Creating a supportive environment for art

Always Learning: Playing and Embracing the Beginner's Mind

“In the Beginner’s Mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s there are few.”~Shunryu Suzuki

“Every child is an Artist. The problem is how to remain an Artist once we grow up.”~Pablo Picasso

Shoshin is a word from Zen Buddhism meaning “Beginner’s Mind”. It refers to having an attitude of curiosity, openness, eagerness and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even when studying at an advanced level, just as a beginner would. I think of it like a young child playing. Their busy mind focusing and then getting lost in the moment, opening to the creativity and the flow. I truly believe in the benefits of staying curious and being a lifelong learner. Continuously becoming the student is a skill and practice in humility which helps make me a better teacher and better human. It’s hard to admit we don’t know all the answers but really, how can we?

It’s difficult to give up our preconceptions and our fears. To give up one’s control is both scary and liberating—this is learning. I will be taking classes myself for much of my time off from teaching this Summer. My first thought was to say “working holidays,” but I need to think of them as playing holidays. I need to strive to having an attitude of fun, to keeping my mind open for new possibilities…always to have the Beginner’s Mind. I hope to be as much of an example to my student’s and their loved ones as they are to me, to do the same in life and learning. To listen and not know everything. To see a different way or from a different perspective. To try something new or in a new way. Be curious, learn something and have fun this Summer!


The Importance of Accessable Art in Our Community

Mall Art Display.jpg

We have a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the creative work of PrairieArt Studio’s students and to enhance our community as well. We have been invited to display our artwork in the local Mall with an ongoing display as well as some pop up events for Halloween and at the Youth Department  of a local library.  The Mall display is in conjunction with their new hands on S.T.E.A.M. (Science, technology, engineering , arts and Math) play area which is also great for the community. I’ve written in the past of the many benefits that creating art provides (see these blogs) It turns out that even just  looking at art and going to a concert or play has enormous benefits too. The NEA did a study that found that “older adults” who attended cultural events like museum exhibitions, opera and the theater, reported more of both mental and physical health benefits than those that did not. Further, they found that those that just attended had similar levels of wellbeing to those that attended cultural events and created art themselves. (Herzig, 2017)

This access and exposure to art has even more of an impact in less advantaged communities and though wealthier neighborhoods have more access to cultural events it doesn’t mean there is a good amount of them to balance other pursuits. A two year study done by a department at the University of Pennsylvania has revealed a quantitative relationship between the presence of cultural resources in a neighborhood and key aspects of social well being, particularly in less advantaged neighborhoods.  The authors of the study write that “culture is no magic bullet” for broader social ills, but “cultural assets are part of a neighborhood ecology that promotes well being” (Kaplan, 2017)

Though our community offers many advantages it seems that the primary focus of time, importance, the most amount real estate and funds goes to sports. I have nothing against sports, they have many benefits too and being the mother of four, have gone to my share of soccer games, swimming, horse shows, karate, baseball. football, cross-country, track,  and Lacrosse games. My concern is that there should be more of a balance of exposure to and opportunities for creative and cultural pursuits as well, to help us raise more well rounded citizens that are active and can creatively problem solve as well. This may inspire the young (and old) to maybe see or think about something in a different way and see that there is a whole world beyond sports. Additionally , the arts can offer a great outlet for for the un-sporty type.  Sports, many times, can be more ex-clusive and the arts more inclusive. Art enhances  joy, confidence and self-esteem which (for dads still pining for that all-star or olympian) may encourage them to go out and try a sport in additon to doing art.

So go out and see some Art with your family, it’s fun and good for you!



Herzig, E. b. (2017, September 12). "Taking Your Grandparents to Museums Could Improve Their Health". Retrieved from

Kaplan, A. E. (2017, March 29). Retrieved from "New Study Links Art Access to Better Health, Safety, and Education in Lower-Income Neighborhoods".

Everyone Can Learn to See and Draw

Drawing realistically requires looking at real things…It sounds obvious and simple but most students at every level need to be reminded at times not only to do this but how to do this. That’s because looking, really seeing and translating what you see onto paper is a complex activity. This is a skill which can be learned just like reading, music or dance. In order to do this we also need to take into account what kind of learner we are and overcome the brains tendency to want to simplify and categorize things as well.

