There is a skill in teaching that typically goes unsaid and yet becomes apparent when a really gifted one comes into your life. Most of us have drawn our inspiration from them at some point in our lives, or maybe better said, from one or two that made their mark on us if just by creating an environment that both physically and mentally challenged us to think, to explore and to be better. The act of sharing your knowledge with others and doing so in such a way as to impart on them your passions and “bringing them along” so they get a taste of your passion for the subject matter is like no other. I began my college career as an art education major. I loved the art studios and classes in the basement of some of the oldest buildings on campus - once called a “teachers college” and where Robert Frost taught for a bit. The environment and those years living in a small valley in New Hampshire were womb-like yet I found I was still searching. My art teachers were okay but I was bored and at the time there were very few teaching jobs and I changed my major from education to photography and decided I’d be the person that took photographs for science text books. Then I took a geography class and I never looked back. Here was an area of study that took my creativity and curiosity to a different place and I soon found myself doing research in the mountains and ocean-side cliffs of Arcadia National Park, ME. Geography seemed to combine my love of art, rocks, landscapes, maps, history, philosophy and people. But the main attraction was the man behind the geography - Dr. M.W. Dow. Here was a professor that taught with passion and challenged us to find answers by observation, reason and research...and while he was fair he was really tough and you had to always be on your toes and could not hide in the back or take a day off. I think this was also why I changed my major to geography. I loved the challenge and was motivated by this man and found the subject matter exhilarating. That is the trait of our best teachers. To get us excited about the subject matter and lead us to discover the answers on our own. Artist Jane Slivka made this happen during her acrylic “Painting Out Loud” artists workshop in New Smyrna Beach that I attended two weeks ago. I found out about the workshop by pure luck while searching online for art in the area. Back when I was painting daily I felt at home working in watercolor. I always liked working and watching how the water and paint interacted and I always liked to work fast and furiously yet during my many years of not painting I was developing a more mature creative mind and knew I needed to explore other mediums. So here was one on acrylics and what better way to jump start my need to start painting again than with a workshop - so off I jumped. The morning painting was a slow start for me as I spent time learning how this paint felt on the brush and how it reacted to water and the canvas as I worked on our assignment of a house by the water. I wanted to paint fast and free like I did with watercolor but had to learn patience with more focus on negative painting. At the same time my heart was pounding as I was beginning to feel like acrylics may be the best medium for me since it was like watercolor but also had similar qualities of oils without the smell and toxins. When it was time for the afternoon painting my confidence was rising and yet I was in a panic on the subject matter - people! We were given a photocopy of a few images of caribbean village people and told to develop our own composition. Then Jane showed us how she paints people and I was thrilled and petrified that it was threw a series of very quick strokes with larger brushes to give the sense of the figure’s body and then we were to paint the cloths over the images. I tentatively stepped up to my blank canvas with dark green paint on a 1.5 inch brush and took a deep breath and sketched the three figures. Having to learn patience as you need to wait for this to dry I found washing your brush and changing out your water was just about the right amount of time to allow the paint to dry as well as your creative thinking to rest a bit. I then used the same wide brush with white and painting the cloths with swift long strokes. Then another clean brush/water action and went back and worked in the backgrounds and light sources. The final result is “Three Ladies Walking” -partially shown above and the entire image can be seen in the Art Studio portion of this site. When we both looked at the painting together and I heard her praise I knew I had made a break-through and felt another door opening. Many years ago a soccer coach told me that the best athletes make the really difficult plays look easy and that is what Jane did. Her passion for painting and painting with acrylics filled the room and her teaching style made the exercises seem easy while she motivated & led everyone in this new subject matter. Oh and did I mention she’s also a very well-respected artist and sells her work in many galleries and large retail stores like Target sell prints of her work. I left the workshop feeling exhausted, enlightened and with a “can’t wait” to get back to painting and look forward to working with acrylics. During the ninety minute drive back home I couldn’t help but reflect on how this came about. Was it just “by accident”? Brush on!
P.S. You can find links to learn more about Jane Slivka and the Atlantic Center for the Arts in the Art Studio section of my site.