The Bad Teacher

Occasionally in conversation, someone tells a story about a teacher they had who turned them off a particular subject or activity forever with just one sharp remark or action.  I have such a story, too, but the ending is different.

I attended a two-room elementary school with grades 1-4 together in one room and grades 5-8 in the other.  Mrs. Gibbs was the teacher for grades 1-4.  I always finished my homework as quickly as possible during the school day, so that I had free time to pull out my paper and crayons and draw.  It was my reward to myself!

One afternoon during 4th grade, I was so engrossed in drawing a tree (yes, I still remember that it was a tree), that I didn’t notice Mrs. Gibbs had walked up behind me.  She suddenly barked “What are you doing, drawing and coloring?  That’s for first-graders!  Are you a first-grader?  You pick up your colors and go sit with the first-graders for the rest of the day!”

I was shocked!  I had no idea what I’d done to deserve such a rebuke, and tears welled up.  Back-talk was not tolerated, though–this was in the era when every schoolteacher had a paddle–so I hastily gathered my pencil, colors and paper tablet and moved to an empty desk among the first-graders.  All the other students were surprised, too, and none dared to say anything.  There was no laughter as I obeyed.

This is the point where most people’s story ends with “And I never drew/sang/liked arithmetic/read aloud/jumped rope/spoke up again.”  But I finished that tree.

Mrs. Gibbs retired at the end of that year. It’s a good thing. That was the kind of incident that squelches creativity, interest and learning in too many children.  If I wasn’t so stubborn and so eager to draw, it might have done me in, too.

I sometimes wonder how many people’s entire life trajectory was changed by a bad incident with a teacher.  I hope some of them find their way back through a positive experience later on.

Followup Aug. 24:  check out this TED talk–it’s what I’m talking about!

October workshop!

My upcoming half-day “Vibrant Realism with Colored Pencil” workshop at the Pacific Art League sold out two months in advance! So we’ve scheduled it again in the fall. Here are the details:

Tree of Character, 15"x20", colored pencil on Stonehenge paper

Tree of Character, 15″x20″, colored pencil on Stonehenge paper

Vibrant Realism with Colored Pencil
presented by Denise J Howard
Pacific Art League
668 Ramona St.
Palo Alto, CA
Sunday, October 5, 2014
1:00 – 5:00 PM
$73 PAL members / $85 non-members
Materials fee due to instructor: $10

Learn how to use a variety of techniques, surfaces and tools with colored pencils to create glowing color and details that blur the distinction between drawing and painting. Colored pencils offer the control and portability of pencil and the color of paint.

See the listing on PAL’s fall 2014 workshops page.

A New In-Depth Kit from Ann Kullberg, By Me!

image005Ann Kullberg, author of Colored Pencil Portraits Step by Step, publisher of Ann Kullberg’s Colored Pencil Magazine, and publisher of a whole series of step-by-step colored pencil tutorial kits, approached me this spring about producing a new kit featuring a butterfly with a blurry background. What a thrill! Naturally I said yes, since I was already planning to do another such drawing in my series anyway.

I chose a picture of a Western Tiger Swallowtail from my own photo collection as the reference. It took quite awhile to finish the 8″x10″ project. I had to remember to stop frequently to take in-progress photos and write down what my thought process was at every step. It was educational for me, too: I pretended that someone was sitting next to me trying to learn and asking questions, and that taught me to be as clear and concise as possible. I think this will help me be a better workshop instructor down the road. I put special emphasis on how to create a soft, blurry background, since many budding colored pencil artists struggle with this.  It ended up as 24 pages with 48 photos, which is four more pages than usual for these kits, but Ann chose not to cut a single word or image.

This week, the new kit debuted on her website! I hope everyone who purchases it learns something valuable that will make them a better colored pencil artist.

You can buy it here!

butterflyKit

Featured artist in Colored Pencil magazine

I’m thrilled to announce that I am the featured artist for the July 2014 Colored Pencil magazine!  The four-page full-color article talks about my background, process and goals, and includes two full pages of images of my work.  And just look at that cover!  My Chorus of the Tulips made for a great cover image.twby_140772_1You can order a digital and/or print copy here:  http://www.magcloud.com/browse/issue/775867

Thanks to publisher Sally Ford for this great opportunity!

August workshop!