According to Howard Gardner author of several books on Multiple Intelligences there are 8 Basic Intelligences. These intelligences are present in each of us at varying degrees and must be considered for something to be taught successfully. Visual learners find the drawing process natural. They either already are doing the process unknowingly or once shown the concepts or reminded of them can progress quickly and move onto advancing their skills with different media and subject matter. Non-visual learners need the process broken down in a way they can understand. They may need a little more time and practice, they may need to experience the seeing and interpreting in a different way. Non-visual learners also tend to be more impatient, critical and frustrated with their drawing.

All types of learners benefit from breaking down the process into steps and learning to look at and see things differently. It is a skill, though, that for every student takes practice, trial and error, dissatisfaction and the desire to learn more while letting go of judgment and competition. Drawing at the start involves line, shape, light and shadow, color, negative and positive space then with experiencemore subtleties can be considered such as movement, atmosphere, balance, tone, texture, perspective, focus, reflected light/color and more. There are different ways to teach drawing from “sink or swim” to highly technical instruction (in my art school career I have experienced many of them) but I have found the method that Mona Brookes has developed for drawing with children and beginning adults a method that integrates different kinds of learners and breaks down the beginning process in a way that fosters understanding and success at any age.

I include a number of resource pictures of whatever subject we are drawing in class as well as ideas for backgrounds. If students want to add something else to their picture I encourage them to look up images to draw from rather than draw from memory or imagination because without a reference we tend to go to our brains simplified categorized symbol of an object. The internet is a wonderful source for images to draw. I also want to encourage students and parents to notice things in nature and their everyday activities…How does a flower or branch really grow? Are all leaves, flowers and branches the same shape? How does a light affect the shape of the shadow of a coffee mug or how does the shape of the rim change from different angles? Notice the color of a tree that’s wet or that all trees aren’t green and brown or the same shade of green and brown. Is the sky always blue? Are pumpkins always round and orange? It doesn’t have to be anything in particular just look, notice and really see. Everyone in life and art, even experienced artists, sometimes need a reminder to not take things for granted and not make assumptions but to see with fresh eyes the things around us.



Mona Brookes, Drawing with Children, New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, 1996.

Howard Gardner is the Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

There is No Right or Wrong Way to Do Art and the Risks of Saying "Good Job"

                          Henri Matisse "Two Figures in a Landscape", 1921

                          Henri Matisse "Two Figures in a Landscape", 1921

If you have gone to art museums or galleries you will notice that you will see everything you could possibly imagine and you may not like all that you see. Everyone likes something different so praise,  judgment or competition has no place in an art class. In my art classes I try to eliminate words like: Good, Bad, Better, Best and Mistake. I will not give my opinion of a student's drawing, I will give praise on their willingness to try something and advice about skills such as accurate perspective proportion or color theory but it's totally up to the student to do what they want to do. I encourage student's to look and learn from each other but do not allow them to comment on each other's work. Many famous artists have done masterpieces without accurate perspective or proportion. Student's need to learn to draw for themselves.  If they do not like something they need to learn how to change it or accept it, grow and move on. Self esteem does not come from praise, it comes from accomplishment and solving problems.

Student's also need to realize it's OK not to like their drawing and that it's no big deal. They need to get used to only liking some parts of a drawing and learning how to make changes or start over. Even professional artists don't like all their work and it's not a good idea to try to give praise or talk a student into liking something they do not like. From his article "Five Reasons to Stop Saying "Good Job", parenting and education author, Alfie Kohn says, “Good job!” doesn’t reassure children; ultimately, it makes them feel less secure."  It makes them feel manipulated and undermines interest and achievement. In regards to your children's artwork, rather than say "good job," it's much more constructive to provide feedback not judgment by saying what you see or to asking questions: "That's a colorful bird!", "Wow, you used a lot of pink in your picture!" or ask "What is your favorite part?", "How did you figure out how to draw this part?"

This doesn't mean encouragement and support is bad and all compliments and expressions of delight are harmful. We need to be more mindful though of the motives behind them and if they are actually helping the student become independent and motivated.

Kohn, Alfie , Five Reasons to Stop Saying "Good Job" , September 2001.

Mona Brookes, Drawing with Children, New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, 1996.


Different Styles of Drawing

One style of art is not better than another,  we should not compare them. In fact symbolic, abstract and representational drawing are done for completely different reasons and benefits.