Next year will be year #11 of teaching for me. I've only recently been able to start making artwork for myself that isn't something created under the umbrella of academia, as part of a PD workshop, or as a sample for an upcoming class project. If you're an art teacher, you probably know what I'm talking about. The first few years as a new teacher were especially difficult for me to produce work during the school year. I had been at NYU for their MA in Studio Art program for the first 3 summers of teaching, and all my art-making experiences were really confined to those summers. The work I made, honestly, wasn't anything that I was proud of. The work I made was vastly different each summer. I felt like I was trying to take in all this new art philosophy and turn it into something. Critiques often left me confused and like I was still trying to make art to please someone else. I didn't find a particular method or voice that really spoke to me.
It wasn't until a few years later, when I pulled out an old artwork from my MA thesis show and began to draw over it, that I found the beginning to a new process that excited me. As artists and educators, we have to work with what we have sometimes. I had no money for art materials. I was lost in terms of making something out of one material. That just didn't feel right. I had no interest in working realistically or super representationally. I just wanted to get my hands dirty and transform something that already existed into something new. So I started drawing over old artworks. I started covering up things, scratching at them, peeling away layers, making marks. I'd leave it alone for a while, forget about it, come back to it days, weeks or months later and add something else to it. I started to get comfortable with not having something finished in front of me for quite some time. This way of working meant I could be creative in the confines of my small apartment kitchen/studio. It meant things I wrote down, calendars I used throughout the year, tickets to concerts and the dirt on my shoes could become a medium for me. It meant whatever art supplies I still had laying around from college studio days could be transformed into something new. Instead of using a traditional "palette", I used paper. My palettes and scrap papers where I would dry off a brush, or wipe away something would be come the foundations for new works.
I can't describe it, but it's like working on a puzzle. I feel excited again to play with shapes and colors and textures; where should they all go? Where will they end up? I like hiding and revealing things. I like the pictures that come into my head when I'm working. Landscapes and people flow in and out of my head. I picture ancient humans doing this exact thing, where they feel the urge to document their place and time. I think about how our universe exists while other universes are existing simultaneously. Everything is an exploration. I start thinking about texture and the surface of my paper, how I can make it not feel like paper anymore. I like to think these artworks are little things that I will be leaving behind one day for someone else to find.
These works I have taped up on my wall are a constant work in progress. I visit them. I talk to them. I look for connections to current events and how I feel about the things going on in the world. I pour my heart into them in little bursts. I walk away. I leave them alone. I let them become something.
That is my process so far. I encourage my fellow art teacher friends to not give up on finding your process. It's important to make something that's your own, not for work or for a course you're taking. Scale it down. Find a spot somewhere to keep a sketchbook page open, or keep something small with you. Try something digital ( I did that too for a while when I really didn't have a lot of space/time/money). Try some photography. Whatever it is, let that little creative voice speak to you, and promise to act on it sometime soon! Don't worry about what it's gonna look like, or if someone will buy it.
Lastly, I decided that once a month, I'm going to start looking for some kind of art show or juried show to enter work into. It's been a pretty long time since I've shown work. I'd like to start again and start a new CV. So this month I entered work into the LIC open call. I'll let you know if any of my pieces get chosen. It's exciting and scary to put yourself out there again, but I just want to have fun and share my work with more people, and I hope you'll be inspired to do so too!
The last day. Typically, teachers will breathe a sigh of relief, and sprint to their cars when they get the "OK" to go home for the summer. Teaching is a really special job, and it is definitely a perk to have the summers off. Don't let the giant smiles on your teacher friend's faces fool you on the last day though, we all love our jobs, and we all miss it when we're not here. That's right. I'm calling all my teacher friends out. You know when you're on summer break, you're low-key eyeing things in the store that would make for great motivational tools for your lessons, or thinking about what you might rearrange in the room when you get back, or you're taking the PD classes you really want to take since you've got the time. Or maybe that doesn't apply to you at all and I could be wrong. Maybe that's just something I do, because I usually experience the "summer blues" and get anxiety when I'm not in teaching mode anymore. More about that later.
Prepping for September already?
For me, the last few days of work are really important. I have to clear out the art room, re-organize the disaster that is the supply closet, order new supplies, and I (gasp!) prep for next year. Once we get our courses for next year, I hit the ground running. Next year I'll be teaching Studio Art, Drawing and Painting and AP Drawing. It's my favorite set of courses, and after a full year off from teaching an AP level course, I am refreshed and ready to get back into it! So how do I prep for next year? I put together my grade expectation sheets, and make copies of everything. I've learned to not trust the copy machines the first week back to work (they're still on summer vacay like most of us). I also get my AP students plastic folders for all of their first day course handouts (yep, purchased out of my own money, as so many teachers will do, but I think it's a nice touch for this special group). I also prep 5 days worth of sub plans for those emergency sick days you don't see coming.
Cue Lana Del Rey, I have that Summertime Sadness
Once all of my first week prep is complete, and I am left with nothing to do, I already start thinking of what else there could be. This teacher brain is really hard to turn off. It's part of the reason I decided to sit down and re-vamp this website and start a blog. And then, after an awesome breakfast with my colleagues, and I get home from the last day, this weird summer malaise sets in. I decided I wanted to talk about it here, because I'm not sure if any other teachers experience this.
I get depressed when I'm on summer break. It's a weird thing. I'm supposed to be excited, planning epic vacations, and relaxing for once. I work really hard all year, and I'm in constant "go" mode, and then this abrupt switch to nothing happens and bam, I feel sort of sad. It doesn't stick around all the time, but the first few weeks transitioning into summer mode isn't always easy for me. People ask me, "Why don't you just get a summer job then, if you're such a workaholic?", My answer to that is, I don't actually want to work in the summer, because I am actually quite exhausted from working. I just want to find meaningful activities to do that keep my soul and mind nourished and fulfilled.
I've learned to combat the summer blues; every year it gets a little better. I plan to see my friends and their amazing kiddos. I take advantage of getting to my Crossfit gym once a day instead of once a week. I make sure I get to the beach and I bring stuff to draw and read with me. I pop into the city to get to museums I haven't been to all year. I bring my dog, Lily Rose, with me wherever possible.
This year I'm looking forward to having my second bedroom as my art studio (finally!) so I'll be hopefully spending time in there creating new stuff! I also try to take on some commissioned artwork (so if any of ya'll want some art...hit me up!). And who knows, maybe a last minute epic adventure or trip will fall into place. I'm learning to just go with the flow and embrace the wonder that is summer. It really is a pretty cool feeling. That feeling of walking out the doors on your last day of school when you were a kid, and knowing that you had the summer ahead of you, I get to experience that every year for the next 20 something years. Sorry non-teacher friends. I don't mean to brag.
If you've made it this far, thank you for reading! I'll be updating throughout the summer so keep checking back. Let's see how this blog thing goes.
Enjoy your summer!