What Did You Learn From Your Art Teachers?

School is back in session, which reminded me of the art teachers who shaped my life.

Homage to My Art Teachers

Kindergarten: Mrs. Harback
I knew I was an artist when we made cut-out bunnies around Easter time. They were the kind of bunnies that you create from a fold and just cut out the outline. After you open them up, you have the whole bunny with symmetrical sides.

I knew I was an artist because mine was the only bunny donning a hula skirt and lei. I was fascinated with Hawaii at the time.

Art sign on chalkboard

High School: Mrs. Mayfield
Art wasn’t necessarily cool in high school, but I never missed a year of it. Mrs. Mayfield was encouraging and supportive. Like many of my teachers, she taught us to copy rather than to come up with original ideas.

College: Michael Maszk
Michael was a grad-school instructor that taught the first-level life drawing classes for two semesters. I learned so much from him! He made me love drawing. And I was pretty good at it. He taught me not to fear the dark areas and to really get dirty with the graphite.

Deep Thought Thursday

Who have been your favorite art teachers?

What did each one teach you?

Send to Kindle

72 comments to What Did You Learn From Your Art Teachers?

  • Hi Alyson, How timely your request for the effects of art teachers on our lives is! I just posted one this past Sunday. I admired a number of the professors I had in university. I felt a special affinity to a few of them in the art history, history of photography and photography departments. One, Paul Lowry my non-silver photographer, was amazing. He taught me how to get what was out of my imagination into the world; that art was a full-time job that required daily pratice; to keep detailed notes/journals of my technical processes so I could repeat and amend them in the future and to always ask that important question: “what if” I did… and then try it! Here’s the link “Paul Lowry: Mad Man or Genius” for more intriguing details about this wonderful artist: http://www.collageyourworld.com/blog/?p=4336. Have a good one! Michelle

  • Russel Trojan

    I had but one art teacher, in elementary school. Mrs. Henderson. She taught basic drawing skills, some clay modelling and simple crafts to the class. Apparently, she saw something in what I did and she would select me for special projects. She regularly introduced me to different techniques and mediums.

    Because of her and my music teacher, Mrs. Cooke, when I wasn’t learn’ reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic I was creating. The two of them encouraged me to make things and instilled a desire to regularly try something different.

  • Pat

    In my case it was a High School Choir Director who said the one thing that comes back to me most often in the studio. He drilled into us that we must “trust our instrument.” In his case he was talking about having our voices trained so singing became effortless.

    I find myself repeating that like a mantra when I am out of my comfort zone and creating something new; trusting my hands to know what to do.

  • Virginia

    In elementary school we were asked to copy a horse. The student with the best copy was lauded. My copy was among the worst. Before returning to art as an adult, through sheer imagination I created a completely independent career. The student with the good copy became and accountant. Go figure?

  • Sometimes I regret that I went to Biology and Chemistry school instead of Art School. BUT! I did go to Penland School of Crafts lots of times and my FAVORITE teacher was JULIA GALLOWAY. I love her because she and I have similar heritage, I adore her pots, and she showed me by example that I can make the pots that I WANT TO MAKE and I don’t have to follow any traditions that I am not drawn to.

    • Susan: What about pre-college?

      • Not much fodder there for experiencing greatness. I simply don’t remember much of my childhood. I can think of being in art class twice. Once when there were about 40 other students and I remember my teacher being harried. The other, I remember what I produced: a painting of a lady bug.

        • Oooops. Reading Tina Mammoser’s reply had me remember something. My favorite teacher was a high school Biology teacher Ms. Brown. We drew every day. She required that we have a set of colored pencils. She drew cells, frog insides etc. on the overhead projector and we copied them. I still have the notebook filled with the drawings. Because of her, I majored in biology and chemistry in college. I didn’t know that I was an artist until a few years after college. While I was in the process of deciding whether to get a PhD, to teach, or work in a lab, a friend had gone to a psychic and came back with amazing stories. So I went to the psychic to get some help with deciding which path to take. After pegging the personalities of my two children ages 3 & 5 and the intricacies of my relationship with my awesome husband, she proceeded to tell me that I was the archetype of an artist. A dreamer, not in a bad way but in a way that has me be able to have clear visions and create them. I was stunned. So I took a pottery class. Viola! After being enraged for moment at my parents and my world for never noticing or promoting the artist in me, I experienced that what is important is: that I like the place where art and science meet: That’s GOD. Da Vinci knew that. Mother Nature knows that. The fire in my kiln knows that. And plus my chemistry background has me mixing glazes like no body’s business.

