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Close up in the 3D workshop

Fine Art Technical officer Katy McDonald holding a pot

As Fine Art Technical Officer I work in the 3D Workshop teaching students how to use machinery and equipment including the potters’ wheel, laser cutter and hand tools, safely and confidently. Katy says:

We also teach processes like mould making, hand building and throwing - and how to use different materials like wood, metals or plaster, depending on student requirements. For example, students can borrow tools and buy materials which we can prepare for them and we’ll also finish ceramics in the kiln for them.We mainly work with fine art, film & TV, illustration and fashion students, but all Cambridge School of Art students can use the 3D facilities.

I have been interested in art and making things as far back as I can remember. I started doing Saturday morning ceramics lessons around the age of five, moving on to adult education classes in the evenings.

Close up of a ceramic pot with pale blue designs on terracotta background
Three hanging ceramic pots with plants and macrame
Beige ceramic pot with blue and pink design

After an HND in Art and Design, I chose to specialise in Graphic Design with a BA (Hons) at Dundee University. I chose Graphic Design as I thought it would a well-paid profession but it wasn’t the right creative choice for me - too many rules to follow! I wish I had chosen something different like jewellery, illustration or fine art. Having said that, I did learn some computer skills and software during my degree, which have proved to be useful. If I was to go back now I realise you should do what you like and if you like it, you’ll do well.  If you don’t, it’s never going to work out.

During my degree, I spent time at Dundee Contemporary Art Centre and so decided to pursue a Masters in Printmaking, which brought me to Cambridge School of Art. There are lots opportunities in Cambridge and I got a job at a local college, first as Ceramics and Sculpture Technician then teaching adult education ceramics before becoming the Adult Education Coordinator for Art & Design and Recreation. It felt great to have a job doing something creative. I now work three days at ARU, but continue teaching ceramics at Hills Road VI Form College - and I’m also their Adult Education Coordinator.

Close up of a plant pot with black and blue design on terracotta background
Two white ceramic pots with blue and beige stripes
Several ceramic pots, with plants, displayed on a white bench and grey background

I’m fortunate to be able to make use of the facilities we have and continue to learn about new processes and materials I probably wouldn’t have considered using.  I think it’s good for students to see us doing our own work as they get inspiration from this, ask questions and apply this learning to their own work. I make the most of any opportunities including artists' residencies, exhibitions and a taking part in summer schools such as Neil Brownsword: Reimagining the Mould, which was part of the British Ceramics Biennial.

My advice would be: practice practice practice. Don’t be scared to try things. Experiment. Step outside your comfort zone, work with materials and processes you have never used before. Do a test/trial to try out new materials to get some hands-on experience and learn how they behave. Remember most things take twice as long as you think they are going to. Get to know the technicians. They are the ones who help you turn your creative visions into a reality.

Katy McDonald is Fine Art Technical Officer at Cambridge School of Art. Photos show her own work in ceramics.