It was a challenge to keep the overhanging wet clay from sagging, and the blue glaze unexpectedly pooled at the bottom, but the low, broad pot won James Voelckers first place in ceramics at the state high school art competition.
"It's tough to make that shape, and the challenge is what's fun about it," Voelckers said. "It's a real question of timing on whether or not you can ever get a shape like this."
Voelckers joined five other Juneau-Douglas High School students in winning awards at the All-State Art Competition last month in Fairbanks.
The works, displayed in Fairbanks, were recently shipped back to Juneau.
Sabrina Nelson won first place in sculpture and Kylie Manning was first in painting. Margaux DeRoux placed second in painting and Eric Tollefson was third in printmaking. Owen Miller received an honorable mention for ceramics.
Nelson, a senior, had to build a kiln large enough to accommodate her detailed clay sculpture of a dragon. She based it on a figurine she bought in Anchorage.
"I think I liked the texture," Nelson said of what attracted her to the subject. "The last thing I did was a bear. The fur on it was fairly detailed. For some reason, I have a thing for detail, so I went with that. It doesn't have the detail I would like it to have, but it was the best I could do."
It's hard to see what details were left out of the creature, whose every scale is incised and molded, and which vary in size and shape depending on their placement on the dragon's body. The dragon's smooth wings contrast with the body.
Manning, a senior, derived her 3- by 5-foot cubist painting of a woman from naturalistic sketches.
"I think it's just trying something different," Manning said of the style. "I think it's more of a challenge to try to change something you like, to move it to a different style."
If a painter grows up in a realistic style, "it's like learning a different language. In cubism, everything kind of has to fit. It has to work like a puzzle," she said.
Tollefson said he created his woodblock print of a polar bear because he always liked the animals. He used a photograph to get the bear's outline, which is emphasized in his cleanly designed white-and-blue image. The bear's fur picks up tints of blue from the ice floe it's bent over.
Tollefson, a junior, carved light blue lines into the background to suggest a waterfall. He made the paper himself. The print won first place in mixed media at the art show of the Alaska region National Ocean Sciences Bowl in Seward this year.
Woodblock carving is "really challenging," Tollefson said. "You have to go with the grain at times, make sure you go really slowly and not be really forceful."
Miller, a senior, was honored for his foot-tall working fountain in which the water flows over five ceramic bowls set one on top of each other. "It's a dark blue, so it looks almost like nighttime, with speckles," he said.
Miller said he has to do a lot of planning and measuring to get the many pieces to fit together physically. He also has to find the shapes and glazing that go together aesthetically.
It's only Miller's second fountain, but he's no stranger to ceramics. He started a business called Hidden Lake Pottery last summer, sells his work at craft shows and by commission, and teaches pottery.
"It's hard work," he said. "I would definitely prefer to have more wheels at my house because it's lonely just sitting down there with music."
DeRoux said she worked in an abstract style for her painting of three women because she still considers herself a beginner, although she's been painting her "whole life."
"I was trying to create a piece where I could practice it (abstraction)," she said. "I wanted to do something cubist, because cubism is where you're looking at something from three different perspectives. Whereas the painting I did is from one perspective, but fractured."
DeRoux, a senior, said the painting is a bit personal.
"I just felt like I was going through a growth process at that point of time. As you grow, you shed part of yourself and gain insight," she said.
DeRoux, in talking about the competition, said she was struck by how well JDHS students did, although not everyone who wants to take an art class can get one.
"Students from our high school placing in this competition is proof that kids can learn from art and become very interested in it, and the school needs to show more monetary support for it," she said.
"I learned the most about myself and my life through art class because it's such an important form of self-expression, and adolescence is when you really need to express yourself, and the school should support that," DeRoux said.
Meanwhile, Voelckers is working after school on a large ceramic mural he intends to give to JDHS. The 5- by 9-foot work, composed of more than 1,900 small pieces of clay that will be individually fired and glazed, depicts an Italian landscape.
"I wanted to do something that would be big and out there," Voelckers, a senior, said. "And I think this will definitely fill that requirement if I ever get it done. I wanted to leave something for the school."
Eric Fry can be reached at email@example.com.