  • My favourite art teacher was a prof I had in college who gave me a “D” in drawing because I opposed his views in political and social matters and was much better than he was. I stopped going to his class. It was at that point that I first realized that it wasn’t necessarily the skill in wielding one’s “art tools and talent” but what one had to say about society that really stirred the pot.

    The other fave was Mrs. Drayton, my Grade Three teacher who took me aside and fostered my love of drawing and horses equally.

    I am ever-grateful for both of them.

  • A few months ago I tracked down the painting teacher I had in my freshman year at The Philadelphia Museum College of Art to let him know that his words – “You should really consider transferring to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts,” – which I was baffled by at the time – almost 40 years ago – finally made sense to me this year. I’d never forgotten them but had always underestimated myself…until just a few years ago. I thanked him for a gift that I wasn’t able to appreciate at the time.

    The thing I learned most from, and my favorite teacher, however, wasn’t a person, but a disease that crippled my entire body for about 3 years and left my hands in the shape they still are today.

    I created the first piece of art that lived up to the intention I had when I began it with my fingers swathed in foam to enable me to hold a brush. As I saw the work come to life, like nothing I’d ever created before, I understood that for me, letting go of the need to control absolutely everything was the key to my success.

  • Suzette Urs

    Bill Ellingson was the head of the print department and also my personal counselor in St Cloud State University. Bill encouraged me to experiment, experiment experiment! Through his guidance I was one of the printers in lithography and screen printing to do the printing for visiting master artists. I was rewarded with an open door policy; I could use the print rooms on weekends and evenings, I was given an office in the print department,and scholarships were awarded for my achievements. Bill’s son TyRuben Ellingson, was the concept designer on the movie Avatar, he was also my office mate. I was rubbing elbows with greatness and I knew it! After all that encouragement I went on to invent and develop my own form of expression “Acrylurs” airbrushed acrylic on sheets of clear acrylic in reverse side painting. I am grateful for their encouragement to experiment.

  • My second career, as an artist, began when I attended The American Academy of Art in Chicago. I had taken a leave of absence from my teaching career as an elementary school teacher, and pursued a degree in fine art from the academy.

    One of the most memorable teachers I had at the academy was Bill Parks for life drawing. It was during our life drawing class that he had all of us sculpt with plasticine clay in a brown paper bag, only using our mind’s eye. We could sculpt anything that we wanted, and it soon dawned on me to sculpt something I REALLY KNEW! I had a Moluccan Cockatoo, at the time who is still with me today, and I sculpted him from memory in that brown paper bag. The results were pretty good, and I always remembered that exercise, forcing me to tap into the “knowing” and not the “seeing”. I often thought that if I should lose my eye site, I would still try to paint (if I could somehow identify my paint tubes) by using my ‘mind’s eye’. This was such a valuable lesson!

    Mr. Parks always had a quote for the day posted on his classroom door, and I, being one of the older mature students, would always stop to read it and usually copied it down for my records. I use that practice today in my own art classes, using a quote or two to tie into my lesson.

    Bill Parks is no longer with us, but I am very grateful to him for teaching me HOW to see! He taught us by opening up the doors of discovery.

  • My favourite Art Teacher was Mrs Allen. She always encouraged experimentation and had a quiet enthusiasm, respect for our work and a bohemian outlook on life. I didn’t realise at the time quite how important these skills are in an Art Teacher. She encouraged me to the arts but after 2 years studying under a different tutor, I decided on another plan.

    When I finally returned to Art she’s the one person I really wanted to share my successes with. Sadly I never got the chance before she passed away last year. But I often think of her as I’m creating, and wonder what she would make of my work now.

    • Cathy: I’m sure she knew that you appreciated her.

      I’m sure you would have done so if you could have, but this serves as a reminder to all of us to tell people how important they are to us while we still have the chance.

