Q&A with 3D Artist Will Sawyer


You can walk in to the ceramics studio at any time of day and chances are, you will find Will Sawyer talking one-on-one with a student, giving a hands-on demonstration or offering reassurance to a young artist. "That's okay," he says. "Sometimes it just doesn't work out. Let's try it again."

That connection has made Sawyer a very popular teacher and while he can hold an intense look of concentration on his face, he is quick with a smile. His students learn through a balance of interaction and independence and they seem eager to produce their best work in his classes. 

Here's an insight into the man molding the clay.



You went to Radford as an undergraduate and got your MFA here as well. What did you learn here that you try to pass on to your students now?

I learned how special this place is and I try to show that to the students. Sometimes that can be hard because it’s difficult to appreciate something while you’re still in it. I remember when I began my BFA, I struggled to decide between Ceramics and another medium, which is something I believe my students also face today. I try to let them have all the experience they can and support them while making their choices for majors or the medium they choose to work in so they can feel confident in their decisions. 

You teach 100 and 200 level courses that attract a lot of non-art majors. What do you think they get out of that?

A lot of non-majors use ceramics as a way to relax. It’s nice for them to have something completely different from reading and writing. Something tactile where they can create with their two hands. Many students continue to take Ceramics as an elective and even continue Ceramics as a hobby because they find it rewarding.


What do you like about teaching? When do you know you are making a difference?

There’s so much I like about teaching it’s hard to pin point. I enjoy this quote that I believe is from Albert Einstein, “The principal art of the teacher is to awaken the joy in creation and knowledge.” I know I’m making a difference when the students are asking questions and are able to bring something to the conversation.

Many students find ceramics really difficult in the beginning and especially when they begin working on the wheel. But once they see a finished product and how their work progresses over time it turns into a rewarding process. I believe that this is teaching them how to appreciate a long-term reward and achievement when in today’s world so many of us are used to instant gratification. I know the students that learn this lesson can then take that appreciation into every part of their lives. 

What do students typically find surprising about the classes you teach?

How hard pottery really is. It’s like rubbing your belly and patting your head and making a pot all at the same time. The physical challenge is not something they usually expect.  They may have seen a pottery wheel before, but don't understand how to actually use it. Once they get used to how the wheel works and understand the coordination, I find they typically love Ceramics and are fully hooked. 


Some of your pieces are in President Danilowicz's house, aren't they? 

I think I have five pieces in their home right now. I’m proud to represent the Art Department and I hope that those works bring them and their guests joy.

Many of the pieces I chose to display there are pieces from my final graduate show, which additionally makes me proud. I see those pieces as an accumulation of my effort and progress during Graduate School and I’m very happy to have them on display, instead of sitting in my basement.

What is one thing people probably don't understand about ceramics as an art?

Ceramics is a very physically intense art form and it is all timed. You only have so much time you can work with clay before it gives up the ghost, then you must resurrect it and start all over. It makes that finished piece so much sweeter and precious. Even during the firing process, a piece can crack or just not come out of the kiln the way you initially expected. You have to be prepared to think on your feet to fix something not working or abandon a piece that breaks beyond repair. Something I learned early on is to not become attached to any of your pieces and that is something I have to prepare my students for as well.

What advice do you have for young artists of any sort who want to pursue art as a profession?

Practice, practice, practice and never be content. You can be happy with a finished piece, but always remember you can do better. The more work you put in, the more satisfaction you will find in the creation. Be prepared to make changes along the way and try to find an appreciation for long-term rewards and achievement. 

Apr 12, 2023
Sean Kotz