood tools, their hands, and watercolor paints (or markers).



Did you know that the native people of North America began making pottery at least 2,000 years ago? Geographic variations in clay, along with regional preferences for designs and shapes, meant that distinct styles became associated with permanent villages. Potters channeled inspiration from their ancestors and built upon their traditions. Native American pottery has become increasingly elaborate, detailed, personal, and political over time. These skills were passed from generation to generation, a tradition that continues to this day.



Pottery– The manufacture of clayware

Coil Pots– Pottery made using the coil method.

Pinch Pots– Pottery made using the pinch method




“What is pottery?”

“What is clay?”

Where does clay come from?

How do we use clay or how did/do other cultures use clay in their everyday lives?

Look and discuss artwork. What do you think this object was used for? Discuss the designs and decorations on the outside. Compare and contrast the shapes.

Today, we’ll be using model magic (a synthetic clay) to learn two different techniques used to create bowls. Once we finish, you’ll have a chance to add decorations with wooden skewers and watercolor.


-Each student will get 1 – 1 oz. Open the bags and start kneading the model magic to create a softer texture.

-Split model magic into 2 parts and roll into balls.

Part 1: Coil Pots

Coil pottery is method of hand building pottery. The artist rolls the clay into rope-like shapes (coils) that are then stacked and joined together. This technique is found across different cultures including the American Southwest and Mexico.

  1. Taking one ball of model magic, pinch off about a third of it and make a flat “pancake”.  This will be the bottom of your bowl.
  2. Roll remaining clay into long snakes or coil.
  3. Coil the snakes around the pancake of clay, building up the pot as you go.
  4. You’ll need to squeeze the snakes onto the pancake and onto each other a bit so they stay together when the project dries.

Part 2: Pinch Pots

Pinch pots are one of the oldest and simplest ways of making pottery. Evidence suggests that this pottery technique first began around 20,000 years ago in China.

  1. Start with your second ball of clay
  2. Stick your thumb into the center of the ball.
  3. Use your fingers to pinch the sides to make it hollow (you are making a bowl shape, not a donut).
  4. If you make a mistake, just start over by rolling the model magic back into a ball
  5. Flatten out the bottom of the ball to make a flat surface for the bowl so it will sit sturdily on a table without falling.
  6. Put pinch pot aside.

Part 3: Decorating the Pots

With the remainder of the time, students can decorate their creations using engravings, paintings, and/or marker coloring. Using a skewer (or pencil), students can use a rolling technique to smooth out the surface, or to add designs. Students can also use watercolor to color the inside and outside of their bowls. You may choose to use markers instead of watercolor. When the bowls are complete, place them somewhere safe to dry. It typically takes 48hours for the pots to dry and harden.



  1. Clean up. Ask students to clean up and return all materials. Their artwork should remain at their desk for the “gallery walk” to conclude the lesson.
  2. Class and/or table group discussion. What did we learn? What was challenging? What felt familiar? Shoutouts to helpful neighbors?
  3. “Gallery walk”. Students will leave their artwork at their desk to be previewed by their classmates. (If they do not want to share, offer to turn over work). Invite students to line up behind you with their arms behind their backs. Discuss museum manners (hands to self, positive remarks). Slowly “snake” around the table groups so students may view the work of their peers.


Extensions and Adaptations

  • Take a field trip to the Crocker Art Museum or the State Indian Museum in Sacramento, CA to view more incredible works of pottery.
  • Use markers instead of watercolor to decorate pots.
  • CA 3rd & 4th grade- Extend into a group project to study CA Native tribes. Visit to collect information about various tribes. Use information gathered to inform design plan for pots. (Website information is published by Califa Groupis a nonprofit library membership consortium of more than 200 libraries and is the largest library network in California



K.VA:cr1.1 Engage in exploration and imaginative play with various art materials

1.VA:Cr1.1 Engage collaboratively in exploration and imaginative play with various arts materials

2.VA:Cr1.1 Brainstorm to generate multiple approaches to an art or design problem

3.VA:Cr1.1 Elaborate on an imaginative idea

4.VA:Cr1.2 Collaboratively set goals and create artwork that is meaningful and has purpose to the makers

5.VA:Cr2.2 Demonstrate quality craftsmanship through care for and use of materials, tools, and equipment.

6.VA:Cr2.1 Demonstrate openness in trying new ideas, materials, methods, and approaches in making works of art and design.

Project Example: (this is example uses clay, model magic will look a little bit different)



References from the Crocker collection

VESSEL, 1994.  Al Qöyawayma (Hopi-Tewa, born 1938)  Ceramic, 8 1/2 x 11 1/2 (diam.) in. Crocker Art Museum, gift of Loren G. Lipson, M.D., 2015.21.7.

BOTTLE, 2005.  Alice Cling (Navajo, born 1946)  Earthenware, 12 5/8 x 7 (diam.) in. Crocker Art Museum, gift of Aj and Susana Mollinet Watson, 2014.43.

SGRAFFITO CARVED JAR WITH HUMMINGBIRDS, 1980S.  Grace Medicine Flower (Santa Clara, born 1938)  Earthenware, 6 x 8 (diam.) in. Crocker Art Museum, gift of Loren G. Lipson, M.D., 2018.14.


  • Model Magic clay (One 1oz bag per student)
  • Small craft sticks (skewers) or pencils
  • Paper towels
  • Watercolor paints (or markers)
  • Paint brushes
  • Cups for water
  • Water

Grade Level



  • Visual Arts


  • CA Indian Artists
  • California Connections
  • Color
  • Painting
  • Simple Materials
  • Watercolor


  • art
  • Clay
  • Paint
  • Sculpture
  • Watercolor Paint


Crocker Art Museum, adapted by Brittany Thurman