Turning Something Deadly Into A Beautiful Work Of Art

Sage Creek Art Department Invites All Students to Contribute to a Virus Tile Mural

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Photo arranged by Tiffany Leyva

Three tiles by students Paige Whateley (left), Tiffany Leyva (middle), and Angelina Parra (right) in different stages of the tile glazing process. As the 20/21 school year in the midst of a pandemic comes to a close, Sage Creek’s art department invites all students to make a tile of a virus and use it as a way to capture the emotions of the pandemic experience.

Throughout history, art has been used as a reactionary medium to what is going on in the world. This phenomenon is no different from the virus tile project here at Sage Creek. Students from 3D Design, Art 3, and beyond have been meticulously crafting and perfecting illustrations of viruses and microbes on the surface of 100 shiny ceramic tiles. 

The project’s conception was the brainchild of 3D Design teacher Catherine Burroughs. She along with VAPA co-chair and visual arts teacher, Megan Herrick, saw the beauty in microscopic images of the deadly viruses that are prominent in the world and gave students a healthy way to cope with the many emotions of the pandemic through art. 

A tile rests on the floor with an HIV virus drawn on by Senior Paige Whateley with an underglaze pencil. The virus is very deadly, yet the microscopic images can look so beautiful.

“She wanted to do a collaborative project with our science classes… because we felt the need to not only make a collaborative project and also addresses the world we lived in 2020/2021,”  Herrick said.  “We are living with the Coronavirus and [are] inundated by this imagery, so why not make artwork inspired [by] this beautiful disaster.”

This tile project will be at least a 10-year installation depending on the administrators’ discretion. There are 100 cream-colored 6×6 inch ceramic tiles in total. Although the ongoing project is currently in the beginning stages of production,  for the tiles finished before the end of the 2020-2021 school year Burroughs and Herrick plan to install the tiles over the summer while the rest will go up in December 2021. 

“I really like it because it is something that marks history at Sage,” senior and art 3 student Angelina Parra said. “When people come they’re going to see [it] and go, ‘wow this was [a] once in a lifetime event, hopefully.’”

The final placement of the tile installation is to be determined, making the campus a blank canvas for where the tiles can be. However, it will land somewhere that is easy to view. 

“I like the idea of something more permanent being on campus since art is a way of establishing community,  especially with a project like this where everybody is contributing something to it,” senior and Art 3 student Paige Whateley said, “… It really makes the school [feel] less sterile.”

For many students, like Whateley, this project was the first time they used ceramic glazes. 

“It was a new medium for me, I used glaze in the past but never to this capacity,” said Whateley. “ I never used a glazed pencil before now.”

A simple outline of the COVID-19 virus that was transferred on a tile is meticulously rendered by Angelina Parra with an underglaze pencil. Although initially quite squeaky, the underglaze pencil allows an artist to carefully add the details of their illustration so when the tile is fired for glazing their lines remain as a guide. (Illustration by Angelina Parra)

To make these tiles students first have to make a 6×6 graphite sketch of a virus of their choice. Once the rendered virus is ready, the students will use transfer paper to copy an outline of the design onto the tile. From there the students use a special underglaze pencil to add values and after the first fire in the kiln, they will use grayscale glazes to color the tile. 

Due to the multiple kiln firings, want for high-quality work, and finding workarounds to give supplies to the online students, the process is going slowly, but nonetheless, the creativity and ingenuity of students persist. 

“Mrs. Burroughs and I are really impressed by the quality of work,” Herrick said. “We are really proud of what our students can do and we want to share it with the community…We would love to have more students involved in this project. We need to do about 80 more[tiles] so we would love the help.”

 Anyone can contribute to this project, regardless of if they are in an art class. All a student would need to do is send an email or talk to Herrick or Burroughs about their interest and submit a drawing of their own devices so the art teachers can gauge the student’s technical skills. 

“Don’t think too much of it… If it is simple that’s okay,” Parra said. “A simple drawing doesn’t mean it’s a bad drawing, it just means it’s in your own way. Do something that you feel comfortable with.”

In many ways, during the pandemic, students had to quickly adapt to new schedules, routines, stresses, and challenges at the drop of a hat. With this project, a student can input all their emotions and thoughts about the pandemic into something beautiful that will outlast their time at Sage Creek. 

“We are [collectively] tired of looking at viruses… but it is also… kind of a grieving process, kind of like closure,” Herrick said. “We are not at the end of it, but it is a creative process to allow ourselves to deal with it: drawing it on [the tile] and then it is up and gone. Hopefully, it will parallel our human experiences with the virus this last year.”