Monday, September 19, 2016

Big Idea Challenge Available Now!


As I promised last week, I've just made the Big Ideas Challenge available for download in the JFJ Shop. For 5 bucks you get a PDF of the challenge, a PowerPoint, a set of Big Idea cards, and a set of Inspirational cards.

So for any teachers wishing to use the challenge with their students or any artists wishing for a challenge, head over to the shop now!

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Something in the Works


One thing that I have learned about being a full time artist over the past few weeks, is that about half of my time is spent on the computer working on things that are not directly related to actually making art. I've spent a lot of time working on workshop proposals, emailing people about workshops and displaying art, and creating a variety of resources. And that's what today has been all about - the computer, but I have made a lot of headway on a new resource that I hope to have uploaded to the JFJ Online Shop by next Monday.

I've spent a good portion of the last two days translating my art challenge from July, the Big Idea Challenge, into some ready to use resources for artists, teachers, and the general public. This is going to be similar to what I did with the 15 for 30 Challenge that's in the shop now. There will be a PDF, PowerPoint, and a couple of extras available for download all for just $5.00. So look for this new resource in the shop by Monday, Sept 19!

Monday, September 12, 2016

New Painting Workshops for October and November


You've probably seen how popular the paint and wine events have become at restaurants, bars, and wineries over the last couple of years. I certainly have, and I've been contemplating how I can put my own spin on this idea because I don't want to lead a group of people to all paint the same thing.

So, I came up with Line and Wine, a two-hour painting class where we'll use an intuitive approach to create completely unique and original paintings.


Before I approach the local wineries, I thought that I'd try it out first in my studio in Purcellville, VA with small groups so that I could get some photos and feedback. So, I'm inviting you to come to my studio on one or more of four dates in October and November, to try it out.

Classes like this are typically $35 to $45 dollars for a two hour experience, but I'm offering mine for $30. That's about a 15% to 30% discount! Now, I can't legally include wine in the price of class, but refreshments, including adult beverages will be available for everyone to enjoy at no charge. Included in the price is a 16 x 20 inch canvas, access to all materials and equipment needed, and one of six spots in my studio.

That's right, I'll only have six spots available for each class. That's why I'm offering it four times, so make sure to sign up soon. The first class is just a month away!
  • Saturday, October 15, 1-3PM
  • Wednesday, October 19, 7-9PM
  • Sunday, November 13, 1-3PM
  • Tuesday, November 15, 7-9PM

Once you sign up, you'll receive an email with details and directions.

Click here to see a full description and to sign up!


Thursday, September 8, 2016

I'm on a Mission!

I have always loved making art and sharing it with people. Growing up in Washington, PA, I couldn't wait to share my latest drawings with family and friends, and I always lugged a sketchbook or drawing pad nearly everywhere that I went. That hasn't changed much over the years, but now with computers, the Internet, and social media it's easy to share not just with friends and family, but with the world.

Though I may no longer be a public school teacher, I will always be a teacher, and I will always look for ways to share my art, my techniques, my thoughts, and myself. To that end, I have rededicated myself to making videos and helping people tap into their creativity. I threw together a short video announcing my mission. Check it out below, and look for more videos to come soon.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Teaching is a Giant Hairball

Over the past few months, I’ve been asked by friends, family, and acquaintances why I walked away from teaching.

I could rant and rave about all the reasons that I stepped away from a twenty-year career as an art teacher in the public schools, but that would be just self-satisfying whining and complaining. I could simply say that it was to follow my dream of being an artist, but that’s just part of the reason. Instead of ranting and raving or giving a simple answer about following a dream, I want to show how teaching had changed during those twenty years in order to give people a little perspective into what teachers face.

Why I left a salaried position with good benefits to be a self employed artist boils down to one thing.

Teaching is a giant hairball.

If you're not a teacher, you might be scratching your head right now, thinking, “Huh?” My teacher friends probably already understand. Let me first say, that this is not my own idea. I am blatantly stealing the analogy from Gordon MacKenzie who worked for Hallmark Cards for thirty years. In his book, Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool’s Guide to Surviving with Grace, MacKenzie describes how he survived working for Hallmark as an artist by orbiting the giant hairball that was Hallmark. By staying disentangled from the bureaucratic, corporate mess he was able to survive. He describes Hallmark as a giant hairball, and how every new decision, policy, and procedure added another hair to the hairball, and over time, Hallmark grew into a massive tangle of hair because hairs were never taken away, only added.

