Last month in February was the one year anniversary of the opening of my studio! It has been an incredible journey and I am deeply appreciative of my family, friends and students who have supported my passion for art and teaching art. I was recently asked to write a blog post for Ann Kullberg‘s website about my experience of teaching colored pencil art and opening my own studio, and it was just published yesterday. Below is the copy of the article originally published in her blog.
Living my Dream – How I became a Colored Pencil Art Teacher
by Noriko DeWitt
“You’d be a great art teacher!” That’s what my husband used to tell me when we first got together. I laughed, thinking he was joking, since I had no art degree or professional art experience. Little did I know that prediction would come true years later. I found my calling teaching colored pencil art. Here’s how it all began.
My studio during the McKinney Art Studio Tour in 2017.
In late 2014, I was looking for a part-time job. After getting back to art seriously in 2013 I naturally looked for something art-related like teaching children’s arts and crafts classes at a local art supply store but hesitated since I had no experience. I sought advice from a local artist I knew at a frame store and she recommended I call Sona Knox, the owner of McKinney Art House. I called her, arranged a meeting and shared my idea of teaching a colored pencil class. She gave me two class times and lots of advice on getting started. Just like that, without seeing my resume or portfolio, Sona took a chance on welcoming me as a teacher at the Art House. I was elated, stunned, and in disbelief. I took a leap of faith and gave it a shot.
Getting students was much harder than I thought. I posted online ads in local websites, printed flyers and posted them at community centers and coffee shops. January 2015 was the class start date but nobody had signed up as of mid-December. I was starting to doubt myself, questioning maybe colored pencil was too narrow a niche. Luckily, after the holidays I received several inquiries and started with 4 students in each class.
Saturday Morning class at my studio.
So here I was, teaching colored pencil classes. The only “teaching” experience I had was being active in online art forums posting my step-by-step process, giving advice and critiquing peers. I quickly realized how different it is to teach a class. After a while, I learned to identify each student’s learning style, skill level, and then provide practical solutions to improve their project. From the very beginning, I ensured that the students’ work is always 100% theirs. I gave a lot of hands-on demonstrations and never “fixed” their work for them.
As I taught more, I also saw vast improvements in my own art skills. Students brought projects in every subject matter and style, many of which I had never done. To create a clear view of the demonstration for students in class, I often drew upside-down and sideways which considerably sharpened my freehand drawing skills. Helping students with a smaller colored pencil set taught me to be more creative with blending and layering colors.
The classes grew slowly but steadily through word of mouth and websites. In a year and a half, four more classes were added on top of the original two. By the fall of 2016, virtually all the classes were full and with new students on waiting lists! I was grateful, but frustrated knowing there was no way to serve those on the waiting list. I was determined to find another teaching facility and add more class times when my husband advised me that it’s time to have my own studio. My first reaction was “No way, I can never afford a monthly rent.” To which he responded “It depends on how much the rent is. You just need to see and do the math.”, and walked me through the numbers to prove that opening my studio wouldn’t negatively impact the art business.
Students from Saturday Afternoon class at McKinney Art House.
Following that conversation, I combed through the commercial real estate listings every day, walked downtown areas searching “For Lease” signs and drove to surrounding cities scouting the ideal location. Late in the fall of 2016, I found a building in downtown McKinney, TX that had second and third floor office suites available. We stepped inside the building and accidentally ran into the building manager who graciously gave us a tour of all available suites. I fell in love with the 3rd floor corner unit with built-in shelves and lots of windows. It was airy and bright – an ideal space for working with colored pencil art. After the building remodel was done, I signed the lease and opened the studio in February 2017.
This February marks the first anniversary of the studio opening. Since I started teaching in 2015, I taught nearly 250 students from age 7 to 70+. I am humbled and deeply appreciative of each student who chose me to guide them on their journey in art. My goal as a teacher is always that at the end of a class, he or she has learned something new and left the class a better artist; just as they have been teaching me to be a better artist, teacher, and person every day.
(This blog was originally published on 3/8/2018)