The student news site of El Camino College

El Camino College The Union

The student news site of El Camino College

El Camino College The Union

The student news site of El Camino College

El Camino College The Union

The man with the double life: Shaping futures with clay

Ceramics instructor Vince Palacios works with ceramics Lab Technician Rod Almazan to load up a kiln oven with various student ceramic and pottery projects on Wednesday, April, 17. The El Camino College ceramics lab/studio is located inside the Art Complex. (Delfino Camacho | Warrior Life)

Amid the whirr of pottery wheels and the soft chatter of students, one figure stands out, shaping not just clay but also the minds of aspiring artists.

Vince Palacios is an innovator in the world of ceramics, breathing life into art in unique ways.

Palacios’ wacky spirit brings an infectious energy to the El Camino ceramics studio. With his encouragement and guidance, he sparks enthusiasm in students of all skill levels, showing them that pottery isn’t just a craft but a journey of self-expression.

His ceramics classes at El Camino are usually filled within the first three weeks of registration every semester. The excitement of creating mixed with Palacios’ outgoing nature makes his courses a hot commodity.

Palacios never teaches from a book and is always right next to students with his Led Zeppelin smock covered in clay and a grin plastered on his face.

“I knew pretty early on that I wanted to teach,” Palacios said. “I love what I do. I get to watch students discover their passions and I get to watch their growth.”

However, his wheel still turns when Palacios is not in the classroom.

Palacios creates his high-end ceramics, taking time to carve and mold a simple ball of clay into a story.

Each sculpture is breathtaking, with intricate tumors sticking out in all different directions.

This is a sculpture in Palacios' El Camino office on April 18
A sculpture sits in Palacios' office on April 18. (Maddie Selack | Warrior Life)

But it’s not just the bulbous cylinder that entices people. It’s also the brightly colored, gloopy glaze that drips down the sides.

Differing sizes and shapes give every piece its own personality.

Although Palacios has made significant headway in his field, he has overcome many challenges, including one significant obstacle.

He’s colorblind.

Although it may seem like a flaw, to Palacios, it just gives him a different perspective. Red and green may not be in his color wheel, but he continues creating artwork bursting with hues.

With his art featured in galleries in over ten countries, including Dubai, Spain, Austria, South Korea, and Croatia, Palacios is making a name for himself with his unique style. Each abstract work sells for between $3,000 and $10,000.

Today, his sculptures are in the homes of Dua Lipa and Beyonce. He also developed a friendship with Seth Rogan, a ceramic artist and one of Palacios’ 16 thousand Instagram followers.

This is Palacios' sculpture featured in the +1 Art Exhibit in Manhattan Beach on April 19
Palacios' sculpture featured in the +1 Art Exhibit in Manhattan Beach on April 19. (Maddie Selack | Warrior Life)

Many artists dream of one-day making art a career. For the last thirty years, Vince has shared his knowledge of ceramics with his students.

For 40-year-old Ernesto Oshiro, Palacios was more than just a great teacher. He helped shape his entire life.

When Oshiro attended El Camino in 2013, he had no idea what his future would look like.

While some of his friends enrolled in Palacios’ class began ranting and raving about their amazing professor and even more amazing class, Oshiro decided to register.

From the moment Oshiro stepped into the vibrant classroom mayhem and sat down in front of a pottery wheel, he knew he’d found his passion. Palacios showed him that he can bring his imagination to life through art.

“Vince has this enthusiasm for ceramics and it’s infectious,” Oshiro said. “It almost lit a fire in me, and every day, I fell more in love with the art form.”

Oshiro went on to pursue ceramics professionally.

He now works at Live Oak Ceramics Studio in Manhattan Beach as a ceramics lab technician and expresses gratitude to his friends for persuading him to take a ceramics class.

In Oshiro’s eyes, Palacios was both a mentor and friend. Over a decade later, they still keep in touch.

As one of Oshiro’s coworkers and a ceramicist herself, ceramic artist Lara Odell admires Palacios as well.

This is Palacios' sculpture featured in the +1 Art Exhibit in Manhattan Beach on April 19
Palacios' sculpture featured in the +1 Art Exhibit in Manhattan Beach on April 19. (Maddie Selack | Warrior Life)

Odell worked for the gallery during the +1 Art Exhibit in Manhattan Beach on April 19th.

Standing in the corner, she observed Palacios, whose art was displayed.

“You can tell he’s a very outgoing person,” Odell said as Palacios’ hearty laugh filled the room. “It’s obvious that he really enjoys being here and meeting other ceramic artists. It really suits him.”

However, Palacios had a very different idea of his life before discovering his love for ceramics.

Thanks to his father, he learned how to live authentically as a child. His father never forced him to get involved in activities that didn’t suit him and never held him to societal standards.

The freedom of expression his parents gave him at a young age gave him room to grow into his sensitive side early on.

Growing up in Michigan, Palacios was always fond of art and found it fascinating, although he never delved into it.

After initially studying psychology, Palacios became a pastor at his local church for several years.

He first discovered ceramics when his wife urged him to take a ceramics course at Golden West College.

Palacios reluctantly agreed as they were leaving for a backpacking trip in Europe in a couple of weeks.