  • Patrice

    For me I learned the discipline of working everyday from my big sister, from my high school I learned that the only PhD was in Art History, my art teacher: be serious about what you are doing, from my guidance counselor: the value in my talent, from my college teachers: hold on if you really want it and believe in yourself, from my Atelier masters: I was definitely talented and that we all go kicking to greatness!

  • Oh gosh! what a wonderful trip down memory lane. I knew I wanted to be an artist from about the age of 4 when I saw a drawing my older brother had done of an English schoolboy in uniform; red blazer, grey shorts and a little red cap. I tried to copy it. But at secondary school my teacher Ato Delaquis absolutely fascinated me. He practised as an artist so we could see him work and I would stand for hours watching him paint (poor guy). At university the chap that sticks out most is a guy called Albert Pupulampo (we called him Pope for short). He taught us basic design and the colour wheel and I am so grateful now (I wasn’t then – cos we did the colour wheel for an entire semester and I thought I would die). Years later he moved to Italy and I visited him there (in Perugia) and he asked if I had benefited from the year of basic design and colour. What do you think? :-)

    • Ha! And, oh, my. A whole semester of color wheel?? What does that encompass?

    • I did a double-take when I saw your story of becoming an artist. I was 4 when I saw my dad draw a picture of my brother and I knew right then I wanted to do that for the rest of my life. I would be a “draw-er”. It was years before I understood that the word “artist” meant the same thing. It’s amazing how a little moment like that can affect the rest of your life.

  • Junior High–Penny Russell helped me to understand abstraction and about living an artist’s life….Phoebe Chorley in high school taught me about hard work, dedication and having high expectations for myself. Rip Woods in the ASU grad program cracked open my ideas of what I could do. I was deeply touched by all of them.

    • Rebecca: It seems interesting that you learned some good artist-life lessons from pre-college teachers. I kind of think of my K-12 teachers as old-school teachers rather than bohemian artists. I loved them, but they’re not how I picture artists’ lives.

  • My art teacher, Caroline, opened the door to Art for me and now I know what Alice felt like when she walked into Wonderland. Caroline instructed, encouraged and challenged all of my creative instincts. And the best part of all, she’s still my mentor 40 years later. Still encouraging, still inspiring, and offering friendship that I will cherish for the rest of my life. For those communities where art funding is being cut and teachers and art classes are being eliminated, please think again. Sometimes a teacher really can make a difference – and the world a better place.

  • Hi! my high school art teacher, Miss Chiampa was solely responsible for my going on to art school! she was my inspiration,my rock and my motivation. She photographed my entire portfolio (after giving me all the perfect assignments to create that portfolio) on slide file and masked it off with black electrical tape! Those were the old school days! She brought former students back to speak with us about art school and art related careers. She inspired me, more than any other person in my life. I credit my having the strength to choose art as a major, despite my parents’ objections, to Miss Chiampa!

  • My art teachers didn’t support me. In elementary school I just remember being told I’d done things wrong. When I tried to take an art class in high school (as an AP student) I was given a preliminary grade of F and had to drop it.
    So the teachers who most influenced my art were actually my math teachers! I had two amazing wonderful supportive math teachers in high school. Mr Green taught geometry visually – with shapes in the air. I could see them. I knew them that shapes and lines and areas weren’t just art, they were math. Encouraging me to join the math team he taught me it was okay to compete and push and learn more to *apply* it to something. Mr Bielick was my calculus teacher later. He saw my cheeky side. He saw the A+ student who was bored and he’d sneak in comments about how no one would get problem 15, knowing full well it’s the only one I’d go home and darn well do. He would mark my assignments and say that my longwinded creative approach of deriving everything wasn’t required, but showed I knew the “why” and wasn’t just repeating information. He taught me to think that good didn’t have to be good enough. That no matter how far you go, there will always be something challenging, always a problem you can’t yet solve. And that’s the FUN part!

    So my math teachers gave me confidence and taught me to look at everything creatively and there is no right answer. :)

  • Aaron C

    I learned not to listen to them for more than technical advice. Vision cannot be imparted.