I read that, and I thought, “Teaching is a giant hairball!” But there’s no way to orbit around it like Gordon MacKenzie did. As a teacher, you can’t stay on the fringe and not be pulled into the mess. You have to dive into that mass of tangled hairs and fight your way to clear a path to teaching. Simply put, teaching is full of rules, procedures, protocols, policies, regulations, and expectations that get in the way of teaching, and it has always been that way. But it has grown worse steadily with each passing year. It has become a bigger hairball, and that is why I left. I grew tired of fighting the massive tangle of hairs that obscured why I was there — the teaching.

Let me extend MacKenzie’s analogy a bit to illustrate this to the fullest extent that I can.



Let’s imagine that teaching is a red rubber ball. Visualize that bright, bouncy ball. In it’s purest and simplest form teaching is about the connection between the teacher and the student, and there isn’t anything that gets in the way. You see the red rubber ball clearly and there are no tangles, no hairs, no impediments. The teacher has ready access to the red rubber ball of teaching. This pure teaching is rarely the case in public school, but there are instances that come close. Tutoring an individual one-on-one or teaching a class to the general public at an art center or community center might be the closest, but it’s not the usual case in public school.

In reality there have always been rules and regulations in public schools, so that bright red ball of teaching has always had a few hairs wrapped around it. There is no way around it. There have to be policies, procedures, and expectations in a school, or there might be anarchy. There has to be some kind of bureaucracy, but ideally, it shouldn’t hinder the teaching. These hairs shouldn't take much time to deal with allowing the teacher to quickly uncover the rubber ball and dive into teaching. That would be an ideal situation in today’s world of teaching.



And that’s kind of how it was when I started teaching twenty years ago. There wasn’t much that got in the way. I had a schedule to contend with, meetings every now and then, planning to complete, grading to do, and a few phone calls to make. But those things were pretty easy to deal with, and I felt like much of my time was really dedicated to that connection between the students and myself. I was pretty much left alone, and the administration checked in occasionally to see how things were going. So, yes, teaching was a hairball, but it wasn’t daunting and overwhelming.  It wasn’t a giant tangled mess yet.

Over the years, however, more and more and more hairs have been added to the red rubber ball of teaching. It’s interesting to note that this corresponds to a rise in the use of technology, and each year many of the newly added hairs have dealt directly and indirectly with technology. But I digress. Nowadays, the tangled mess of hairs obscures the essential core that is teaching, and it takes increasingly more time and energy to deal with these issues. Remember hairs are always added, but they are never taken away. Some people might think, “So what, every job is like that. Bosses always add more things for you to do. Deal with it!”

But let me try to show the scope of things that were required, but are not necessary or even productive to teaching.

During my last few years of teaching, I had to deal with an increasing number of things that were handed down by administrators, and I had to do them. I had to untangle this mass of hairs that left little room to focus on the actual teaching, and administrators were constantly hovering and micro-managing to make certain that they were done so the appropriate boxes could be checked off on my end of the year evaluation.



Let me share a few specifics.

Each year new district-wide mandates and requirements and new school-based initiatives and expectations were announced, and each required hours and hours of professional development to learn about these new ideas and how to implement them, and planning to figure out the best way to implement them. The ideas had to be implemented, and of course, data had to be collected to support these multiple initiatives. To show that we had implemented them, we had to fill out and file reports that documented the progress and completion of the new initiatives. Each of these things added many more hairs to the massive hairball.

When I wasn’t dealing with these district-wide and school-based mandates, I had other issues to deal with, like the hundred emails that came daily. Most of them could be ignored, but a handful of the emails needed to be answered thoughtfully and diligently. Simple, quick replies wouldn’t suffice, and there was the expectation that a reply would be sent within 24 hours. I had to deal with rising discipline problems because students were stressed out from the regime of standardized tests and assessments they had to endure. Many students just couldn’t hold it together all the time, so there were referrals and reports and conversations with parents, teachers, counselors, and the principal about it all. Each of these added more and more layers to the hairball.

