Our last workshop of the semester (unbeknownst to us) was perhaps my favorite of them all. I got the chance to work with the same kids as I did during the two previous sessions, and we have begun to get to know each other a bit better and get more comfortable with one another. During this Zentangle workshop, I was aided by Dr. Galbraith, which caused me a bit of nervousness due to her position as grader for this class, but also ease due to her experience with working in this environment much more than I have. We began with a PowerPoint, and at the end we asked if anyone did not know what to do. One student raised his hand and said, “I don’t understand.” (First of all, I was grateful he felt comfortable enough to admit that to us, as communication is the first step to teamwork!) In my experience with the paper airplanes, the step-by-step instructions did little to help the students unless they were also shown how to get to that end result shown in the photo. With this in mind, I thought it might be useful to make one with their help and input while they watched, so that they could fully grasp what they were being asked to do. The ever-gracious Ms. Hill prepared and offered me the projector, and I went through each step, asking for the student’s ideas regarding lines, shapes, and doodles. By the end, they said they understood what to do, and we could begin.
The most memorable lesson from this workshop was one born of frustration. One of the students, whose name is on the tip of my tongue but refuses to reveal itself, found the entire concept of a Zentangle rather infuriating, as he claimed all his other classmates (and I) could enjoy it because they did not care about perfection in their work. I said that that was right, and it did not have to be perfect. “Yes, it does have to be perfect, because I’m perfect!” he said adamantly. I thought this was preposterous and tried to instead focus on what he had already done, praising his lines or color use or choice of doodles. But halfway through the students’ semi-independent work time, he had only filled in two of his ten sections and remained visibly perturbed by the entire experience.
At this point I had kind of given up on him completing the workshop and instead tried to be satisfied that he had started at all, and I began helping others at his table and talking to them about what good artists they were through specific examples of what I thought was unique and creative about each particular piece. Then from one of the students came the question, “Are you an artist?”
“Yes, actually I am!” I responded
“Do you make money off your art?” another piped in.
“Sometimes,” I chuckled at the immediate concern with profiting from hobbies and/or artistic endeavors.
“What kind of art do you make?” Now the whole table was involved in the conversation.
“I make abstract paintings,” then proceeding to explain what abstract meant, as other students helped me in doing so. I was impressed by their willingness and apparent pleasure in helping their classmate who did not know the meaning of abstract, but I felt as though it now sounded as though I was some incredible, unrealistically talented painter. And as a former child who believed “artist” to be an entirely unattainable title for myself, I wanted to show that art is really just what you love to make and share with others. So I made a split-second decision to possibly get in trouble for having my phone out and looked around at this table’s now very attentive students.
“Do you want to see?” I asked them. And a chime of yeses met my question as soon as it came from my lips. In high school, one art teacher of mine had shown me through her work and in helping me with mine that being an artist was very real and possible, not just for prodigies or those who could focus on drawing the eye of a hyper-realistic frog exactly accurately. I was thrilled by the Matthews students’ animated response and jumped at the chance to share the message of my dear former art teacher. I quickly crossed the classroom, took my phone from my jacket, and pulled up my portfolio online. The students at this particular table were now out of their seats and surrounding me to get a look, and a flurry of comments and questions arose.
“Wow! When do you make them?”
“In my free time.”
“How much do you make for these?”
“It actually depends on the size and materials!”
At this point the student who had been frustrating me asked, “Which one did you make the most money from?” So I tapped the photo of a large commission piece I did last spring, and the student piped up again.
“But that looks weird!” he was ever-adamant but now confused.
“You’re right! But that’s the great thing about abstract art! It doesn’t have to look “right” or any certain way, just how you want it to.” I was unsure if they were still paying attention, and it had come time to migrate to adjoining tables, but I was met with surprise at one of those other tables when that same student walked up to me just a few minutes later (I am not stern about them staying in their seats if they want to ask me a question, because I often spend significant time at each table and do not always see their raised hands if my back is turned.).
“Look!” he said as I turned his way once I was finished with the student I was helping. I look in his hands to see he had completed his Zentangle! Some boxes were filled with doodles but three, I noticed, were very abstract. I noted the angle of his marks in one of the boxes, and he proceeded to tell me about why he chose the style and color of each one.
“I made it abstract!” I could still hear the strong will in his voice, for that had not changed. But his flexibility and open-mindedness had, and I was absolutely thrilled.
Caption: The student who challenged me in this workshop and made it such a memorable one.
Thanks for reading!