For the first time, I will be giving a half-day workshop this summer!  Here are the details:

Winner of Utrecht Art Supplies Award and Award of Merit, California Fine Arts juried exhibition

Don’t Take the Bridge – Utrecht Art Supplies Award and Award of Merit, California Fine Arts juried exhibition, 2013

Vibrant Realism with Colored Pencil
presented by Denise J Howard
Pacific Art League
668 Ramona St.
Palo Alto, CA
Sunday, August 24, 2014
1:00 – 5:00 PM
$64 PAL members / $75 non-members
Materials fee due to instructor: $10

Learn how to use a variety of techniques, surfaces and tools with colored pencils to create glowing color and details that blur the distinction between drawing and painting. Colored pencils offer the control and portability of pencil and the color of paint.

See the listing on PAL’s summer 2014 workshops page, and register here.

Full-page article in Ann Kullberg’s Colored Pencil Magazine

The April 2014 issue of Ann Kullberg’s Colored Pencil Magazine includes a full-page article by yours truly!  It’s based on my blog posting “Specks of Dirt in Your Scanned Image“.  The magazine always has a technology-related article to help artists learn how computers and software can work for them.  I’m glad the information in my blog post will find and educate a wider audience.

Screen Shot 2014-04-23 at 3.38.43 PM

A TV show worth watching

Earlier this month I had the surreal experience of being a guest on a TV show, for an entire 30-minute episode, to talk about my art!  The show is “Talk Art”, a local cable program that focuses on San Francisco bay area artists.  It’s sponsored by Silicon Valley Open Studios, in which I participate.  My episode focuses on colored pencil–a short survey of materials, tools and techniques, along with samples of my work where I used them.  I’ve never really been on TV before, so I didn’t know what to expect.  If you’ve ever wondered how TV happens, read on….

Weeks before the taping, I met with the producer, Nance Wheeler, to learn how the shows are constructed, how the taping would proceed, and how I should prepare appearance-wise.  She in turn took notes about what props I might need (easel? table?) and proposed a basic outline for the interview.  I sent her JPEGs of the images that would be shown as overlays, and she sent me a questionnaire to help the host, Sally Rayn, know what kinds of questions to ask me on air.  Later, I spoke with Sally on the phone so she could learn more about my art and what I might want to demonstrate.

The evening of the taping, I arrived at the studio and as soon as I saw the set and the control room and all the people who would be involved, I started getting nervous!  What if I went blank on an important fact?  What if I got a tickle in my throat and started coughing?  What if I stammered or said something stupid?  There weren’t going to be any “takes”–it was going to be filmed straight through in one shot.  But Sally put me at ease; we sat in our places on the set and while the sound and lighting crews prepared and the three cameras were positioned, we did a little rehearsing.  It was just what I needed to forget about the setting and just have a conversation.

Image

Getting used to conversing on a studio set under bright lights.

Image

My artwork as set dressing.

Suddenly it was “Quiet on the set!” and it was time.  The next 30 minutes flew by.  I didn’t really have any awareness of being “in the spotlight”, I was just explaining materials and techniques to a friend.  After it was all done, everyone said “Great show!” and a couple of the crew came up to take a closer look at some of my artwork, which decorated the backdrop, and asked “This is really all colored pencil?”

Image

Getting mic’ed.

Image

The control room during the taping (see sound stage through the window)

A few days later I received a DVD of the program, and it was also posted to “Talk Art”s channel on YouTube.  I held my breath as I watched it the first time; I’ve never been very photogenic and I have no idea how I look or sound to others.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that I didn’t appear nervous at all, and didn’t stammer or rush.  I actually did okay!  I made working with colored pencil sound interesting, fun and worthwhile, which was just what I’d hoped.

Since then, I’ve shared the link on Facebook, and as I write this only five days later, my episode is already one of the most-viewed of all the “Talk Art” episodes.  The UK Colored Pencil Society (of which I’m a signature member) picked up on it and my mention of them and advertised it on their Facebook page, which has opened it up to overseas viewing.  And Ester Roi, whose Icarus heated drawing board invention I demonstrated in the show, picked up on it and linked to it on her blog and Facebook page, which has expanded its reach, too.  I’ve received wonderful comments from folks thanking me for the great overview of our favorite medium.  A couple even suggested that I’d be a natural as a teacher!

I’m really glad I had this opportunity, and the nerve to take it.  Anything that exposes more people to my favorite medium and inspires them to try it, is a good thing.

Here it is so you can watch it yourself!