A Connection to Nature: An Interview with Ceramics Instructor Ciara Jackson

Ciara Jackson

Continuing Education Ceramics instructor Ciara Jackson has always had an affinity for natural things and a deep desire to work with her hands, so it is surprising to learn she began her arts education on the digital domain of the creative continuum. “I first worked with clay about a year and a half into college and I liked the idea of creating something functional and working with my hands,” she says. “At the time I had been studying Graphic Design, but I was losing interest in sitting at a computer all day. So, I traded the computer for a wheel and discovered a passion for clay. I look at my artistic practice as a way to express my appreciation for nature, and clay, being an earthy material, was the most attractive medium for that.”Photo courtesy of Ciara Jackson

While working toward her BFA in Three-Dimensional Art from the University of Tennessee, Jackson found herself exposed to many creative mediums. “Because my major was in studio art, I was frequently juggling projects in the clay studio, the printmaking studio, and the sculpture studio at the same time,” she recalls. “This exposed me to a nice variety of mediums, as well as people, which certainly encouraged me to constantly experiment with technique and helped me find meaning in what I was making. Currently my active practice is focused on clay, but I would like to get back to working in metal when I go for an MFA.”

For Jackson, the appeal of ceramics lies in the clay’s practical aspects. “I prefer to make functional objects,” she says. “Recently, I have been creating vessels for plants out of an interest in the human connection with nature. I think I tend to feel the need to make functional art because I like art with which one can interact. I want people to feel enticed to handle the work I make so that it may be experienced physically.”

As an instructor, Jackson says she enjoys teaching ceramics because of the relaxed attitude around the medium. “Ceramics classes tend to be a bit more casual by nature. During most classes I will do a demonstration, check in with each student to advise them on their project, and share what I'm most interested in at the moment,” she says. “I believe pairing demonstrations with conversations is a holistic approach to encouraging creative exploration. I think the sense of community that ceramics classes tend to encourage has a great influence over the work being made and the ideas being developed. Everyone starts bouncing thoughts off one another. It's a nice thing to experience.”

Jackson says the only downside to her teaching experience are the constraints on resources. “I could do without the limits set by equipment, time, space, etc. I'd really love to be able to encourage students to make as much of whatever they want and experience as much trial and error as they can handle. Unfortunately, there aren't billions of dollars being allocated for arts education in our country that would allow for this.”

Ceramics photo courtesy of Ciara Jackson As an artist and instructor, Jackson says she spends upwards of 85% of her day working with clay. Even when she’s away from it, she’s still pondering creative possibilities. “The other 15% of my time is devoted to things like sleep, eating, and making time for leisure.”

With so much of her waking life devoted to ceramics, one wonders if Jackson does not find herself experiencing burnout. “Honestly, I do get burnt out and have to force myself to spend time doing nothing in order to compensate. It's something I'm working on improving,” she says. “I recently learned of the Japanese concept of Shinrin-yoku, which translates to forest bathing. In the most simple terms it is essentially meditating through spending time in a forest. I've always thought of it as creatively recharging and I struggle to make enough time to do so.” 

At the same time, Jackson says she inevitably finds herself recharged, if not inspired by her students. “Just as the students feed off each other's creative energy, so do I! I often demonstrate techniques that I don't actively use in my own practice, but I'm always keeping an eye out for new things I can try, specifically to pass along to my students, which can spark an idea that I'll end up implementing into my own work.”

With so much to offer the CE Ceramics program, here is hoping Jackson doesn’t head off to start on her MFA in metal work anytime in the near future.

Learn more about Continuing Education Ceramics classes.  Please note: Class size is limited and the ceramics classes fill quickly. Register online or by phone to confirm there is space in the class. Mailed registration is not recommended.

All photos courtesy of Ciara Jackson.