An homage to teachers…
(Please forgive me for being long-winded, but this is one post where I can’t be brief!) TL;DR, I am very grateful to all my teachers, they changed my life and I can’t thank them enough.
I’ve been thinking about writing this post for some time now, probably at least a year. Now it’s a lazy Saturday and I guess it’s time!
I think most artists, whether we are formally trained or not, are inevitably influenced by other artists, either through direct instruction, or books, or some other means. I don’t think any artist lives in a vacuum, where they never are impacted by the creative works of those around them, or from artists in the past. I don’t believe such a thing is possible.
In my case, I’ve had many influences, and most notably have been my teachers. They’ve come from different sources—art school, community college, workshop, private lessons… all were vitally important. And all have my eternal gratitude.
I thought I’d mention several of them here. There are some who have made a tremendous difference in my life, and others who were important and memorable. I wouldn’t say that the teachers who were the most profound to me, were “better” teachers—it’s just that sometimes someone comes along at the right time, and gives you something when you need it most. So, to you, what they did was immensely profound.
So, here’s my list of thanks to a few of these teachers, going back from the start.
Shirlee Prescott Morgan
(Known as simply “Shirlee” to me!)
I started getting serious about art when I was about 13 years old. I drew, mostly, and struggled with painting and color. One day I was walking home from the nearby Montrose shopping area and wandered by an artist’s studio. I walked right in and this nice lady was painting at her easel. She said she taught kids on Saturdays. My dad agreed that I was to have the lessons. I still can remember the night before taking my first class—I could hardly sleep, I was so excited! I still remember that feeling of anticipation and excitement, and divide my youth into two segments: Before Shirlee and After Shirlee. That’s how profound a difference her teaching had in my life, and how much things changed for me.
She taught me how to paint in oils and how to handle color. I had no idea before. I seemed to improve rapidly—drastically, even—under her tutelage. The wonderful thing about Shirlee was also how supportive she was. She assured my parents that I had promise. She let all of us kids paint whatever we wanted, which got me off the hook with my mom, who constantly kvetched that I was painting “unworthy” subjects (like portraits of Mr. Spock!). Shirlee didn’t care, she thought Mr. Spock was a fine subject for an oil painting! Shirlee became a wonderful source of support. Shirlee believed in me, and that helped my parents believe in me too. I can’t thank Shirlee enough.
Shirlee was an amazing artist, with luminous, gorgeous color and a penchant for both portraits and landscapes. I can’t say which she did “better,” because she did both so beautifully. I keep on searching the Internet for pictures of her work, but find precious little! I did locate an old brochure she put out ages ago, amongst my old stuff, and I plan on scanning it and posting it here. I wish more people could see Shirlee’s artwork. She was amazing, both as a teacher and as an artist.
I studied under Shirlee for the rest of my teen years, and then after high school, like a lot of kids, I went to the local Glendale Community College (which interestingly, was the inspiration for the TV show “Community“!). I took figure drawing as soon as possible, and my teacher was “Mr. Brown,” aka Robert Brown. His skill amazed me. Not only was he a good teacher, his own drawings were spectacular!
Like a lot of students who have been working mostly from photos (as I was up until then), there was a drastic and demoralizing “learning curve” in working from life. As in, I sucked really badly. I was producing cringe-worthy, abysmal drawings. It was a real blow to my ego, and I wondered sometimes if I should just give up and go back to my “comfort zone” of working from photos. But I decided that it would just be a monkey on my back if I didn’t tackle it right away, so I kept at it.
Mr. Brown taught the fundamentals of figure drawing and gave specific, insightful advice. He wasn’t brutal by any means, but he didn’t coddle me or say bland things like “that’s nice.” After I finally adjusted to working from life, I began to improve and eventually became more “advanced.” But even then, Mr. Brown didn’t ease up on me—he kept pushing me and showing me areas which needed work. That’s exactly what I wanted and needed.
Mr Brown’s impact lives on, as I remember little tidbits of information that he gave me, even to this day. He helped form my understanding of drawing the figure from life.
Like with Shirlee, I divide my life at that time to “before GCC Life Drawing” and “After GCC Life Drawing” (aka before Mr Brown’s classes, and after).
Mr. Hogarth is an interesting case, because he’d already rocked my world before I’d ever met him. While I was still studying under Mr. Brown, I was yearning to make up figures from my imagination (with no model or photo in front of me). I was trying, but the drawings just weren’t right… They looked dumpy and weird. And then I discovered a book at the local art store, “Dynamic Figure Drawing.” I devoured that book and copied every page of his drawings in my sketchbook. After studying that book extensively, my own figure drawing took a leap in improvement (though it had a very “Hogarthesque” look to it). To say that his book had a dramatic impact on me is an understatement.
After a while I started studying at Otis. I had some wonderful figure drawing classes, all which helped me continue to improve. Then Otis brought Mr. Hogarth himself in as an instructor! I went absolutely crazy with elation when I discovered this, and signed up immediately. (I account my time with Hogarth in more detail in this blog post.)
