I have vivid memories of helping set up my grandmother’s elementary school art classroom, outside of Philadelphia, when I was young. My mother and I would unload boxes of paint, paper and brushes before I was even attending school myself. The smell of tempera and Mr. Sketch scented markers flavor these memories. Organizing materials and colorful paints in her giant supply closet excited my senses and I eagerly anticipated having my chance to paint on large paper at tables where “the big kids” would sit during the year. I treasure these memories I have of my grandmother, my first and most important art mentor, who was also a talented watercolor painter.
More than 40 years later and here I am, an art teacher and artist myself, still feeling the thrill of having art-filled spaces and plentiful materials of my own. These days, I attempt to stay on top of my own well-stocked school supply closet organization as well as a home studio overflowing with materials, artwork and inspirational piles.
My home studio — much like my home around it — is in a constant state of creative flux, with in-process work on my large worktable and scores more possibly-done pieces on the walls and shelves nearby. At the same time, my 9-year-old daughter is likely to have a collection of teeny, tiny food items, or similarly-sized critters, she’s fashioned from polymer clay or Lego bricks on a table nearby, while my 14-year-old son, a loom knitter, has stacked his recent creations on the studio window seat, waiting to be photographed for his Instagram feed. An homage to their labor: Yarn snippets and mini Legos are sure to be scattered nearby. My husband, a bicycle mechanic and photographer, adds bike wheels and chains as well as cameras and tripods to the glorious art mess.
In the background of the studio, there are always overflowing boxes, ready for me to bring to my next art workshop, and piles of books and random materials waiting to find their way to my classroom for the purpose of student inspiration and instruction. It’s sometimes difficult to discern where my studio ends and the rest of my house begins with its crazy, colorful clutter. If you come to visit, you’re likely to see a mosaic as it takes shape on the table in my living room and you might notice a stretched silk painting as it rests, waiting for more, by a window. In so many ways, my home is an extension of my studio. It is a space filled with art and love. There is art from people I have admired — art from dear friends, art from my grandmother, art made by my husband and my children — and art that students have made for me over the years.
What I consider to be “my studio” is not static. Like Harry Potter’s Room of Requirement, it appears wherever I need it. I hatch out some marks on a piece of paper next to the toaster as dinner bubbles away on the stove; I add scribbles to a pink back- ground in the living room while my daughter plays with her animals; I methodically plot out a dotted grid on a panel during a family viewing of Star Wars for the many-th time; I spray paint through stencils in the driveway while my son unicycles nearby; I breathe and calm my sometimes frazzled mind by drawing dots in meditation. My studio travels with me, in a canvas bag, when I’m on a trip, or at an appointment, or visiting with friends and family.
Most plentiful in my home studio are the supplies I’ve collected or made for my own work: countless paper dots, marked-up paper, collage fodder and colorful paint swatches. These materials form piles that grow and shrink in equal measure and are necessary to my creative process. As I sort through them, I arrive at a color or pattern combination that sings out, telling me where it belongs. These piles and their disorganization feed my process and make me crazy in equal measure. Adding to the appearance of disarray, I work on many pieces at once. Whatever melange of in-process pieces litter my studio spaces takes shape simultaneously, speaking to each other and often working together as a series. When she said, “Creativity is a wild mind and a disciplined eye,” Dorothy Parker understood the forces that move me, too, as I work to order the chaos that is around me.
When I look outside my studio windows, with the perfect morning sun, I see a yard with some corners tended and others wild, mirroring the interior of my home. I watch the seasons change, each one bringing its own color magic. I had a childhood dream of a window seat, so my husband, Jim, built me one and now my children read, or knit, or play on it while I work. Next to the window is a chalkboard made for my grandmother by her grandfather. It is a rare day that there isn’t a picture on it drawn by my daughter.
Even before you enter my home, the first things you’re likely to notice are the mosaics. on the side of the stone garage of my mid-century modern home. Walking up the few stairs to the front door, there is another, larger mosaic wall — a wall I created when my son was still tiny, imagining a future when I could measure his growth in first-day-of-school pictures, dreaming of how each year he’d be a few inches higher against its mirrored circles. My house is tucked into a quaint neighborhood adjacent to the main campus of Penn State University, and five minutes away from the Palmer Museum of Art. I visit campus often and relish every chance I have to walk through its quiet galleries, or draw inspiration from the summer blooms at the nearby arboretum.
Just as my studio space expands well beyond its four walls, I am a teacher outside of my school. My driveway is a spot for art workshops — typically the mosaic variety — for fellow art teachers or other interested artists. I’ve held grout parties in my studio and hosted late-night hangouts, tiling in my garage with some of my favorite people. My backyard has boasted summer morning art classes — for my children and their friends when they were preschool age.
I do online Zoom sessions from my studio sofa, in front of a favorite painting I made while in college, with my critique group or my art teacher organization. During the pandemic, I taught my students online from the safety of my studio, peppering my lessons with bits of my own work, surrounded by the same art chaos they were accustomed to seeing in my high school classroom.
I am so inspired by my community of creatives — the many friends who are artists, and artists who are friends. My children and their own boundless creativity inspire me, as does my husband and his work and the bikes that have filled up our garage. I am grateful for my art community and honored to 149 be a regional leader in the Pennsylvania Art Educators Association.
It is my goal, as an artist and a teacher and a mother, to put positive energy out into the world. In teaching, I see the hopeful spark of “becoming-artists” in my students. No matter where I am making art, or helping others in their own creative process, my studio houses the energy, the materials, and the spirit I bring with me.