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Senior John Hough immediately went to work on his 150 pounds of homemade clay. He’s going to scale his portrait. “The clay is going to shrink between when it’s wet and when it’s fired,” he says, picking up on the earlier conversation thread. “I’m going to have to measure carefully and increase everything by twelve percent.” Another student looks in a mirror, tracing his outline onto graph paper. Ben notices this approach and suggests an alternative path. “It might be easier if you print your photo and graph on the image,” he says, cuing him to the approach most of the class has taken.

“In intro classes I teach students a lot about methods,” Ben explains. “I want them to know enough about how to do something that they feel confident exploring their creative impulses later. Here, I teach both method and allow them to discover their creative side.”hand-built-pullquote

This is just the beginning of the first part of the assignment. Students don’t know yet that the next part of the assignment will require them to reshape this very actual portrait into a piece that is more conceptual. . That’s the creative part. “This project will give them the practice to create what’s in front of them. It teaches them how to build what they see. The next part of the assignment requires them to look at what they see every day and question it.”

Class is almost over. Ben reminds everyone that their portrait is due next week. He expects most of them will be back in the studio, working late hours to finish it. They can do that here. It’s one of the only studios on campus that remains open until midnight. “Given the nature of clay, it has to be this way,” he says. “We’ve set it up so that it’s comfortable.We built a computer station last year and brought in an iPod docking station so they can play their music while they work. My hope is that by doing these things students will want to come here and work.”

By all accounts they do. At 8:45 p.m. the studio is brewing with activity. It’s more alive than when class was in session—jazz is bouncing off the walls as students laugh, work, and stop Ben “with just one more question….”

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