A day in the life: Ceramics tutor

Michelle Shields tells us about a working life elbow deep in clay

Q. How long have you been in your job? 

I have been in my role for just over a year. Prior to that I taught at Manchester School of Art and conducted workshops at Salford University, The Royal College of Art, and Ruthin Craft Centre.

Q. What is it about your job that gets you out of bed in the morning? 

The thought of opening a kiln, and being able to see how my students develop in both their skill and confidence.

Q. What’s the first thing you do when you get into work? 

Open a kiln.

Q. Who are the two or three people you talk to on a daily basis? 

My colleagues. We talk about developing digital skills in the wider context of the role. The contemporary landscape of ceramics is a vast open-ended question, with links to architecture, engineering, design, the crafts, the art world, dentistry, industry and digital technology – these typologies co-exist. Digital techniques offer new ways of working that are not in competition with traditional techniques of making but extend the possibilities of innovation with ceramics.

The best thing about my job? Helping others achieve their personal goals, creatively

Q. What’s the best thing about your job? 

Helping others achieve their personal goals, creatively.

Q. And the worst? 

Cleaning out the drip tray from slip casting, which is the method of pouring liquid clay into a plaster mould to form mass-produced ceramics and pottery. This technique is especially honed for shapes not easily made on a wheel and creates the more complex shapes used today.

Q. Your number one most vital prop/tool/piece of equipment? 

The gas kilns. With gas firing you can control the atmosphere your work is exposed to, which directly affects the final outcome of your glazes and clay bodies. It means the process can be tailored to meet your own needs and expand your possibilities.

Q. How did you get into your job? 

I fell in love with clay, an abundant and easily extracted natural resource on our planet. I am fascinated by its transformative materiality.

Q. What is it about your personality that makes you suitable for the role? 

I’m so curious about clay, and ancient and digital ways of making. Our knowledge of ancient civilisations are so often based on excavated ceramic artefacts that exist after thousands of years, along with the maker’s impressions of existence. I have so much to learn!

Q. If you weren’t in this role, what would you be? 

I’d be an archivist.

Q. Which five words sum up your typical day? 

Earth, time, alchemy, slip, raw… 

Michelle Shields is a technical tutor in ceramics in the ceramics and glass department at the University for the Creative Arts

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