There were the constant disruptions in the schedule with assemblies, field trips, testing, parties, and special events. It was impossible to keep all the classes working at the same pace because of all the things that interrupted the flow of instruction and the sequences of learning. Of course, there were meetings. They might be a necessity of schools, but there were faculty meetings, and team meetings, and committee meetings that never really seemed to accomplish anything. I guess they did satisfy part of the School Improvement Plan. I can’t forget about duties, where teachers were taken out of their classrooms to cover the hallway, or to stand in a noisy cafeteria, or to stand outside in rain, sleet, snow, and heat for bus or car duty. All of these things just added more hairs to the giant hairball.

Grading was a whole other situation. It was never a simply task, but when grade books moved to the Internet so that parents and students could have access to their grades 24/7, a whole new layer of hairs were added to the red rubber ball of teaching. A simple task like entering an assignment to be graded (not the actual grading, mind you) could take an hour. That’s just for a single assignment. So, more hairs.

I list these things not to complain, but to illustrate some of the things that teachers have to deal with that have little to do with actual teaching. I know that I haven’t included everything, and there are many other things that I could add. I’m quite certain that other teachers could add things that I can’t even think of right now. I just want to make it clear that teachers have to untangled a whole lot just to get to the teaching, and it’s not like once all of this tangled mass of bureaucratic stuff is cleared, you're done with it for the year. No, a teacher has to deal with this on a daily basis. You have to go in and untangle the giant hairball each and everyday so that you can get to what’s underneath — that red rubber ball. After all, that’s why there’s school in the first place — to connect with students and teach them. The most important part of teaching is buried, and a teacher has to work hard to clear away the extraneous stuff.

It’s exhausting to struggle with that tangled mess everyday, and the only way to deal with it — to get it all untangled is to stay late, come in early, or take work home with you. There’s just not enough time in the school day to get it all done because school districts add more and more for teachers to do but never add more time, and there becomes an expectation that you will dedicate your own time to get it all done because, after all, it’s for the kids! Though the teacher’s contract gives specific times that the teacher is suppose to be at work, all the teachers I know, work well beyond the contract. The great teachers do that and more. They sacrifice time with family and friends in order to get it all done. They work hard going in on weekends and taking work home, but at the same time, there is a devaluing of the profession. Administrators and principals see that teachers will continually give of their own time, and so it becomes another expectation. But all of those extra hours of staying late and going in early and on weekends deflate the profession and the salaries of the teachers. And that’s what I couldn’t take anymore — the devaluing of my profession by the school board and the administrators by heaping on more and more every year, with the expectation that it will all just get done and, oh, there will still be outstanding teaching and learning going on in the classroom.

In the end I didn’t have the energy or the stamina to go in day after day and deal with so many things that had nothing to do with the core of teaching. I have always loved sharing my art and my passion for art. Teaching always gave me a way to do just that, but after fighting to untangle the mass of hairs day in and day out for years and years, I had no energy left for my students, for my art, for my wife, for my friends, or for myself. I was burned out, and I couldn’t take it anymore. I’d come home exhausted and worn out, and all I wanted to do was to sleep or veg out in front of the tv.

I used to love teaching, and there was nothing like seeing the look on a student’s face when they struggled and struggled with an idea or concept and then finally got it. But teaching had changed so much in the twenty years that I taught. It seems like teaching now isn’t about the connection between student and teacher, though administrators try to tell you that it is. Teaching seems to be about dealing with a tangled mess and checking off boxes to say that you’ve done it, and that’s why I don’t love teaching anymore. Teaching changed, and I just don’t love it. I’m afraid that it’s just going to get worse, and that’s very unfortunate and very disheartening.


Teaching is a giant hairball that keeps growing and growing, and I just couldn’t take untangling that mess anymore. That is why I left.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

New Spring Workshop Just Added!


I've been working hard in the studio over the past couple of weeks to make new art, but also to have some images to share for a new workshop that I'll be teaching - Luminous Liquid Layers! I am very excited to announce that I'll be teaching this workshop at 310 ART in Asheville, NC next spring.


