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Toby Buonagurio, Tangerine Rainbow

Lesson Plan | Toby Buonagurio: Ceramic Animal Sculptures – MMoCA


Tangerine Rainbow, 1998, ceramic with metallic finish 


Visual Art, Language Arts 


Rita Yanny, art educator 

Essential Questions

  1. How do artists transform something ordinary into something extraordinary? 

Grade Level



  • Students will identify and use forms in sculpture. Students will sketch ideas. Students will use ceramic techniques (modeling, score and slip to attach pieces, texture). Students will embellish/add creative details to a sculpture. 


Students will become familiar with art concepts and techniques as they create imaginative sculptures of animals using a variety of materials. Toby Buonagurio’s ceramic sculpture, Tangerine Rainbow, is the focus of the lesson.


Explain to the students that they will each make a ceramic sculpture of an animal with four legs. They will then transform their animal into something extraordinary by using collaborative and creative approaches.

Show students the sculpture, Tangerine Rainbow. Facilitate a discussion about the title and the sculpture. Ask the students to describe the sculpture, including its texture, color, and other details and to consider whether the tiger appears to be realistic or ordinary. Ask them to describe how the artist changed or transformed the tiger into something extraordinary, such as by changing the color, adding wings, and using metallic shapes that seem mechanical and may transform what the tiger can do. Share the following quote from the artist with students:

“We know that marine biologists tag and even attach cameras to sea creatures to track their habitats, and endangered big cats are also monitored for their own protection. In the case of my bionic tigers they are not only seemingly monitored, but they also do the protecting. Many cultures have had deities that encompass the energy and spirit (even magical qualities) of the actual creature… So, it is with my bionic tigers—they have been altered in order to make them capable of being extraordinary.”

Ask the students to thing about how they might transform themselves, e.g., at Halloween or Mardi Gras celebrations, playing dress up, or wearing costumes. Toby Buonagurio made her sculpture entirely from clay. Explain to the students that they will use clay for their animal sculptures and add details, such as a hat, wings, or cuffs using other materials.

Day 1: Set up a canvas mat. Show students how to make forms from clay. Model forms for the head, body, legs, and tail. Demonstrate how to attach pieces securely (the score-and-slip technique), smooth the surfaces, and add textures such as markings on the animal such as feathers or fur. Scratch the student’s name into bottom of the sculpture. Let the clay air dry and then fire in a kiln.

Day 2:  Ask the students to look again at the Tangerine Rainbow sculpture and recall last week’s discussion. Then, divide the students into small groups to brainstorm ideas for their own sculptures. For example, students may want to think about actual or desired characteristics of their animal. Prompt the students with questions such as, Does their animal move fast or slow? Does it fly, walk, and /or swim? Does their animal have any mechanical parts? Is it playful? How can they show what they want to express? Ask the students to generate ideas about what they might choose to add to their sculptures. Tell them to write and draw these ideas, along with possible material choices, in a sketchbook or on a piece of paper. If time allows, instruct them to complete a finished drawing of their sculpture or to color the sketches of their plans. If needed, set up a station for students who were absent the week before to make a clay sculpture.

Day 3:  Students will paint their completed clay sculptures with watered-down acrylic or tempera paint; metallic paint would add an extra flourish. Show the students how to first paint the sculpture one color (base coat), then add different colored markings (dots, stripes, or other patterns or designs) with small paintbrushes.

Day 4: Students will embellish their sculptures with a variety of materials. Strong white glue or hot glue applied with assistance from an adult can be used to attach materials such as cloth and beads to the clay. For stability and strength, glue individual sculptures to a piece of mat board.

Materials by Day
Day 1: clay, clay tools
Day 2: drawing materials, pencils, paper
Day 3: paint, paint cups, paintbrushes
Day 4: scissors, beads, cloth, feathers, ribbon, sequins, mat board, glue, hot glue (to be used by adult only)

Modeling materials which air dry or self-harden could be substituted for clay
Older students could sculpt wings and other details, and then use underglazes to add color


Clay, clay tools, drawing materials, pencils, paper, paint, paint cups, paintbrushes, scissors, beads, cloth, feathers, ribbon, sequins, mat board, glue, hot glue 


Ceramic, embellishment, endangered, extraordinary, glaze, sculpture, texture, transformation 


Students could title their sculptures; create environments for their animals by making dioramas; write stories about their sculptures; compare the process of glazing clay vs. painting and embellishment 


Common Core State Standards

English and Language Arts: CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.3.1, SL.3.4, SL.4.1, SL.4.4, SL.5.1, SL.5.4

Wisconsin State Standards

D.4.6 / E.4.1, E.4.4 / G.4 / H.4.4 / J.4.2, J.4.5, J.4.10 / L.4.1, L.4.2, L.4.3

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