  • You… & From you I learned not to tell the teacher’s secrets…

  • Great question that I’ve never been asked! Just the question explains a whole lot. I own a gallery, but admire all artists. I haven’t thought of these memories in a long time. In first grade I put the paint brush bristles down in the cup. I lost the right to paint for one week. One year I mixed up the playdough colors and that resulted in another one week suspension from all art stuff. I am lefty and had/have a hard time cutting with scizzors. Again, not being the best art student in the class.
    Your question explains so much! I always assumed I wasn’t good at art, but maybe I became intimidated at a young age. I just might need to explore my artistic side in the near future.

    • You had a bad teacher, Pam! It happens all of the time. Bad teachers crap on kids’ creativity and the negative impact lasts a lifetime.

    • Wow, that was harsh! Art time is the LAST place such rigid rules and discouragement should be found. I help at my kids’ school sometimes when they are doing an art project in class, and no one gets treated that way!

      And you know what? I’m still guilty of getting paint in my brush all the way up to the ferrule sometimes (doing art, or a house painting project) and I know I’m “not supposed to do that”. I hear it in the back of my head. I then ignore it! I can’t worry about rules like that (or making messes) while I’m busy making something. I just can’t do both. I can’t imagine expecting a 1st grader to!

  • I had a great teacher in grade school, Mr. Cook. He recommended me for Saturday art classes at the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh. High school, not so much, but many great teachers in college, including the one who imbedded the phrase in my brain, “If you want a project done, give it to the busy person.” Words to live by, indeed.

  • Suzanne

    7th grade…the only art class they allowed us to take was Art History…oh, how disappointed I was at the time and oh, how I have appreciated in the years since! High School…best art teacher ever, Charles Lum…turns out he was a student of my grandmother’s (didn’t find this out ’till Junior year) and Mr. Lum was able to bring out the best of all his students! Absolutely amazing man. College – draw between Joyce Aiken – who took my imagination to a new level and Jean Ray Laury – who opened my eyes to fiber art.

  • Caroline Wiseman

    I am retired after spending 45 years working in art from teaching to free lance. I never had a job that wasn’t all about art. I was lucky enough to be taught by many art teachers but three from high school to graduate school shaped my life with their knowledge, instruction and friendship: Gene Carara, Joe Hutchinson and John Mariani. They were my very solid art base. But I want to tell you about Mr. Gray. He was my 6th grade teacher at Eugene Field school in San Diego. One day he was lecturing on history or some other semi-interesting subject while I was drawing him on my page of “notes.” Suddenly a hand reached over my shoulder and snatched the likeness. He kept it. I thought I was in deep trouble. Instead when the rest of the class rotated an hour a day into Spanish lessons, I was pulled out to art classes. Never did learn Spanish, but Mr. Gray started me in my life’s direction. I thank him by remembering him.

  • The best lesson I learned from any of my art teachers was to let the student roam…no fences…no rules…so that they can poke around inside themselves and find THEIR creative spring to tap into. Then, gentle guidance to help facilitate the bubbling fourth from that stream…

  • Delane

    She was not my art teacher in school but she was an attendee of an art class I assisted as a Red Cross Youth volunteer (age 12) at a convalescent home. This attendee was in her early 90s and blind. Once she was wheeled up to the table, I was told to put the paints in front of her so she could paint. Young & naive I asked the program coordinator why should I put paints in front of her if she can’t see. As instructed I did as told. This attendee was the best art teacher I ever had. I learned that I do not need to see with my eyes for inspiration. She taught me to see with my heart and mind. I am so ever grateful to have had an incredible teacher.

  • 1st thanks for your thoughts on my teaching. My favorite teacher was James Pink(professor at OU at the same time) . Because of his inspiration as my high school teacher I got a scholarship out of high school and finally getting my MFA. Art saved my life!

  • Reading all these stories is so fun!

  • I agree! Reading everyone’s stories is so enlightening and touching.

