Ceramic Art in an Old Schoolhouse


Patty’s studio is in a 19th century one-room schoolhouse located on Cambria’s Main Street. The cream colored clapboard, red trim, and bell tower (the original 1880’s bell still resides up there) might as well be right out of a Little House on the Prairie novel, and arriving each morning is like going on jaunt back in time.

Today was my third day of decorating forms, and with 40 pieces completed, I am getting very used to having clay-covered hands. About decorating: Patty specializes in etched ceramics. Remember those Scratch-Art sets from elementary school, how you would scrape off the rubbery layer on a piece of board to reveal the colors underneath? Etching is similar. You paint the surface of the ceramic piece with a special black glaze, let it dry, then use a pointy tool to scrape it away and reveal the white clay. Finished pieces are reminiscent of black and white woodcarvings.

hands & etching

This is one of my practice etchings. They become shiny once glazed and fired in the kiln.

Now that I’ve gotten into the rhythm of it, etching has become meditative. Three hours go by in a flash. I had planned to listen to audio books while decorating, but I soon discovered that while etching is almost like doodling on clay, it takes concentration. I’ve been listening to music instead. (I predict that by the end of my senior project I will have memorized the lyrics to all of Simon and Garfunkel’s songs.) My biggest epiphany so far (reached on day 2), is that the less of a perfectionist I am, the better the pieces turn out. I am known as an “exacto” in my family (i.e. a perfectionist), so it was tricky to take a deep breath, stop trying to make the pieces look “perfect,” and embrace a “go with the flow” philosophy, but I’ve noticed that the pieces look more natural. I’ve found that it helps to think of etching as carving wood; Patty mentioned the similarity on Monday, and although I have no experience with wood carving, I think it might have something to do with removing myself a little from the 2D artist’s mentality of control and intricacy.

All right, I’m off to return to the 19th century.


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