The class atmosphere on Tuesday night ceramics in PCC’s Visual Art department is unreserved and easygoing. Two artists brought cookies to share. Students chatted while they wedged clay, a process of kneading the clay to remove air. In the coming weeks, it will be fired at 2300 degrees Fahrenheit to become art. But it is currently gray and tan mush.
Eventually the room fell into a quiet routine, not unlike a household where each member is happily focused on something individually, and students focused on making slip (liquid clay), salvaging a broken piece, or smoothing out rough patches on the current assignment.
This is where PCC student Shannon Roughan spent her evening working on the class project.
She loves creative challenges and wants to build her career around them. Roughan plans to be a gallery artist, either by having her own gallery or making art to be shown in them.
While she enjoys ceramics, she wants to incorporate different media into her art. Roughan originally started out by oil painting.
“I want to do a combination of both [painting and ceramics],” Roughan said. “I think they all feed into one another. Drawing is a big part of ceramics if you want to sketch out something, for example. If you’re thinking about architectural elements as well, I think it helps to draw out what you do.”
She applied this philosophy to her current class assignment.
“I’m going to put a lot of curves and levels into it,” Roughan said. “The project is called a ‘50-50’ project which means you’re combining elements of thrown form on the wheel and using hand-building techniques.”
The class “throws” clay on a potter’s wheel, which involves using centripetal force to balance wet clay to create cylinders, vases, and plates. The ceramics department has about 30 wheels available for use.
Roughan described how her inspiration comes from everyday objects.
“You look at … how a lamppost is and why there are so many ridges on it,” Roughan said. “It’ll give you an idea of how to create ridges. When I first started doing ceramics, I wanted everything to be nice and smooth and perfect. I think that’s the relaxing stage of ceramics, but when you go outside of that, you’re open to surprising yourself. There are lots of interesting things that could happen.”
She believes ceramics teaches you beyond the craft by being a form of art therapy to help people overcome difficulties in their lives. She was frustrated by another universally applicable skill ceramics teaches: accepting mistakes.
She understands mistakes will occur along the way and is able to laugh at accidents that happened and believes “you just kinda have to go with it.”
“I’ve had pieces blow up,” Roughan said. “I’ve had pieces shatter and things get knocked over before they were fired.”
Ceramics is an incredibly scientific art and working your clay to have the right water content can be a challenge. Time management is key and a skill Roughan perfects.
“As you’re working, your clay is exposed to air and the water is evaporating,” Roughan said. “Then you’re adding water to it, and you’re waiting for the kiln to fire, and then to cool down, and then you’re glazing it, and when you’re glazing it you’re waiting for it to dry.”
Glazing is an artistic adventure into chemistry.
Roughan is interested in making her own glaze. The ceramics department encourages this experimentation and provide the raw materials and scales for measuring out ingredients.
She explains glazing can feel frustrating because there are multiple factors that affect the outcome. Test tiles, a sample of a glaze painted and fired, give an idea of the result but it is no guarantee of the color. The glaze appears as the final color after being fired. It goes on “gray or red or really red or black so you don’t have a huge idea of what’s happening,” according to Roughan. Glaze thickness, mineral proportions, and even being fired next to a different colored piece can all result in a new style happening on the piece a student spent hours creating.
She tries to have a positive outlook.
“You either have to be really into that or you have to get mad a ton,” Roughan said. “I’m sure everyone is halfway between those feelings.”
She thinks the skills ceramics teaches, including accepting mistakes and time-management, can be significant for anyone.
“Ceramics has you thinking about things in a different way,” she said. “And I think that’s invaluable.”