  • My kindergarten teacher used to write captions on our paintings. I learned to paint in her class, and painted my parents at their wedding with my mother holding me (her third child) on her knee, and my father eating cake. My parents did not have children before marriage. In grade eight I had an amazing teacher who encouraged us to make life size
    papier maché characters from Alice in Wonderland. I made the queen dressed in yellow brocade and green velvet and got A’s in art. In high school I had a fidgety very unhappy woman art teacher who taught us art history very well. At the Ontario College of Art and Design I had so many wonderful teachers, but left after two years to get an English degree. Since then I’ve taken a super course in watercolour from a man named Americo Del Colle, and an amazing course from Skip Lawrence and Toph Schink in California. I really loved that. When I can arrange it I’d like to study with Bob Burridge. I love his work.

  • This is an interesting question. I consider myself a kind of “accidental artist” – I had a career in something completely unrelated and only started making art about 6 years ago when illness left me unable to continue at my previously demanding job. I make collages, and the art classes I had growing up focused on drawing – which is not a big strength for me. I did deep down always have a desire to be an artist I think, but my talents really hadn’t been explored, so I just didn’t think it was a possibility.
    Most of my art class experiences were frustrating for this reason. My mom always believed I had artistic abilities, and signed me up for private drawing lessons when I was in high school. The teacher truly believed everyone can learn to draw, and she helped me create a still life in charcoal. She taught me to “see” shadow and light in a new way, which I’m sure I still use today. I wish I could remember her name – I would thank her!

  • 1. Nursery: Miss Talat who gave me an Excellent when I colored an Elephant without spilling any color out of the Drawing. She made a huge deal and even told my parents as to how proud she was to see a 4 year old color like that.
    2. 4th Grade: Miss Khalida Riyasat who could not beleive I actually made a Still Life Painting so she set up a Still Life in our class to see how I will manage without any help from an adult. It was Turnips in a plate I remember and I drew the drawing and then painted it. She was impressed and encouraged me to keep up my art no matter what happens. She is the one who taught me how to use water-colors properly.
    3. 8th Grade: Miss Saira Bano who insisted that I compete in Painting Competitions. I remember she never let me make any excuses and just insisted I turn in the Projects. I won a few awards because of her persistance and faith in my ability as an artist and I gained much needed confidence. She was the teacher who paid special attention to light and shade and how to look for shadows.
    4. 11th & 12th Grade: Miss Norma Jane who was my Commercial Art Teacher. She wanted us to use our “creativity” than to just copy down what we saw. She was my toughest teacher and from her I learnt to appreciate all kinds of Art and grow as an Artist. I learnt what is a Thumb Nail Sketch, Prespective, Graphic Drawings, Logo, Slogan and also learnt all kinds of media for Artists. She made me experience with Oils and Acrylics, taught us how to Matt our drawings, Stretch Canvas and importance of creating a background.
    5. Florida International University: Miss Kate Kretz who disliked anything I did as an Artist. She wanted me to let go of Realism and not be a Perfectionist. She abhored my style and what I chose to paint. It was rough. I never worked so hard and this was my first time that despite of my spending long hours in the studio, I got a D for my Art. I did what nobody thought I would do. I challanged my grade and took the matter to my University Dean. The Dean came to the Art Studio and examined my work. Then she had a little “chat” with Ms.Kretz and magically my final grade went from a D to an A. The sad thing is that she was the head of the Art Department, she rejected my application when I applied for my MFA. As fate would have it, I was attending art exhibits in Hollywood, Florida and unwittingly I went to one where she was exhibiting her work. Much to my surprise her artwork looked a lot like what I did when I was in her class. So I built up the courage and asked her “How come you discourage me to paint in Representational Style when you are doing the same?” Her response was “It took me 10 years to get here”. It is then I discovered she tried breaking my Spirit and instead she ended up encouraging me to keep on creating and believing in myself. She is the one who gave me “The Eye Of The Tiger”….and I am grateful to her for igniting the passion and enthusiasm and making me who I am today as a Representational Artist. http://www.facebook.com/Roopa.Dudley.Paintings

