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Colby Lost in Art
Teaching art isn’t always about imparting knowledge. Take my lovely little granddaughter for an example. Was she born loving art with art-loving genes? I don’t know the answer to that, and it could start an endless theoretical debate which might be fun. Maybe it would give evidence in support of jumpstarting an experimental course in art within the school’s educational system. But the significance I’m about to share with you would be lost.
Teaching art, I believe, is a prospect of catching the fire. Fire comes often from a mentor. Art is caught, not taught, if you would like a catch phrase. My granddaughter, Colby, lives three and a half hours away. Whenever I see her, whether she comes here, or I go there, she starts off asking me, “Gemma, we go your art studio?” She just won’t let up until she has the response she wants or is confronted with the impossibility of having it. Whatever it takes in driving time, she’s up for it.
My daughter-in-law Christy tells me how she pauses before a painting of mine they have hanging and starts talking about it, about the pops of color. She asks questions of color and design seemingly advanced for one so young. She loves going with me to art exhibits, and at my most recent one-person show in Elizabeth City, NC, at Floor2Ceiling Design LLP, she sat with the adults for a–hold onto your socks–3-hour course in watercolor painting. Plus, she helped me set up for an adult course in watercolor I was teaching, possibly becoming my youngest art intern at 5 years of age. Asked in class what the primary colors are, Colby sang them out. Asked what mixing two colors produced, she chimed in with the answer. What’s the secret? Art is exciting for her. It’s a land of Oz.
Before that course of mine at one of the Watercolor Society of NC, Colby attended with me at what must have been a boring show for kids, but was a fabulous presentation by the judge for the annual exhibit of WSNC held at the Arts of the Albemarle where I keep a continuing presence in Elizabeth City. She sat through it all, coloring, wanting to get up, returning to coloring. The Friday night before she went with us on the artwalk where I first met Nick Nixon and his wife Amy which lead to my one-person show, and gallery representation. Colby was really into the whole event. If she bounced too high–well, on to the next art place, each one new, different, and exciting–usually because every one of the businesses encouraged some experimental testing of the waters.
We have re-visited the art scene several times, and she is still enthusiastic about it. Her own picture was included in a show at Floor2Ceiling, along with her sister Kimberlee’s–and of course, yours truly helped them like I do my own students from Art on Broad Atelier in Dunn.
Considering which, I ask, what makes it so special? A division of j’Original’s Art Studio at 217 East Broad Street, my studio is a designed-for-nothing-but-art one which my son and I own together. (By the way, he is proud of his mother.) I have it set up with the show window front portion purposed as the gallery, full of paintings framed exquisitely, on easels, and on the walls, some up a story. The two-tiered hanging makes it look like Soho or San Francisco or Paris, I think. That’s an ambience I love. Other than having Southern light source instead of the preferred-for-artist Northern lighting, it’s perfect.
The next part you settle into visually is the teaching area, a roomy place with simple, white, six-foot folding tables arranged in an open square, with table easels set up in close to eight spots, a board on the easel, and small easels beside each big one to hold a book. I have added two standup easels and am trying to convert the student area into more of this style, the typical atelier look. Long sheets of printing paper a student gave me a pile of over 20 years ago for testing strokes, colors, and ideas cover the tables. Its set up provides an open invitation to paint or draw.
“Draw” in both senses of the word, and draw, it does. As soon as we open the door, Colby runs to her place, pulls out her comfie chair and gets started. I find her watercolor paper, and pour out the tins of watercolor colored pencils all over the table. Generosity is the operative word here. I don’t mete out 2 or 3 pencils, I pour out the pencils. Anything a child gets must excite their imagination early on, or you’ve lost your window of opportunity.
Soon she is lost in the process and down under for the duration of the morning. Concentrating? I couldn’t pull her from it if I wanted to! One morning she was busy decorating flowers, using the colors to make a border, and so I took photos of her to paint the portrait of her later. I captured not some artificial setup of a photographer, but a creative child in her native habitat, a portrait of Colby I entitled, “Colby at Art.” My framer commented on the difference in my portrait of her as he was framing the work. “You didn’t just put two or three pencils there like most artists would. The pencils are all over the place, and that’s how a child would like it!”
Couldn’t have said it better myself.
My son’s family owns the painting, of course, which I entered into one of my list of major art shows. And at my studio it displayed as an example of the portrait I could create for you of your child, lost in the activity or thought most native to him or her. I love the way Colby fills and borders the page, her hair dripping down over her eyes into the left frame, her intent expression of face filling the topmost edge, her shoulder the right side, and her arm reaching forward on the bottom edge, leaving just a small opening that isn’t her. I imagine this as the childhood opening which brings in a whole delightful world of art.
A world full of welcome, opportunity, new ideas, and love–a place where students can come and go–return and learn, and test their growing skills.