One of Steph Chacon’s beautiful paintings

With enrollment for the upcoming Fall semester closing this week, I wanted to take this opportunity(thanks Dan!) to share some of the work created during my recent 14 week SmartSchool workshop.

There’s something special that happens when one artist meets another and is able to pass along something useful or meaningful. Wether it’s a technique, process, or way of thinking, this kind of sharing is as much a part of being a living artist as anything else we do in the studio.  As a teacher, I like to try and present a few simple projects that I’ve found helpful to solve in the past, but really the exciting part begins when students start to share their own voice and talk about the challenges they face in the studio.

Although everyone is of course different, I think we as artists often struggle with similar issues: Confidence, the need for tools and skills to solve our visual problems, a way to separate what we like from what we like to actually do, giving ourselves permission to fail and try new things, finding a way to work that is meaningful, etc. These are cyclic problems that never really go away in my experience.


Some of Zach Knapp’s media exploration for a conceptual portrait assignment

For me, media experimentation, iteration and drawing are the most important tools when it comes to making conceptually powerful images. When we turn our thinking brains off and allow our hands and eyes to create things for us to react to, we’re able to more easily step outside of our repeated patterns and habits; we’re able to surprise ourselves.


Stasia Burrington’s media exploration sketches

Wylie Beckert’s marbling experiments

One of Sun’s sketches exploring Procreate and digital drawing

Studies by Stasia Burringtone for her Book Cover assignment

It’s really rewarding to learn about what people are making and pursuing, and have a chance to provide some thoughts and insights into ongoing projects. My students never fail to impress me with the scope and complexity of their personal work.

Painting by D.C. McNaughton, featuring a character from a self authored story

One of the conceptual paintings made by by Priscilla Kim this spring

Luis Menacho’s beautiful drawing created for our first assignment, The Conceptual Portrait

One of many mermaids Bronwyn Schuster created alongside her class assignments

Zach Knapp created a whole series of conceptually rich alternate movie posters, as a doorway into exploring the relationship between type and image

We also spent time this spring talking about being a professional artist and what it’s like working with clients. I would actually describe many of the students in this Spring’s class as professional working artists. Everyone was so generous with their thoughts and time, and I think as a group we had some really interesting discussions about making a living as a working artist. Our final assignment was a book cover project and I was really fortunate to be able to convince Christine Foltzer from to come into our final class as a guest.

Book cover illustration and design by Bronwyn Schuster

I’ve spent the last few years of my career working mainly in books. This final project was a fun opportunity to share some professional insights into how that process works. Book covers present some interesting and unique challenges, and it was really rewarding to explore how someone’s voice could best be suited to solving such a specific type of problem.

Wylie Beckert’s cover for Piranesi (I learned more from Wylie than she did from me, in all likelihood)

A stunning and truly surprising book cover by Avery Liell-Kok

Sun’s cover to Ruth Ware’s Turn of the Key

Alice In Wonderland by Stasia Burrington (just… wow)

By Bronwyn Schuster

What a treat to spend my Friday afternoons with all these wonderful people. If anyone is interested in taking this workshop, enrollment is open until Tuesday. You can find out more information on the SmartSchool website.

I’ve posted a little more work below, if you can believe it this is a pretty small, curated selection of everything that was created this spring. Thank you again to everyone who took a chance with me this year <3

Some more media exploration by Wylie Beckert

Paintings by D.C. McNaughton

Avery Liell-Kok

Also by Avery Liell-Kok (!!)

Zach Knapp

Steph Chacon

Stasia Burrington


Priscilla Kim

Ambi Sun