Hogarth was advanced in years when I took his classes, so he was very well-seasoned in how to teach and had seen it all. Everyone in his classes benefitted immensely. There were a lot of impressive “name” artists attending his classes too, sometimes a Who’s Who of animation, cartooning, illustration, and so forth. The class seemed to be split between established, talented professionals who returned to school just to study with the Great Hogarth, and regular “schlubs” like me! 😉 Hogarth’s classes were a wonderful experience—not only did he teach so many important things, beyond the scope of what his books could show, but I saw and learned so much by rubbing elbows with all these other amazing students.
Like with Shirlee and Mr. Brown, I measure my life in some way as “before Hogarth” and “after Hogarth.” He made that big of an impression on me.
Rifka was an anatomy teacher, and, like Hogarth, had a profound effect. She was so warm and welcoming, so sweet and fun! She seemed to downplay her own artistic accomplishments, but I thought she was pretty amazing in her own way. She had a wealth of knowledge about anatomy and explained it so well. She demonstrated on skeletons, she showed us the bones of animals and compared their anatomy to human anatomy (and even covered a bit about animals in her classes as well). She made it all so exciting and enjoyable.
Like Mr. Brown, she wasn’t “easy” on me, even though, in theory, I may have been one of the more “advanced” students. She pushed me, never in a harsh way, but in a persistent way, and I kept on trying because of her.
I sort of lump Rifka in with Hogarth when it comes to how profound their teaching was—I took their classes at approximately the same time in my life, and I think one teacher without the other wouldn’t have been the same.
Looking up Rifka on the Internet tells me she’s gone on to other things, and seems happy. It sounds like she’s still doing amazing things with her life and that doesn’t surprise me at all!
Robert Kibler & Randall Bruce
I’m going on a bit of an unexpected tangent, because these are two ceramics teachers, but ceramics is a part of my life too!
Robert Kibler was the head of the Ceramics Dept. at Glendale Community College for many years, and taught many of the ceramics classes there. He is a phenomenal potter (as you can see from this outdated page for him still on the GCC website). He taught basic wheel throwing (something I was never quite that good at, though I did get “better” eventually) and he also had a penchant for surface decoration (glazing, painting, etc on the clay). That was the area where I was most interested! Mr. Kibler encouraged me and helped me with my ceramics and was a wonderful supportive teacher. There are many potters who owe much to Robert Kibler!
Randall Bruce was never “technically” my teacher, he was a fellow student at GCC and already had a knack and talent for teaching, before he got his degree (only obtained so he could teach!). Randy is fun and brilliant and excellent at teaching (as you can see from his “Rate My Professor” page!). Randy helped me so much, not only in improving my somewhat abysmal wheel throwing skills, but also by encouraging me to continue to pursue ceramics. Like with Mr. Kibler, many potters (and artists!) owe a great debt of gratitude to Randall Bruce!
Barry Fahr & Jim Morphesis
I lump these guys together, because they were part of an era at Otis, and my work wouldn’t have been the same without their influence.
I don’t know how to format this page to get these graphics to line up more elegantly, so I must settle for this.
Barry Fahr was my teacher for two semesters of Color Theory at Otis. I needed more formal instruction in color, desperately! Barry was a lot of fun, more than a bit crazy, but he also had a lot of substantive stuff to teach. I’ll be forever grateful. Barry teaches at Otis still and it sounds like he’s as excellent as ever.
Jim Morphesis was my teacher for one painting class, and he was great! Fun and full of energy and laid-back. He’s notable because he helped encourage me to embrace my “fine art” side of painting. Even though I was studying illustration at the time, he encouraged me to loosen up and not be so tight and rigid in my painting style.
It’s been years since I took an art class, but recently I had a yearning to study more and push myself. There were a lot of gaps in my knowledge and skills, and Adam Clague has helped me through a lot of them.
Before I discovered Adam, who teaches privately and holds workshops, I felt I was at an impasse. I was painting, but something wasn’t “clicking.” My understanding of color was okay (in a color theory/design sort of way) but when painting in oils, my colors were too strong and bright and didn’t have a natural look to them. I didn’t like that I had no control over this. When I saw Adam’s work and discovered that he was teaching, I knew he was what I needed. And I was right! He taught me how to paint what I see (and also he taught me how to know what to look for!). Of course I’m still a ‘work in progress’ in this regard, as all artists continually strive to improve, but I have already experienced a vast leap in skill, thanks to Adam.
Again, like with many other teachers mentioned here, I can measure my life as “before Adam” and “after Adam.” Before studying with Adam, my work was selling…meh…sometimes. After Adam, and I mean immediately after, my sales went up dramatically! And it seemed like art collectors could tell when a painting was in my “After Adam” era, because they only seem to want to buy those paintings. My “Before Adam” paintings are slower to sell.
So…that’s my list as of now. I hope to have more teachers to list in the future!
We never stop learning, and we’re NEVER “too good” or “too advanced” to study from someone else.
You’re never “too young” or “too old” to study and learn.