Thursday, May 7, 2015

On Being a Student....

 To close off my teaching season, I decided to give myself a creative gift, and become a student for a weekend. It was such a refreshing and informative time.  Even outside of learning new skills under the extremely talented ceramicist, Julie MacKinnon

 The workshop was held on the my first weekend back after teaching at the Okanagan School of the Arts, and many weeks of both online teaching and on location workshops around the province.  On the first morning of the workshop I was acutely aware of how I was thinking about that day, in contrast to the first day of a workshop when teaching.

 I have no experience with ceramics.  Although I had some projects ideas in mind,  I had no expectation for my own output during the class. I did not expect to make anything close to the quality of Julie's work, whose hands have put in their hours to develop an intimate knowledge of the material. I didn't expect any notes. I expected that any information I needed to retain I would be responsible for noting myself, in images, sketches or words. I loved that I just had to show up with enthusiasm; that all the materials and tools needed were supplied.  I started the morning just looking forward to having a great creative time, with a group of other women, guided through the processes by Julie's knowledge, experience and good humour.

 I was really excited when I saw that Julie was offering this workshop. In one of those exuberant sparks of inspiration I saw how ceramics could provide the perfect base for a line of felt table lamps I have in process. The white felt lighting has a sense of ceramics when unlit...the surface design potential is very similar. I see simple clear glazed white ceramic bases, in perfect relationship with a the matte white felt work.  Julie is wonderful in allowing her students room to experiment and design. The lamp base above will have red linen stitching through the holes in the sides...we can't escape our own material languages! 

 This base is designed to have felted spikes coming through the openings, that have a relationship in balance with spikes on the felt shade. It really is so exciting. 

 I found as a student, with much teaching experience and a lifelong craft practise, I really wanted to understand the materiality of the clay. My hands understand every aspect of the wool fibres as they change as I work. It is intuitive and immediate, and requires no thinking....This is where the 10 000 hours of working as a craftperson brings your understanding of a material. But my hands don't understand clay, like Julie's do. I wanted to know what my fingers should be feeling, and how this would change how I would work with the clay.  The tactile experience and understanding was more important to me than the end product.  Julie was wonderful in answering my questions and explaining the different "hands" when working with clay.


 I became aware that there are two definite approaches to workshops. Really the difference between master/process based classes and interest classes. It benefits everyone to clearly differentiate between these when people sign up for a workshop.  Ceramics will (probably...almost certainly) never be my main material to work with, so my mindset in attending the class was entirely interest based. A little side trip into a new world...I know many people that come to my classes work in felt, and fully expect to take every nuance of what we do home, to integrate into their own work.  This sets a very different tone for both student and teacher.  Both are good and wonderful...but quite different in expectations and delivery.

 I loved having the opportunity to work on the other side of the table, to work with a material that felt familiar and yet very foreign, to talk with all the interesting and creative participants, and learn from such an exceptional much so I'm going back for more in June...The last chance I'll have to play outside my medium before intensive studio time kicks in for the summer. I can't wait, and my sketchbook is filling up with projects that combine felt and clay.  

  If Julie and I could work out the logistics around the firing and glazing of the ceramics, we could create a great collaborative workshop!

You can see more of Julie's work here:
Julie MacKinnon Ceramics
Warm wishes, 


  1. Hands, beautiful hands (yóúr able hands, I recognise them from
    the many photos and videos ;-) ...) and clearly capable of much
    much more than felting alone ! LOVE the lamps , and that vase
    (with the flowers already there)
    I can imagine it must have been very relaxing to be "on the other
    side of the table" ;-)
    Great you did yourself this favour, so good to do something "else"
    occasionally !
    Love, Els

  2. Ha, love Julie's "wonky" stuff ....

  3. That will be a wonderful combination. Can't wait to see the results.
    Cheers Helen