I have fallen in love with Golden's High Flow Acrylics, and I have been using them extensively in my work over the past couple of years. They are the consistency of ink and are very versatile. I love layering them, and that led to developing this new workshop. I'm hoping to offer it at a variety of venues across the country over the next year, but for now, come to Asheville!


Here's the description for the Asheville workshop:

Luminous Liquid Layers

Grab a journal, some mixed media paper, or even a couple of canvases, and spend the weekend pushing your creativity as you delve into the world of liquid acrylics. Explore a multitude of exciting possibilities as you paint, drip, scrape, splatter, and stamp. Sure, you’ll learn the basics, but you’ll also learn to use a wide range of unconventional tools and materials to create exciting textures and luminous layers. Throw in some of your favorite images and personal ephemera to add mixed media flair to your work, or focus simply on building your painting skill. Either way, you’ll learn to open yourself to a new painting process as you build texture, embrace color, and develop rich layers. See how easy it is to develop dynamic images as you work, and walk away with vivid pages or works ready to go up on the wall.


These are two of the pieces (above and below) that I have been working on using this layering idea. I really like how they're turning out. If you want to learn about using Golden High Flow Acrylic to make dynamic, layered pieces, sign up for the Asheville Workshop here! Can't make it to NC, keep an eye out for more locations.


Monday, August 29, 2016

First Day of School?


Today was the first day of school for area students, and I must say that it felt a little odd looking at so many of my friends on Facebook posting those First Day of School snapshots of their kiddos heading off to school. It was strange when my teacher friends headed back for their first teacher workday a week and half ago. It's even stranger now, and there's no turning back.


I decided to spend the morning out on the trail, so as students were waiting for the bus, I drove ten miles west to the Appalachian Trail and headed north for my first hike of the year. I haven't been hiking since last fall.


It was a bit muggy, and I didn't go far. But it was nice to be out on the trail. I just love being out in the woods, but it was often difficult with teaching to find the time to go out and enjoy nature. I'm hoping to make hiking at least a weekly endeavor now that I have begun a new path in life.


It hasn't been all fun and hiking. I have been busy in the studio and on the computer. I'm finding that being a full time artist is about half-time in the studio, and half-time trying to set up and coordinate things. So, I've been doing a lot of emailing, researching, and other general things on the computer, but I have some things in the works. I'll be sharing some of those things a little later.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

New Monsters


I recently finished these four little guys, and I think that I am finally figuring out a baking procedure that is reducing the cracking.


They are all looking for nice comfortable homes, so please check out the shop to take a closer look.


You know you want one for yourself!


Wednesday, August 17, 2016

First Day


Today is a strange day for me. A day full of excitement and a little trepidation.


You see, today would have been my first day back to school if I were still teaching. It’s the first time in twenty years that I am not reporting to my first teacher workday, and as all of my former colleagues are reporting for their first day of meetings, setting up classrooms, and catching up after the summer break, I’m sitting here drinking coffee thinking about what I need to do in the studio today. It’s oddly freeing, and little terrifying at the same time. I am on my own now. I am a full-time, self-employed artist. It’s official.


I know it was official when I put in my resignation back in May. I know it was official when I got the letter from the school district confirming my “voluntary separation”. I know it was official when I cleaned out my classroom and packed up my boxes in June, but the last two months have felt like any other summer break that I have had over my 20 year career as an art educator. With all of my local teacher friends heading back to school today, it’s officially official. I am no longer a teacher.


Back in June everyone kept asking if leaving the teaching profession had started to sink in, but even with the last day of school and bringing home boxes of stuff, walking away from a teaching career was somehow still a vagueness. I knew intellectually that I had resigned and that I would not be returning for a 21st year, but all of it still felt like it was somewhere off in the future. The summer was just the summer after another year of teaching, so my last day of school didn’t feel like it was my last day.


Today, however, feels like the first day of a new life, a new journey. I now feel fully the freedom, the possibility, and the uncertainty of chasing my dream. I am looking forward to the adventure.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Customized Phone Case


My wife recently bought a new phone, and wanted a special case for it. She decided that she wanted to use one of my pieces of art, and she picked one of my more recent paintings, Meditate. Using the website Casetify, we were able to import a jpeg of the painting to use for a custom case. She received it today, and I must say, it looks pretty sweet. See the original painting below.