The Amazing Ashley Bryan

"I grew up during the Great Depression years, but I was always drawing. Why? Because there was the free Works Progress Administration (WPA) founded during the Depression by the government to employ artists and musicians in communities throughout the country. And my parents sent their six children, and the three cousins my parents raised after my aunt died, to these free classes in music and art. We all learned to play instruments. We were all drawing and painting. These things had nothing to do with what we would become in life. It had everything to do with being human."

"When I was about 12 or 13 years old, the church leaders at St. John’s said to me, “Ashley you have a talent. You must therefore share it. We will give you the room and the materials and you will have classes in drawing and painting for the people of the community, the children and all.” And that is how my love for teaching started. I found right off that I loved sharing what I enjoyed doing in the arts with others, so I knew that teaching would be an area that I would always be involved in.

When I was to be employed later, it was in the teaching of art that was a natural fit to me because it was the area in which I had the most to give. And it was that training from the church—you have a gift, you must share it with others—that I learned you don’t hold onto what you have.

I believe the excitement that a teacher feels is what the student is tapping into. If the students feel the teacher is excited about what he or she is sharing, and is not just in it because he or she is being paid to teach the course, they often tap into it. They may not become sociologists or dancers or singers, but they will have felt inspired by the excitement of what the teacher is sharing."

"I don’t think artists know what retirement means, really. I always have a sketch book in hand. It doesn’t matter where I am or what it is, that sketch book will always be active whether I am on what you would call vacation or whatever. I don’t think of retirement. You must wake up as a child. You must wake up with the feeling of curiosity and adventure that [a] child faces when awaking."


For the full, inspiring interview and many more photos of Ashley and his work, click here.

Color Studies and Hack-schooling

I just finished up another great run of "Developing An Eye For Color" classes with 7th graders at the Camden Rockport Middle School. I had an awesome group of 11 students and wanted to share some of their work with you. 

• The first two photos show one student's illusion of "two become one," where differently colored foreground squares are strategically placed on backgrounds so they appear to be the same; when the flap is lifted and you see the foreground colors side-by-side their difference is revealed.

• Next, two examples of woven compositions that display the extremes of vibrating edges and vanishing edges between colors. Can you see all four colors in each design?

• Everyone in class learned how to create the illusion of color mixture. Opaque paper can be made to appear transparent when color strips are chosen carefully!

• To cap off our class students were challenged to use what they learned about optical mixture, color edges, and context by picking a favorite painting and reproducing it using color paper collage only -- a paint-with-paper challenge! Van Gogh was the most popular artist to study.

In my email to the class last week I shared some thoughts and links that I I want to post here as well. I'm very passionate about offering my workshop in the public school system when I can because it offers an opportunity for "hack-schooling," or learning that goes beyond rubrics, homework, and standardized testing. It is my great hope that "Developing An Eye For Color" exists to serve the creative health, happiness, and curiosity of these seventh graders -- indeed, of every participant in any class i lead, no matter their age. As an adult, I myself realize how much I need such creative service and and challenge.

The email to my students:

Hey crew,

First up, take a look at this awesome image emailed to me by our wonderful Robyn. Do you see what the color spots are made out of???! So cool.

Okay, next, take a look at how an artist combines his painting with his love of getting out on water via surf and paddle board. Guess what? He didn’t learn how to draw people until he was 21 — and now look at what he can do! Learning can happen fast if you’re psyched and interested:

Speaking of learning, there are so many ways to do it; it doesn’t happen in the same way for all people. In this 10 minute talk a 13 year old shares his story of hack-schooling. Sure, you might not have the choice to be homeschooled and design your own ideal learning opportunities — I didn’t either and I turned out just fine, so that’s not the point. The point is that there are ways to hack the schooling that you are getting right now at the Camden Rockport Middle School in order to increase your enjoyment and enthusiasm. No really, I swear there are! Start imagining how you can stay happy and healthy as you go through school; brainstorm with your family or with your friends how to do things just a little differently. Ever think about getting an internship at a cutting edge ski factory like this kid did? What about setting up a mentorship with a local artist or musician so you can go to their studio and see how they work? (You can get credits for this in high school!) Or how about starting a Friday Fiesta night where you go to a friend’s house and cook a Mexican meal with their family, and for a whole hour you speak nothing but Spanish? I mean, who really thinks you’ll learn anything from your Spanish class if you don’t actually use what you learn outside class? Anyway, here’s the talk — it’s been viewed by over 8 million people:

Ken Robinson is a pretty cool guy who’s said things like, “Creativity is as important as literacy,” and, "If you’re afraid to be wrong, you’ll never be creative.” He gave a TED talk like the kid in the link above. His talk has been viewed by 33 million people! Here’s a shorter version that’s illustrated in a really amazing way. Have you ever seen anything like it? Some people learn better when information is presented visually like this. Ken Robinson understands that not everyone learns the same. He says don’t forget that you’re not just a brain, but that you’re a body that learns through your ears and your eyes and your hands — and if you participate in a Friday Fiesta, your mouth and tastebuds!

School can be a real drag if you don’t shoulder some of the responsibility to figure out how to make it work for you. Yeah, I know you’re only in middle school…but you made the choice to take my class on your own, didn’t you? That’s taking responsibility. Do more of it! Whether you loved our class or not, just by taking it you had the opportunity to find out -- and you can use what you found out about how you learn or how you don't as tools for your future education hacking. 

— Did you like adding extra art to your schedule? 

— Did you enjoy learning through experiment, like the trial and error challenges we did? Or would you rather learn in a more technical way, like through step by step instructions on how to draw a face? 

— Did you like precision creativity with rulers and exacto knives or would you rather get totally messy with paint? Or both?! You can have both, you know. 

— Did you like studying a subject with infinite possibilities, or would you rather study a subject where you search for a single solution? 

— Did you like the times we talked about our color experiments as a group, or did you enjoy working on your own more? Everyone has a different group-time to individual-time balance. 

Start to figure out what you enjoy and how you like to learn. You won’t always be able to have it your way, but you will be able to keep yourself more happy, more healthy, and more creative if you know how you learn best. Remember when I told you in our last class that you were more genuinely creative than most adults I work with. It’s true! 

Finally, if you want to know what I think about you, what I hope for you, why I think it’s important that you learn to take responsibility for your own education, and what I think you really need to hear, read this. I bet most your teachers would agree they feel the same.

I miss seeing you guys already,