Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The start of the fall class session

I'm really looking forward to the start of classes this fall. I teach three metal clay classes every week (ongoing, fall through spring). This summer, I took time off to recharge my creative batteries (and begged forgiveness from the students who objected)... even skipped the show circuit and just did gallery work. Summer's been great for creative time. The school year is very hectic, so it was nice to slow down and have more family time too.
I played with COPPR and BRONZ clays, did a lot of enamel testing on the COPPRclay, wrote an article, and created some new pieces. The best part is that I have some new tricks to share with my students...

It will be great to see returning students and meet eager new ones. I love to watch the progression of skill (and level of work) as people grow more competent and confident. And there's nothing like the enthusiasm of a new student just starting out in metal clay-it's such amazing material. I particularly enjoy addressing the challenges that the advanced students encounter. Problem-solving is great fun. Part of what attracted me to jewelry and metals more than 30 years ago, is that intersection of design and engineering.

Teaching metal clay came to me almost by chance. Many years ago, a friend who manages programs for an organization was looking for more art offerings. I'd been telling her about metal clay and she asked if I'd be willing to teach a class. I agreed, and I was hooked. It wasn't that I hadn't taught art before-in volunteer ways-with Girl Scouting and through the schools. But this time, it was teaching my medium in such a focused way-to eager adult learners, that opened a new door. It's funny, because art education was suggested to me when I was in college, but a bad experience with an opinionated (and probably burned out) high school art teacher scared me away from that.

So why do we teach? I'll make a guess that it's not for the money... in any area of teaching. For me it's the whole lighting a spark thing. I think learning is contagious... and when people get excited about what they're doing and learning, it's just awesome. There's great satisfaction in helping someone find a way to express themselves creatively. Someone did that for me once upon a time :) -which I appreciate. There's also tremendous satisfaction in seeing people succeed and be happy about what they're doing. And teachers like to share-we can't help it. Some days it seems like all I really want to do is tell you about making jewelry with metal clay and truly hope you'll to like it as much as I do. I had lunch today with a couple of metalsmith friends and caught myself enthusiastically touting the merits of metal clay (they've heard this before...).

People sometimes wonder if working artists who teach feel threatened by their students' success. I can't imagine if we were, that we'd be very effective teachers. The whole reason we share our knowledge and help people express themselves, is so they WILL be successful. If a student finds his or her voice and excels, then I've done my job. I wish them well.

I'll post some more enamel results soon, but I had take a break to get organized for classes. And in doing so, I realized how much I was looking forward to the start of the fall session. If you have a minute, it would be fun to hear what motivates other teachers and what students like about taking classes.


  1. Have fun with your next series of classes!!! Loved your post on teaching. As both a teacher and perpetual student, I LOVE the learning process! There's nothing like watching someones face when they see the clay turn to metal. And for them to get hooked and start thinking of what THEY could do with the process. And as a student, well what can I say. There's hardly a new technique I DON'T want to try! I'm always an eager student. My next metalsmithing class starts Monday as a matter of fact!

  2. Hello Catherine,
    I missed reading your post when you first uploaded it. I am not teaching this year, for the first time in more than a decade. I know I will miss seeing the lightbulb go on over the students' heads and the excited look they get in their eyes, but for now I would like to practice my art.

    I haven't tried metal clay, but want to very badly. I need to find a class in my area and just jump in with both feet.

    Good luck in your new semester!


  3. This is pretty late reading this post, it's New Year's Eve (ha!) but I like it and wanted to tell you.

    I like to teach because I like meeting and interacting with people. I like the eagerness of new students and I have to admit I like hearing that "I" am amazing because I know how to shape this clay.

    One day about 10 years ago, when I was working on some ceramic thing I was making I remember thinking that I wanted to be a goldsmith. I don't know how long after that I heard about PMC and my mind loved the concept. I was hooked even before I touched it.

    Then about 5 years ago I spent a few Thanksgivings inviting friends of my kids and letting the parents stay if they wanted to make ceramic clay things that these kids could give as Christmas presents. While watching the kids especially, I saw them do things with the clay I never would have tried or even thought of. To me every piece looked amazing and it was very different from my art. I learned so much! I had found something I yearned for, a connection with people where I got as much back, maybe more than I felt I put in... and my art changed and evolved from it in a way that I can hardly put into words. I got so jazzed and then I also got the confidence to teach more people something I knew that I was getting good at and I wanted to keep that circle going.

    I really like the way you wrote this all down. It makes me feel better about where I am in my life and gives me some more energy for all the things I'd like to make but have to be patiently done when there is time for it. At the end of the year I feel a bit tired and daunted and slow.

    I hope I get to sit and talk with you one day. the other Catherine