Within those two weeks, Palacios found his purpose. As soon as his trip ended, he enrolled at California State University at Long Beach, eager to get his degree.

His excitement for the craft especially stood out to one of his professors, Jay Kvapil.

Kvapil taught ceramics at the University of California at Long Beach for 34 years before retiring and moving to Sonoma in 2018.

As a professor, Kvapil has gotten to know and see the work of thousands of students. However, Palacios was one of those students that Kvapil never forgot.

“You run across students who are talented and some who have drive but when you have both, that’s how you get success. Vince has that,” Kvapil said.

To Kvapil, it was noticeable how personable Palacios was. He had all the qualities to become an amazing artist and teacher.

“No matter what happens in the art world, Vince will just keep making work. That’s an important thing. I don’t think Vince will ever give up,” Kvapil said.

In the classroom, Kvapil explained how intrigued Palacios was by various ceramics and how he always wanted to push the limits and explore new things with art.

This is Palacios' sculpture featured in the +1 Art Exhibit in Manhattan Beach on April 19
This is Palacios' sculpture featured in the +1 Art Exhibit in Manhattan Beach on April 19. (Maddie Selack | Warrior Life)

“Another quality that he has is he’s curious. I think people who have a natural curiosity are never bored because they’re always learning new things,” Kvapil said.

As Palacios finished his degree, he was eager to begin his teaching career. He returned to California State University Long Beach and taught beside his mentor.

After a decade of teaching there, Palacios decided it was time to move on. Although he no longer worked with Kvapil, Palacios remained in contact with his very good friend.

Palacios began teaching at Western Illinois University for six years and eventually landed at El Camino in 2011, where he continues to do what he loves.

Growing up with a Hispanic father, Palacios was constantly around Latin music, which provided a nostalgic comfort that helped his creativity flow.

The process of making one of his pieces takes 2-3 weeks. He begins by sculpting a simple clay cylinder as his base, which takes a full day. Then, he gets to have fun.

Palacios hits and taps the inside walls using a small mallet, creating the lumps his art is known for. Once he has his desired shape, he begins glazing.

He pulls jars off the shelf, filled with colored slime that one can assume is “Magic Sauce” based on the masking tape label clinging to the outside.

He spends days adding different colors and types of homemade glazes to his work, each layer creating more dimension than the last.

“It’s like cooking,” Palacios said. “Mixing different ingredients into one pot and watching them come together to create something new is exhilarating.”

One of his core values when it comes to art is freeing yourself of the expectation of it.

Once you do that, it gives you room to grow into your true potential.

After multiple days of drying, the sculpture is fired in a large kiln, completing the lengthy process.

Due to the time it takes to create one of his pieces, he usually makes four or six at the same time.

Since 2016, Palacios has created over 200 different sculptures and has around 12 to 15 works in a gallery.

According to Aida Lugo, the American Museum of Ceramic Art manager in Pomona, Palacios’ accomplishments are no small feat and reflect his hard work and perseverance.

“Connections and notoriety are two of the biggest factors in getting your art into galleries and museums,” Lugo said. “It’s a difficult career to be successful in.”

This proved to be true for Palacios at first.

Starting such a challenging profession at 27 years old was difficult. However, once Palacios began making the necessary connections, his career began to shift.

After his work was featured in a gallery in Dubai, Palacios’ sculptures caught the eye of one gallery owner, Joel Chen, who was immediately infatuated with his work.

“Vince makes incredibly intricate and unique art. I knew he would have a place in Tappan Gallery, especially after finding out how good of a person he is,” Chen said.

When Palacios began working with Chen, his artwork was introduced to very influential consumers, helping him gain some of the notoriety he has now.

Still, Palacios remains grounded. He attributes this to his family.

“All that matters is family,” Palacios said with a grin. “They make life worth something and I would be lost without them.”

Palacios spends every spare moment with his wife and four adopted children: Jenna (24), Eva (24), Isaac (26) and Cylas (28). They also have a dog named Olive and a cat named Gimli.

Palacios met his wife when they were 15 years old at Fountain Valley High School, just 30 minutes from Long Beach, where they reside now. Although they met in high school, they began dating years later.

They celebrated 37 years of marriage this past year.

Another integral part of Palacios’ life is his faith. During his years as a pastor, he found joy in spreading the word of Christ to anyone who would listen.

He and his family frequently go on mission trips to various countries. This summer, they will travel to the Middle East to continue spreading the word.

It will be a special way to spend his 63rd birthday.

He also enjoys collecting “strange” plants with physical appearances that mimic the intricacy of his art. His collection is ever-growing, thanks to his home ceramics studio, which is lined with his distinct creations, where he can make as many pots as possible.

In his studio, he is surrounded by the intricate sculptures into which he has poured part of his soul, constantly reminded of the life rich with creativity, passion, and connections he has made.

He said his home, with its crisp white walls, offers a stark contrast to the vibrant chaos of his studio—a perfect metaphor for the balance he has found in his life.

Each piece of pottery, each student’s success, and each heartfelt moment shared with his loved ones continues to paint the story he calls his life.

In the quiet of his studio, Vince Palacios knows exactly where he is meant to be: living a life full of happiness, love and “Magic Sauce.”

More to Discover