Kina Forney is an artist living in Ottawa, Canada. This is her third installment in a 4-part series as Artist Strong’s Artist in Residence. You see the art she creates on Instagram @kinaink. Visit her website and subscribe to Studio Updates at www.kina-ink.com
On Learning to Teach
One of my first memories of summer camp was being led up to the arts and crafts cabin and seeing the rows upon rows of supplies, drying projects, and popsicle sticks. It gave me such a ridiculous amount of excitement. The possibility! Are those paintable flower pots? GLITTER?! I have died and gone to heaven.
Fast forward ten years, I was 17 and volunteering at a different summer camp, and I was asked which activity I wanted to lead. Obviously, I chose arts and crafts.
I very much didn’t have any teaching experience. I was counting on my SHEER ENTHUSIASM to guide me. Me being me, I spent months at home prior to camp creating documentation for how to fold origami frogs, how to make papier-mâché piñatas, and drawing up colouring pages and creating stapled booklets at my local staples. I made sample crafts in my kitchen and/or front yard. I spent large amounts of time collecting newspapers and jars from my family, friends, and neighbours.
I was going to be the best darn arts and crafts activity leader OF ALL TIME.
In reality, most of this prep didn’t matter. The camp just needed to fill in all the activity spots, and were just looking for someone to ensure that the kids didn’t glue their fingers to the picnic tables. But I have realized one thing about myself is that I think I am maybe a little competitive.
If I was going to do something, I had to be the absolute best at it. Not the best that I could be, but the absolute best they have ever seen. Or else don’t do it because you’ll just embarrass yourself and no one will ever want you back ever again. So as soon as I could, I checked out the facility, saw what past craft leaders have done, and checked out what supplies they had. I did everything humanly possible to make everything 110% better. Or else.
Now this approach is fine if you have unlimited amounts of time, energy, money and motivation. Which maybe is possible as an 18 year old freshly graduated with no job and too much time on their hands on their potentially last summer vacation ever before real life starts.
Camp happened, the kids had a blast and so did I. We made all the things, we made other things that weren’t in my outline, and we got to play. I was immediately the best arts and crafts teacher anyone had ever had in their entire lives. Or so they told me. But that’s all I really needed to know.
Fast forward to the pandemic, I was asked to teach a portrait painting class online for a reputable college. I can paint, I can sorta teach, I’ve done a few paint-alongs, I’m so perfect for this! One problem, I actually don’t paint portraits. But I can sorta draw people? It’ll be fine! I got this!
I accepted the job before I could even look back to the times I attempted painting a human face. They were not successes. I mean they weren’t terrible, but I could hardly call myself a teacher.
I panicked, naturally. I tried to over prepare. I went into extreme research mode like I did back in the summer camp days. I got help from fellow artists for tutorials on how to draw faces, I watched endless tutorials, I drew more and more faces. I started writing extensive, lengthy outlines and instructions. I got wrapped up in making sure it was the perfect lesson. I lost sleep. I was cranky. It needed to be PERFECT. This wasn’t a non-paid volunteer summer camp job, these were real paying students with expectations.
I went into the class clinging to my detailed outline. I am mildly terrified, but I am open and honest to the students that I am an experienced painter, but new to the portrait biz and that we will be learning this together. They don’t really have a choice and are along for the ride. I stuck to my outline like a lifeline. However, the more I felt the “room” (online), the more I got an inkling of what the students actually wanted to do, and where they wanted to go with their work.
I had stressed so much trying to make the perfect outline, only to (nearly) throw it out the window and jump into exploring other ways of doing things with my students. We learned on the spot, we tried different things, we made mistakes, and we had fun. When we inevitably encountered something I didn’t know, we looked up videos. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel; someone out there has done this before. All of a sudden I didn’t need to be the expert on everything, I just needed to know how to listen to what my students needed and lead them to finding the answers, and then we both ended up learning something new. All of a sudden, the class was infinitely more fun and intuitive for me to teach (and a whole lot less stressful!)
Being a teacher is not about being an expert in the subject matter, it’s about imparting the wisdom and experience that you have learned through your own practice to others. No one will ever be the absolute expert on any subject matter. If you are passionate about sharing your knowledge and experience to benefit someone else, you are a teacher.
Follow your instincts, you know more than you think. You’ve already done the work. Feel the room, what do they actually want to learn? Share your knowledge in a way that helps others grow in their own practice. This isn’t about you being the best, it’s about leading others to find their way on their journey by sharing yours.
Every month, 1-3 artists show up in our Artist Strong community to share their artistic process, journey, explorations with us over the course of a month.
The goal is to normalize the MANY, VARIED experiences of being an artist.
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