Placer High junior’s passion for working with ceramics expands his creative vision

Isaiah Phillips perfecting Raku pottery technique
By: Bridget Jones, Special to the Journal
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When Isaiah Phillips was about 8 years old he discovered he loved art. “When I was a little kid I’d draw pictures of weird characters and stuff that just looked crazy,” said Phillips, a 17-year-old Placer High junior. High school ceramics classes have opened his mind to new forms of art he never considered when he was younger, Phillips said. “I always liked drawing, and then when I got in high school it got more indepth,” he said. “I got to use different techniques. I wanted to make pots on the wheel, and I wanted to sculpt things and use a different kind of way to make things.” Toby Covich, a ceramics teacher at Placer High, said Phillips’ interest in ceramics has developed into a passion to which he is seriously dedicated. “Isaiah is waiting at the door when I get here in the morning,” Covich said. “He’s at school for at least half an hour (before school starts) working on his projects. He’s very self-motivated.” Phillips said he is enjoying learning different firing techniques such as Raku. In Raku, a ceramic piece is removed from the kiln when it is still extremely hot. Phillips then adds a combustible material to the piece. This chemically alters the glaze on the ceramic piece and causes parts of it to change colors. Phillips placed hairs from a turkey beard on one of his Raku pots, making the pot look slightly cracked. For the last two years, Phillips has displayed some of his work in an annual winter show at “The Dungeon” art gallery at Placer High. “I think I might as well put my work out there,” Phillips said. “I don’t really make it for that purpose, but if people like to look at it I should put it out there. Some people are kind of amazed. They’re kind of proud of what I’ve done.” Phillips is usually his own worst critic. “Everything I make, I can automatically pinpoint what I wish I’d done better,” he said. “I learn from those things and try to make my work better next time.” Covich said Phillips goes above and beyond in making his ceramics the best they can be. “He does a lot of research before he starts,” Covich said. “It’s like a colleague you work with who’s doing the art. He spends a lot of time on the Internet and looking at books. I find that very refreshing.” Phillips is hoping to make his passion for ceramics into a career in which he can help other artists. “I’d like to teach ceramics,” Phillips said. “That’d be cool. That’s something I could see myself being happy with.” Covich agrees teaching would be a good outlet for Phillips. “I easily see him tackling that — no problem,” Covich said. “It keeps you involved in making art and it keeps you involved in the humanity side of it, working with other people.” So far Phillips hopes to attend Sierra College and then University of California at Davis, where he will probably also study science or music, he said. Creating ceramic pieces is not the only thing Phillips loves to do. “I like to play bass, drums and I know a little guitar,” Phillips said. “I disc golf. It’s a challenge to be able to throw the disc very far or very accurately. I can play with my friends or by myself. It’s not very expensive to play.” Beyli Maldonado, 17, Phillips’ friend and fellow artist, said he has enjoyed their long friendship because it’s hard to have a bad day around Phillips. “I’ve known him since seventh grade,” Maldonado said. “He’s always really funny, and he always takes your mind off stress.” Maldonado also said Phillips’ humbleness about his work is very refreshing. “He doesn’t like to show off,” Maldonado said. “He kind of keeps it to himself if he’s going to do something, and he does it and surprises everybody.” If you would like to recommend an Auburn teen to be profiled in this series contact Bridget Jones at