Art class offers opportunity to create 3-dimensional art

Anna Wonderlich, Co-Editor

Bowls, mugs, plates and platters.
Jars, containers and abstract objects.
You name it, and a ceramics student has probably made it.
These are the types of projects that senior Meredith Schmidt created in Ceramics 1 and 2 during her sophomore and junior years.
She is currently putting a portfolio together for the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards in hopes of winning a Gold Key in ceramics.
Ceramics is artwork made from clay that is fired to a permanent state in a kiln.
In the beginning Schmidt just wanted to try ceramics, but it became an activity she said she loves.
“My favorite part about ceramics is seeing all the glazed, finished pieces when they come out of the kiln,” she said. “[Former ceramics teacher Robert Putnam] used to always compare opening the glaze kiln to opening presents on Christmas morning.”
Last year she took Ceramics 2, taught by art teacher Michael Johnston.
He has been teaching photography at BV for 18 years, but began teaching ceramics class last year.
He said students feel proud of their unique creations when they see how their work pays off.
“There’s quite a sense of pride and ownership in the pieces that you create, because, obviously, you start from nothing,” Johnston said. “Students start from the lump of clay and get a fired, finished and permanent piece that will be around for hundreds of years if it’s not broken or shattered.”
Senior Weston Mosburg is a student in Johnston’s Ceramics 1 class this year. He said Johnston’s experience with ceramics helps students learn.
“He knows how to do everything on the wheel, and he’ll help you and give you ideas,” Mosburg said. “It’s really good that he knows how to do it, because he can show you firsthand.”
Johnston said ceramics class pushes students to view objects three-dimensionally.
He wants his students to benefit from the creative process that is taught and applied in class.
“It’s more than just technique,” he said. “It’s the fact that they’re problem solving. They’re using creative thinking skills in a way that they don’t in most other classes and even in other classes in our art department. Ceramics is the one class that focuses solely on three-dimensional art forms.”
Mosburg said he originally got involved with ceramics because it sounded like an interesting class.
“I wanted to take it for a while, but I hadn’t been able to get in for the past couple of years,” he said. “It just seemed like a fun class where you get to do your own projects and create what you want to.”
Mosburg is one of two male students in the seventh hour ceramics class. He said he encourages more guys to take ceramics because it’s fun and not gender-specific.
“It’s not really girly,” he said. “You do lots of dirty work — you get dirty lots of days. You get to build things.”
Johnston said students will definitely get messy when working with clay, but it makes ceramics fun.
“For some students, they don’t realize that it is clay, and you will get dirty in the class,” he said. “I think if they can get past that idea of being afraid to get dirty, most students will really enjoy it. I have had some students that have been a bit intimidated by the fact that they have to get their hands dirty or their dress dirty, so I do lose some enthusiasm [from students] because of that.”
Schmidt said her experiences from ceramics classes required her to practice patience and perseverance.
“I once made a platter four times before I succeeded in finishing it without it cracking,” she said. “I was so annoyed with it by the fourth time, but when it came out of the kiln, it was the best thing I’ve ever made. All the frustration of making it really paid off.”
Ceramics 1 involves getting used to the environment, learning how to work with the clay and learning basic techniques for clay-making.
As a beginning ceramics student, Mosburg said it takes practice to perform the new skills, such as throwing on the wheel.
“Mr. Johnston has said you can throw a hundred good pots to get one, and it takes lots of practice to finally be able to throw on the wheel,” he said. “Doing everything for the first time can be a challenge. It’s not too hard once you start to learn, and everybody’s able to make something.”
The skills developed in Ceramics 1 prepare students for Ceramics 2, where they can produce pieces that go toward portfolios and scholarships.
“Ceramics 2 is more of a studio class — most of the students have a pretty decent understanding of the techniques that it takes to create either functional or sculptural pieces,” Johnston said. “So in Ceramics 2, they’re kind of pushing their creative outlook. They’re looking for ways that they can voice their individuality through the pieces that they’re making.”
Schmidt said working closely with 15 to 20 other students makes it difficult to think of original ideas.
“It’s so easy to just steal their ideas and make them your own — just to say you’ve completed the project,” she said. “The class is much more fun when we come up with our own unique ideas and then compliment each other on their finished pieces.”
Schmidt said students should give ceramics a try because it’s a great way to be creative through a different medium, even if they don’t succeed at other types of art.
“So many kids just blow off art classes to get their credit, when they could actually be really good at it,” she said. “Someone whose strong suit is not drawing could excel in ceramics. Just because you’re not good at one type of art doesn’t mean you couldn’t be very successful in another.”