Museum Hours
Thu: 1 PM–8 PM
Fri–Mon: 10 AM–5 PM
Tue–Wed: Closed
200 Larkin Street
San Francisco, CA 94102

Ernie Kim: On the Surface

Objective: Learn about two techniques Ernie Kim used to decorate the surfaces of his ceramics.

Common Core State Standards (California)

1.VA:Cr2.1. Explore uses of materials and tools to create works of art or design.

1.VA:Cr2.2. Demonstrate safe and proper procedures for using materials, tools, and equipment while making art.


Device with internet access and projection capability

White construction paper



Watercolors and cup of water



  • Introduce lesson: In creating his ceramics, Ernie Kim often used sgraffito and wax resist techniques to decorate their surfaces. In this lesson, we will learn about both of these techniques and use simpler materials to create the same effects. We will also look at some of the calligraphic and abstract designs on Kim’s ceramics.
  • Show examples of Kim’s ceramics to illustrate the terms. (Use downloadable pdf of slideshow from sidebar above).
    • Discuss: How would you describe the decorations on Kim’s vessels? What words come to mind?
  • Watch video of sgraffito technique:
  • Directions to give students for first activity:
    • Using a variety of crayons, cover a piece of white construction paper with blocks of colors; make sure to color in every part of the paper’s surface.
    • Use a black crayon to color over the blocks of color. Add several layers of black crayon to the page, so that none of the colors come through.
    • Use a toothpick to scratch out a drawing on the now-black surface of the paper. Try to create an abstract or calligraphic design like the kinds Ernie Kim made on his ceramics. Your drawing should come out in the original colors you used.
  • Watch video of wax resist technique:
    • Explain that when the vessel is fired in the kiln, the wax burns off, and thus the surface of the vessel remains smooth.
  • Directions to give students for second activity:
    • Use your crayons to draw another abstract or calligraphic design on a piece of white construction paper. Go over the outline of your drawing a few times, so that the wax layer is thick.
    • Wet your paintbrush in your cup of water and use the watercolors to paint around or over your crayon drawing. Watch how the wax resists the paint.

Possible Extensions

For all grades

  • Experiment with other forms of resist art, as seen in this short tutorial by the Asian Art Museum’s Art Speak Interns:

    For grades 6 and above

  • Compare/contrast Kim’s ceramics with those of another California artist of the same period, Jade Snow Wong:
    • Can you see how they emphasized different techniques in their vessels?
  • Kim saw the Swedish designer Stig Lindberg and the American artist Peter Voulkos as important influences.
    • Look through their works and see if you can identify any connections to Kim’s ceramics.
  • Investigate other techniques for decorating ceramics:
    • See if you can identify any of these techniques in the slideshow of Kim’s artworks.
  • Sgraffito” and “graffiti” come from the same Italian word meaning “to scratch.” Research the beginnings of graffiti as scratched inscriptions and images on ancient walls. For an interesting discussion of graffiti that makes reference to sgraffito and calligraphic design, see this blogpost by 3-D pavement artist Kurt Wenner:

For more lessons based on Ernie Kim, visit the artist’s teacher packet.