An artist shaped by teachers

An artist shaped by teachers

I think we as a society have finally started acknowledging the great worth of our teachers. I firmly believe that teaching is a calling. After all, our teachers shape the minds and characters of the future!

I was lucky enough to have sensational teachers all throughout my school career. Some had a major impact on me - both good and bad. However, the good stands out. My art teachers were especially phenomenal, and I will be forever be indebted to them. Even though I didn't for a moment dream about becoming a professional artist when I was a child, the skills taught, confidence instilled and creativity explored was gifted to me by these teachers.

I created this artwork in about 1996. I was nine years old. And the story behind it is proof that my art teacher was a woman of the highest calibre.

childhood elephant painting

The entire class was painting elephants using ink and watercolour. I can’t remember very well, but it was for some kind of kiddies exhibition. So there was a set deadline by which we all had to finish our artworks so that they could be mounted in time for the big event.

As a slow painter (I still am!), I was a bit behind on this project. My teacher allowed me to keep working during recess to try to catch up. She had been so supportive of my work - very complimentary and clearly excited!

So — it’s break time, and I’m working away in the art class. Suddenly, I hear a group of rambunctious students approaching from the hallway. I thought it was some older kids, about to storm into the class and ridicule me (or something!). There was really no rhyme or reason for why my mind went there… But it did, and I was really scared and embarrassed. I rushed to gather my things. In the process, I sent a bottle of ink flying, splashing unforgiving black streaks and splotches all over my elephants…

I was devastated.

My teacher was clearly disappointed too, and probably even pretty peeved. But instead of berating me for being careless, she set her own frustrations aside and came up with a brilliant plan: I would simply add another bathing elephant in the water (all the way to the right), wildly squirting water over its back, and the worst of the ink splotches (above the new ellie, over the orange elephant) were to be masked by collage rocks and plants.

And so the day was saved by a teacher that valued compassion and creative problem solving above perfection. Her kind and level-headed reaction to my mistake only fuelled my love for art, instead of stomping out the flame.

I went on to select art as a subject in high school, where I was fortunate to have yet another fabulous teacher. She encouraged my quirky choices of subject matter and taught me skills that are still proving to be invaluable today.

At university, I had Illustration as a subject. It did me no good… I must just say that it had nothing to do with my lecturer, though. Since my other subjects (Graphic Design in particular) was so time-intensive, I neglected Illustration terribly. I never did well and hardly developed my skills. Worst still, my love for art took a beating…

In fact, after completing my degree, it was a good four years before I finally had the inclination to pick up a paint brush again! When I did, I was transported back in time to my childhood classrooms - under the guidance of those amazing teachers - where my creativity and passion for art first took flight. I now know that I have my childhood teachers to thank for my current career path, as well as the intense, childlike joy that I feel when I create.

If you’re a teacher: Thank you. Thank you for your kindness, compassion, patience and strength. Thank you for the gifts that you bestow upon your young charges. They might not realise or fully appreciate the value in the moment, but I guarantee that the impact will be felt years from now.

And if you are either of the two teachers that I mentioned above - thank you for helping me realise a dream that I didn’t even know I had. Every artwork that I create can be attributed to the safe and happy space that you created for me all those years ago.


PS. My elephants still hang in my mom's bathroom! The tag on the left is pasted to the back of the artwork. My name, nine years and the title, "Elephants".

childhood elephant painting

PSS. This was not the last time I almost destroyed a painting. Much more recently, I had a nasty fall and almost ruined a near-completed photo-realistic piece of a lion family. Read all about it here.

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