Unruly and directionless at school, Luke stumbled across ceramics at college, which inspired him to become a professional 3D artist and, since 2018, an art and design lecturer at East Kent College.
Harvey Russell (16) and Maisie Grogan (19) are first-year level 3 students studying for an extended diploma in art and design
Harvey: Luke inspires us when he talks about his own work in ceramics. He’s always pushing me to do my best and sat down with me to pick up the pieces when I fell behind on one project. Luke does that with anyone who needs help; and he’s always checking on us online to ensure we’re ok during lockdown. He likes a bit of banter but can be really serious as well so he creates a healthy balance. He brings the class together and makes it feel more like fun than work. He even lets us play music in some practical sessions and tries tomake lie a bi easier on what can be quite long days. His explanations on the course are always clear so no one gets stressed out. Luke is a genuinely nice person and now more friend than tutor. I’d planned to become an architect but after attending Luke’s classes, I see my future in ceramics at HE level. He’s a great guy to learn from.
Maisie: I’d never considered ceramics as a subject that I’d now want to go on to study at HE level; I’d hadn’t even come across it before attending Luke’s classes. In the past few months I’ve developed so many different skills, which has much to do with Luke’s inspiring teaching. As a professional artist, he really knows what he’s talking about and has already shown us numerous different career pathways you can take in ceramics. He’s very practical and hands-on, always setting out our tasks clearly but also stressing the importance of individual artists and the history of ceramics. He engages in everything we do and regularly gets us all to gather round to watch his demos. One of his latest projects with us has been producing a time-lapse video of a block of ice melting - something we’ve worked on at home online!
Luke Godfrey was quite an unruly kid at school but he loved drawing so at 16 and lacking much direction, he was pushed by his mum towards college and a graphic design course. There he studied ceramics as part of the course, got inspired by his ceramics teacher and found he loved working with clay far more than designing on screen.
His passion has never waned since and he went on to do a three-year degree in ceramics and glass at Bucks New University. There he got an “amazing” two-month student placement at Wedgwood, where he was trained in ceramics and learnt all the tricks and short-cuts you don’t see outside industry. He then did a two-year MA at the Royal College of Art in 2010 and got a part-time job exhibiting as an ceramics artist for a year or so.
Luke had always wanted to teach, though. “I really got the bug during a week-long teaching workshop. I was keen to give people like me a chance to shine; I wanted to give something back to get ceramics back into fashion.”
He took a year out to resit his maths GCSE needed to do teacher training in 2012 and then started teaching A-level art a year later at secondary school. He switched to East Kent College in 2018.
“My work-life balance is now so much better,” he says. “You have more time to help your students develop at college; they’ll often achieve far more at college than at school as they can start and finish a project in a day, whereas school pupils have to squeeze everything into two-hour periods spread over several days in a packed A-level timetable.
Luke believes ‘real life’, vocationally-based college courses gear students better towards university and a more intense style of learning than school A-level requirements.
He can't praise enough the new-style UAL two-year, level 3 extended diploma course he teaches - Creative Practice: Art, Design and Communication - which gives students an in-depth introduction to the creative industries. “It’s a fantastic new course to teach as it’s all geared towards the students thinking about their careers, how they will survive as artists in future and what specialism they should follow.
“We give them mini-workshops about becoming an artist, architect, sculptor, fashion designer, textile designer . . . We get in external people and those working in the creative industries to talk via video link and run lots of live projects where students work with real clients.”
Luke teaches across the course four days a week though his specialisms are in ceramics, sculpture and drawing - and this also allows him time to create his own work.
He uses exhibition visits - off limits at present - to help keep up with art world trends. His last visit before covid struck was to an Tate exhibition of Danish/Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson’s sculptures and large-scale installation art at the Tate exhibition on the theme of ecology and sustainability - the inspiration for a current college project.
Luke draws much motivation from creating his own 3D work but is constantly inspired when he sees students experience lightbulb moments during their development.
“When starting ceramics, students may look blankly at a lump of clay and yet by the end of the session they’ll have made a pot and think ‘This is something I’ve made!’. You can see the pride in their faces. That’s what helps spur me on to work each day.
“I get quite excited about things - when I give feedback on project work, I’m aware the students haven’t realised how good it often is until they are told . . . it’s all part of making the course exciting for them . . . that’s the key to getting them engaged.
“Every lecturer should also think about how they were engaged and what they enjoyed as students - you mustn’t forget what first inspired you. Above all, you need to give honest feedback; otherwise, if you say everything is good when it isn’t, they’ll start thinking they are all good all of the time!”
A recent project called Hidden Canterbury, leading up to Christmas and undertaken with the local council, focused on the problem of numerous derelict shops and empty shop windows. Luke asked his students to look at architecture, type faces, and deconstruction and reconstruction of imagery, and construct 3D shapes in the style of 20th-century sculptor Sir Anthony Caro. They then had to get the work printed up and installed in shop windows.
“It made the high street so much more welcoming! A fellow staffer helped the students set up a pop-up shop, Rock Paper Scissors, in the town where they could sell their designs just as they would as artists in the real world.
“Our current Eliasson project aims to get us all thinking about how young people can change the world and raise awareness of climate change. One part of the project is creating and installing animal habitats in gardens to encourage wildlife; the brief is to design them in a particular architectural style - along the lines, say, of mini, modernist-style bird houses .”
Every lecturer has had to improvise around the covid crisis and teaching creative arts online is no exception. In painting projects, for instance, Luke has asked students at home to use colours they can produce from materials at home such as beetroot or chalk!
But covid or no covid, fundamental to Luke’s teaching style is investing time not only in his students’ work but in them as people. “Ask them how they are and they tend to first assume the question is just work-related, but for me it’s equally important that they are feeling well. They can bottle things up so my question gives them the chance to let off steam; it builds up rapport when they know you are not only a teacher but also their tutor and a fellow human being - you’re not just there to get a result out of them but you are someone who cares about them.”
He also stresses the need to relax and be firm but fair. “It’s really important to switch off at home but it can be hard. My partner tears me off a strip on Saturdays if I work then. You should always be firm and fair with students when you start. Don’t try to be their mate straight away - I tried too hard when I started. Once you get to know each other and build mutual respect, you can then start to build more rapport.”
Particularly heartening, he says, is getting comments from universities across the country that the department is doing a good job and that East Kent students seem so well equipped to move up to HE level.
“I love the age bracket of 16-18 plus a few 21-year-olds and can see myself in FE until I retire. I’m proud of what we are building at the college and we’ll hopefully maintain it.”