Thursday, March 21, 2013

From painting to pottery: an art student's journey

by Katelynn Padron, Guest Writer    

The arts have always entranced senior Kelly McLaughlin, a ceramics major. She used to be a painter, starting out drawing vines with roses in kindergarten before moving on to oil painting with her grandfather, who painted in his retirement.

In high school, McLaughlin’s painting career expanded.  She worked for art galleries in Yakima, Wash. where she began exploring acrylic and watercolor painting.

McLaughlin said she would forget to sleep because painting so enchanted her. “I had three pots of coffee a day,” McLaughlin said. “Sometimes I would accidentally dip my paintbrush into the coffee instead of the water.”

When the time came to select a college, McLaughlin said the New York Academy of Art accepted her.

However, McLaughlin said her parents convinced her to stay close to home at a school with religious influences. She chose Pacific Lutheran University.

McLaughlin said she felt that she fit in well at PLU, despite the fact that she is not Lutheran.

McLaughlin started out at PLU as a painting major. Then she tried ceramics and said she loved the functionality and three-dimensionality of ceramics.

“There is a different kind of magic behind ceramics,” McLaughlin said. “All my work will outlive me.”
However, she found that she could not produce wonderful paintings and quality ceramics simultaneously.

“I dive into a medium and it’s hard for me to branch out in two places at once,” McLaughlin said.            “I couldn’t balance it very well.” She said she grew confused about what she wanted to study and decided to take a year off school.

It was Steven Sobeck, visiting professor of art and design, who brought McLaughlin back to PLU. McLaughlin said Sobeck told her she was a talented sculptor, but she needed to get her priorities straight. McLaughlin returned to PLU and decided to become a ceramics major.

“Steve kidnapped me from the painting department,” McLaughlin said, explaining her decision to major in ceramics.

Since McLaughlin’s return to PLU, there have been a few bumps in the road.  “I made these three sculptures — and they were beautiful,” McLaughlin said.

She said she put all of her energy into these three sculptures, one of which was a four-and-a-half by three-and-a-half foot elephant, but when she fired them in the kiln they shattered.
“I couldn’t figure out how to get past it,” McLaughlin said.

For a time, she avoided ceramics altogether. Eventually, McLaughlin came back to the studio and started sculpting again.

She intends to do some smaller projects and work her way back up to larger sculptures.

McLaughlin said she hopes to do installation art, three-dimensional works that are site-specific, but she does not want to live solely on her profits from art.

McLaughlin said she would like to be part of a community and interact with people and would be interested in working at a gallery part time to stay involved in the art community.

McLaughlin is working on a collection of mugs embellished with beer hops that will be displayed at the Northern Pacific Coffee Company.