K  A  R  E  N     K  I  E  F  E  R

e s s a y s

A First Day at the Studio


There is a knock on the door, and everyone knows that a new student has arrived because anyone who has been here before knows to come straight in and start right into their art. Sure enough, the new student enters, wide eyed with the studio’s seemingly endless supply of every kind of art material imaginable. Rainbows of paints organized by color and media right in reach with brushes of every shape and size near by. Easels and canvas and papers of all colors and types ready for ideas to be realized through pencils or paints or pastels or collage, or maybe even some other way that a student will invent. Colorful yarns and fabrics and natural fibers are tucked in a sewing corner, looking out through a window to a garden, where nature radiates these colors right back in. There are fleeces and felts and knick knacks and stuffing all ready to be turned into huggable art otherwise  known as stuffed animals. Hanging in the windows and glowing with translucent sunlit hues are vibrant batik fabric paintings ready to be made into banners and scarves and pillows. Another corner has a bright and comfortable couch surrounded by art books and drawing boards ready and waiting. You can just imagine how nice it is to sit there with your feet up to sketch ideas, look at images for research, or having a drawing lesson alone or with a small group of friends. The computer hums nearby, ready for any and all kinds of research imaginable. The daydreaming chair, a swinging basket of soft pillows, hangs on the patio, softly swaying in the breeze, inviting students to come and sit and swing in the quietness of their imaginations.

Through a window you can see the potters wheel and neatly arranged bins of so many tools and materials for making all sorts of sculptures. The kiln room is nearby, a lock on the door so the students can see, but not touch, while the volcano of  glowing orange heat turns clay  into glass art that will for thousands of years. Glazes for painting clay in wonderfully vibrant and mysterious ways line the counters in all their splenderous potential. A Glass etching sand blaster and air compressor are not far away.  Purring a bit like a dragon, ready to unleash its transformative sand, it sits waiting for  the next artists adventure into fun, loud, power tools. Bins full of colorful glass are ready for mosaic tile pictures, silks screens and their inks are lined up for original t-shirts to be created. Here and there in nooks and crannies are unfinished projects, awaiting their makers, and inspiring the new student, who is starting to realize all the things that he or she CAN do. The space is so inviting, so colorful and homey, surrounded by trees with chirping birds and a sense that this sanctuary is a special place where magic happens. It’s the kind of magic that isn’t an illusion.

      Introductions are followed by a tour of the space and all the different things to do. We tell the new student that this is most important, because it is her studio, and she will need to know where everything is. Of course, we have so much to teach, but the student has to decide what to do and learn first.  Does she want to learn how to draw something today, or paint in acrylics, or make a clay piece? We tell her not to worry, that we will show her how. It is her job to decide what to do. We tell her to dream big, because bigger challenges will bring bigger rewards. We tell her that she can either have a lesson to learn a technique, like a landscape painting, or learning how to draw a human face, depending on how old she is, or she can work on her own without any instruction or interruption. No matter what her age, however, she is told that she will always be in charge of her work, and that we are here to help her realize her dreams and ideas. We tell her right away that we will teacher many rules along her journey as an artist, but that rules are just tools to help her bring her ideas to life. And that someday she will make new rules.

     Sometimes this new student will beam triumphantly and say, “I want to make a clay horse” or something of that sort. If this is the case, we take her to the clay area and get her started by getting her some clay and showing here the first things she would need to know to build a horse successfully. She might choose to work from her imagination, or she might pick out a model of a horse to study before she begins. Sometimes a new student is more timid, not knowing what she wants to do.  If she is ten or older, we recommend a lesson and tell her all about the first lessons. We show her the many inspirational resources in the room, books and pictures and work of other students, to help her get started. If she is younger than ten, our conversation would be about all the things she loves to do, what animals she loves, who is in her family, and her project will be generated from HER experience of the world.  Sometimes if she still doesn’t know, we will ask her if she feels like getting messy or staying neat, if she likes making big things or small things. Sometimes we will tell her to look around the room and see what all the other kids are doing, to see if she thinks something looks like fun. It’s all in an effort to hone in on exactly what she wants to do, even if she herself doesn’t know it yet. It is vital to expose each student to the process of coming to know what they want to do. Sometimes it’s not all that obvious. Often it comes from a meaningful dialogue about the students experience in the world. Sometimes is comes from a gentle place, a way of showing that  art is not scary and that she is capable, that we are there to show her how. This process is most important as there are three ways of being in the world. One is to be told what to do. Another is to decide for yourself and follow your ideas. The third is to do nothing at all. The studio is a place where students come to understand their relationships to all these ways of being.

As the new student considers her options and takes in her surroundings, some experienced students come bounding through the door, collecting their unfinished projects to work on, or looking for their newly colorful glaze fired clay pieces. They know that the studio is their very own creative home to make their ideas come to life. It’s not a classroom, where they would sit quietly and wait to be told what to do. It’s a place where they know to ask for help if and when they need it.

Her eyes follow their excitement, and before you know it, the room is full with people of all ages busily engaged in their work.  She sees older students working on lessons in realism like landscape paintings and portraiture. She sees little ones thoughtfully choosing their glazes for their clay puppies and dragons. She sees a teen come in a flop on the couch, opening up a book of surrealist artists or animation or impressionism apparently not in much of a hurry at all to start. She sees the teachers moving about the studio not unlike the dance of waitresses in a bustling restaurant. Getting paints, explaining glazes, settling in for drawing lessons; she sees that every teacher is happily supporting it all. Most importantly, she sees that it’s true; in the studio, you really can do what ever you want!