Jeff Downing

Fast Action Hand Building: Expressive Narrative Sculpture with Animals

June 10th – 14th, 2019

Workshop Description

Jeff Downing will discuss inspiring approaches to making narrative sculptures using leather-hard pressed slabs combined with sections of moist clay. The emphasis will be on working at a quick pace to create exciting forms that come to life with lots of personality and character.

Through demos and example images, students will be motivated to create their own stories using a variety of Jeff’s unique fast action hand-building techniques. Using memory, drawings, or photos to work from, students will be encouraged to include narrative visuals featuring dogs or other animals, interesting bases, colorful backgrounds and extraordinary environments that beckon curiosity and wonder.

Concept, composition, form, technical solutions and color surface treatments will be covered throughout the workshop.


Born in 1962 in Port Chester New York, Jeff Downing spent his childhood growing up on the New England Coast. His creative beginnings were in music. As a promising young guitar player, he studied music composition at State University of New York, Purchase (1982). This was the place where he encountered his first ceramics class. Soon after, drawn to the spirit of experimentation and nonconformity that characterizes ceramic art in California,he moved to San Francisco in 1983 with the proverbial suitcase and guitar in hand. He attended the Academy of Art to study ceramics and painting. Jeff went on to earn his graduate degree from San Francisco State (1992). Since 1995, he has taught ceramics to all ages from grade school to college levels well as many workshops across the United States.


Downing is now a Professor of Art at San Francisco State University and he has been teaching classes there for over twenty-two years. He teaches all aspects of ceramics with a specialized knowledge in glaze formulation, kilns and atmospheric firing processes. He is both a skilled hand builder and potter and he is continuously researching new clays, glazes and firing methods to achieve intriguing, fresh surface treatments. At school, he works with both graduate and undergraduate students across disciplines, teaching a variety of course material and technical skills. Jeff is also a master kiln builder who has designed, built and retrofitted numerous Raku, High fire, pit fire and soda kilns.



Downing is known for his figurative dog sculptures and large-scale public and environmental art projects. His work is highly articulated with coat patterns and colors that help abstract their figuration, imparting the sculptures with a sense of the emblematic. The loose, expressive gestures that generate from Downing’s working process further bolster this notion so that the figures succeed in pointing outside of themselves to broader concepts relating to human thought and emotion. Despite its ability to convey emotional states both uplifting and solemn, however, Downing’s work doesn’t refrain from exuding a sense of humor.


His work has been exhibited in Brazil, Mexico, Europe and the United States. He exhibits in galleries, museum collections, public art venues, wineries, and private art collections throughout the country. Downing has received several awards for his work by nationally prominent art curators and directors in the field of sculpture. Jeff lives and works in his studio in San Rafael, California. In his free time, he continues to compose music and play live performances both solo and with friends in various indie rock bands.

For more information about Jeff, please visit his website: