Art Start Northwest workshop teaches teachers to paint

Mary Olsen demonstrates watercolor techniques and color theory during an art workshop for elementary school teachers at Graphite Art Center on Friday, Oct. 13.

About 42 Edmonds School District teachers tapped into their creative sides during an immersive art workshop at Graphite Art Center last Friday and Saturday.

Armed with paint brushes and curiosity, they experimented with watercolor and oil pastels, finding novel ideas to teach art to their students.

Started by Art Start Northwest, a nonprofit that focuses on making art accessible to art programs in the Puget Sound region, these workshops help teachers learn to use the art supplies and create their art lessons that are appropriate for each grade level.

“I’m very impressed. I was nervous coming in because I don’t love to teach art. It stresses me out,” said Sarah Hsu, who teaches at Lynndale Elementary. “But these are very accessible projects, and I love being able to use real art materials, not like the Crayola stuff we have in our building.”

In each workshop, artists Missy Hancock, Amy Pleasant, Lisa Palmatier and Art Start Northwest founder Mary Olsen covered watercolor and oil pastel techniques, color theory, design principles and curriculum ideas. The teachers also earned two clock hours, which are continuing education credits required to maintain their teaching certification.

“We want to give teachers incentives to do this, so I applied for Art Start Northwest to be given the ability to give clock hours,” said Hancock, who is the owner of Rooted Designs and Art Start Northwest’s education manager.

Once the nonprofit was granted clock hours, Hancock examined the data on Title I elementary schools in the Edmonds School District, where students tend to have large achievement gaps and are from low-income families. She selected five schools to participate in the program:

• Cedar Valley Elementary

• Chase Lake Elementary

• College Place Elementary

• Lynndale Elementary

• Spruce Elementary

Chauntae Kukowski practices her drawing techniques.

Hancock called the schools, introduced herself and scheduled half-hour phone calls with one designated art teacher in the building. After finding out what each school’s needs were, she involved Pleasant and Palmatier in creating the first workshops.

Art Start Northwest was created nearly 10 years ago when Olsen was frustrated that there wasn’t much art programming in public schools. She wanted to create art cabinets with donated art supplies so schools can have access to high-quality art materials. It would be similar to checking out books from a library.

Olsen also wants Edmonds’ Graphite to be a hub for people to create art and meet professional artists like Andy Eccleshall, Julie Perrine and Dana Teruya Len.

“We want to teach the teachers how to use the art supplies,” Hancock said. “We’re not just dumping art supplies to them; we’re teaching them how to use the supplies.”

Next week, all the supplies will be organized so that they will be ready to be delivered to all five schools in early November. Hancock plans to revisit all the schools next spring to see how the art program, teachers and students are doing.

Chauntae Kukowski, who teaches at Chase Lake Elementary, said she felt “rejuvenated” after the workshop and was eager to share what she learned to her students.

“Often with teaching workshops, you’re given information, and it doesn’t always correlate to the classroom,” she said. “I can actually take these art projects and techniques into my classroom in the upcoming days without much extra work — aside from procuring supplies.”

Elementary school teachers from Edmonds and Lynnwood experiment with watercolor and oil pastel techniques at Graphite Art Center on Friday, Oct. 13.

Kukowski, Hsu and other teachers learned to use simple materials like salt and rubbing alcohol with the watercolor palettes to create a painting of waves and a sunset, which was influenced by artist Andrea Nelson on Instagram.

Kukowski said that she tends to teach a lot of art in her classroom in a structured manner, but she plans to make the classes more “open-ended” so that her students can have more freedom to create without feeling pressured to make a masterpiece.

“I am really excited about the daily sketchbook practice,” Hsu said, referring to Pleasant’s lesson on teaching the art process to students rather than emphasizing the final art product. “I think that’ll be a good way to incorporate some kind of daily slowdown, reflection time. So I’m excited to figure out how to make that work with the sketchbook.”

Kukowski also shared similar sentiments. “I’m really excited to do a watercolor technique, breaking up students [into groups] and giving them one or two techniques to play around with,” she said. “Just get creative and see what happens. A lot of students told me that they’re not good at art. So I’m excited to give them an open-ended art prompt and just let them create.”

— Story and photos Nick Ng

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