Lesson: Wayne Thiebaud Clay Cupcakes

Food. We all love it. We all need it. We all connect to it. It brings us together like nothing else. We plan our events around it. We celebrate with it. We identify with it. YUM-o!

Grade Level: 4th Grade

Art Elements: Form, Color

Art Skills: Slip and Score, Coil, Pinch and Pull, Molding, Glazing, Painting, Additive and Subtractive

Making Connections: Pop Art

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Food is a subject I have toyed with in the art room the last few years.  Why? For the reasons I stated above.  Food is a universal thing that engages kids and makes them eager to participate. It’s a great hook.  Then the learning begins, but the cool thing is, kids don’t always feel like they are learning. That is when the magic happens.

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If you remember my lesson on the Wayne Thiebaud Cakes and Pies, you know students studied the Element of Value to learn to apply knowledge of tints and shades to make their 2D sweets appear 3D. I recently put up a display with some of these images, and included the sign below. I love making connections. I love themes. The Wayne Thiebaud lesson ties perfectly to the Pop Art Clay Cupcake Lesson that follows it!  With all of them displayed in our school at once, students, teachers and parents will connect the learning going on in the art room, too!

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First, students make the bottom of the cupcake. I purchased silicone cupcake liners that are re-usable. They make a pinch pot and then press it into the mold. Turn it upside down to peel the flexible mold back! A perfectly sized cupcake bottom that is realistic in size.

Cupcake Liners

These cupcakes are actually little dishes kids can keep things inside, so you want the cup part to stay hollow.  So, next, students start on the top of the cupcake. They make a small pancake slab and cut it it to fit on their bottom.  Then, they make a small coil they attach the bottom of that pancake.  This will keep the top from sliding out of the bottom.

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On the top of their pancake, students can design the top of the cupcake. I demonstrate several methods to design the top. Students choose what they want to do.  I demo a large coil, a pinch pot you can carve away at, and how to pinch up the top to design it how you choose. Some kids add cherries, candles or even little figurines. I tell them they can add anything, as long as they slip and score properly. Most do a great job at this.

After they dry, and out of the kiln,  students paint the bottoms white. this gives the cupcakes a uniform look when they are displayed together.  Then, we glaze the tops. I use Speedball Low Fire Glazes.

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They are great because they are nice and thick. You can water them down and make them last longer, as long as students are using 2-3 layers of glaze. I ordered the class-pack. I found it had all of the colors I needed for a decent price. I did not use up all of them this year, so will not need to order every color again next year. For the design, I tell the students to please choose a color scheme, instead of making it look like a rainbow exploded on the cupcake! It helps them plan our their design better and make them look a little more refined. I limit to 4 colors.

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After the food items are displayed, students fill out a reflection sheet. They draw their cupcake in a box and label all of the clay techniques hey used in the cupcake. I give them a word bank. This is a really successful way to have students not only show you through their art, but show you with words and drawings what they learned through the process.

I am so happy with this lesson the past 3 years, I will continue to do it, and improve upon it, each year!

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8 years ago


  • I can’t wait to try these! We are all studying Jim Dine right now, so moving on to Thiebaud would be a great next unit! Thanks for the ideas!

  • Priscilla

    Hi Jessica,
    I’m so glad you posted this lesson! I love the idea of the reflection sheet at the end of the project too.
    Also, where did you purchase your cup cake liners?
    I’m looking forward to trying this with my students!

  • Anna

    I’ve made these cupcakes with a plaster bottom (put in those plastic muffin trays you can get at the grocery store) but the top was made with newspaper and model magic… just another version. I do love the cupcake liners- I’m buying some!!! Thanks for the great idea as I didn’t want to use plaster:)

  • rebecca Hunter

    Would love to do this project but had a few questions. How much clay should you pruchase to do this with a class of 30, also how far do you estimate a class pac of the glazes would go?

    • Hi Rebecca,
      I think I go through about a one box (50 lb) of clay for this project, give or take. They really don’t take a great deal of clay to make.
      I bought a class pack of glazes from Speedball last year and still have some left from this year and used the glazes with over 400 students. The only colors I ran out of were colors like brown that were used a lot in our food projects.
      Good Luck!

  • rebecca Hunter

    Where did you purchase your Speedball classpack?

    • It was at Dick Blick or Sax. I know one carries them and the other doesn’t. I also order from Nasco on occasion.

  • Anonymous

    not use full


    Hi ! This is a great project. I was wondering how much clay you give each student?

  • If you are having trouble with the download, rest assured, it’s working. First try another internet browser or use this direct link: https://theartofeducation.edu/content/uploads/2011/02/Clay-Cupcakes.pdf

  • Jonna Holgate

    How many class periods did you use to complete this piece? How long are your classes?

  • Timeka

    Wonderful lesson idea! Thanks for sharing!!