  • My parents taught me so much. When I was learning to color Mom saw that I would keep switching the crayons to my left hand so she taught me left handed, she showed me that stick figures have a body, she showed me how I could use two crayons to create a new color and effect. My best art teacher through elementary school was my religion. My family didn’t celebrate any of the traditional holidays – besides Thanksgiving – so I would come to school with a note saying I wouldn’t be making a Santa Claus, Easter Bunny, Ghosts, etc. and the teachers, not knowing what to do with me, would give me the supplies for the intended project and tell me to “make something”. I loved it. No one ever told me I was doing it wrong and I see, after reading these posts, how truly valuable that was. Mr. Turnes from 5th grade was the first teacher that had other than holiday related art projects and he was an encouraging teacher that loved art. We did linoleum block prints! We learned calligraphy with real dipping pens, Picasso portraits, there was no wrong way. Mrs. Rassmussen in high school seemed to genuinely marvel at my work. She is my life saver as she is the one that told me of an Arts High School nearly 100 miles away. It was the answer to high school, it changed my world. She helped me round out my portfolio by letting me use the kiln for a sculpture. She saw my pencil drawings and described pen and ink drawing to me and suggested I try applying it to my illustrations. It brought color to my world and introduced me to watercolor, my passion. I will always LOVE Bill Jeter and Karen Monson. They gave me a taste for every technique and told me I could do anything – they told the whole class that. They really believed in pushing the boundaries and be who you are but try everything, explore, and decide who you are on the way. “You have a special opportunity by being here. You owe it to the rest of the world to go out there and pursue your dreams/be great (I don’t remember).” Another favorite quote from Karen “If you don’t hate your piece at some point during the process, your aren’t challenging yourself enough.” That has stayed with me and I’m devoted to sticking to my dreams to be an artist. I still need to show them that I’ve been a good student and have followed my dreams.

  • I love the comments I have read so far about the art teachers influence on us. This is in tune with my commitment as an art enthutiast to see to the advancement of art in my native country, Nigeria despite all odds.

  • My art teacher in high school, Mrs. Twenkle, did something extrodinarily nice for me. It was a ceramics class and I complained to her about the supply of paint we had, was lacking in brilliant red–an absolute must for my apple cookie jar. She said that that color was very expensive, that’s why we didn’t have it. After a few days, she brought in the bright red paint; I assume she paid for it out of her own pocket–and we all know teachers don’t make the big bucks. Or the meager school budget was used. I finished the firing of my giant apple–it looked great!–and it sat in my Mother’s kitchen for decades. My story is one of many about the kindness and deep, sincere consideration of my teachers.

  • Peggy

    Mr. Rustia! Even is name was cool. His art room was in the basement in our elementary school. He was handsome with thick dark hair combed back and he had a large purple toned birth mark on his face. What I liked most was his soft-spoken manner and he wasn’t all hyped-up like the other teachers. I only remmeber a clay project but mostly just like the vibe in his room. I am an art teacher and wish I could possess his cool.

  • louise

    @Roopa, Kate Kretz was never head of the art department at FIU, so she therefore had nothing to do with your not getting into the MFA program, and I would love to see a side by side comparison of the work you are referring to on your part and hers.

    • A simple web search of “kate kretz fiu art” turns up the first link, http://www.katekretz.com
      which led me to the last paragraph which includes this “After working as an Associate Professor and BFA Director at Florida International University for ten years”…Which says to me that Roopa Dudley was telling the truth…Not that I disbelieved, however, “louise”, you did in your comment…A take on the fact that an art teacher may be derivative of an art student is not at all surprising…I hardly think a side by side comparison is necessary, since this is not a court of law, & the art student in question is not asking for monies…The length of the post, as well as the in person conversation with the art teacher many years later, with somewhat of a confession, sounds true…Why, I might ask, would someone make up these facts?

      • You are simply amazing! Wow…ever thought of taking up a job as an Investigator? I never knew that someone would actually take the time to read what I wrote let go research this stuff. Thank you for keeping the faith in me and backing me up. I totally appreciate this kind and most wonderful gesture. As the saying goes “Evil prevails when Good Men do Nothing”. My best regards to you with deep gratitude. RD.

    • Ms. Louise You are most welcome and with pleasure to compare my earlier works with Ms.Kretz…especially the Ballerina and the Sitar Player. My work now revolves mainly around Chess and I work with Acrylics not Oils. Here is a link to my blog post. Enjoy and with Best regards, RD.
      http://roopadudley-artblog.blogspot.com/