I was a part-time college instructor for approximately five years (Post #17 Teaching and Learning). I taught photo-realistic illustration and general illustration courses.
During the time that I was an illustration instructor, I became quite busy with my freelance career. It seemed like a logical idea to employ some of my students to help me when I became “overloaded.” I had worked briefly for another illustrator, so I understood the value in helping to mentor my students while at the same time benefiting from reducing any work that could be delegated.
I developed some wonderful relationships with students I connected with while I was a teacher from 1983-1988. I had a few students that worked closely with me on some very complicated assignments. To this day, I am still in touch with two, former students.
I wrote early on that my abilities were largely related to rendering; I enjoyed matching textures and colors. I never enjoyed drawing freely, and I relied on meticulous tracings to begin my paintings.
Therefore, I was captivated by the drawings of one student of mine in particular. Her name was Laura, and I have not been in touch with her for many years. She was extremely talented and aspired to be a children’s book illustrator. I hope she succeeded.
Before taking my illustration class, she had not painted with watercolor before. Her attention to detail was outstanding, as I share three of our class assignments. From starting with painting of a banana in watercolor, to a billboard of feet, she progressed to painting a “Norman Rockwell” style man on a swing. Painting human faces in watercolor was something I was not adept at, so I especially appreciated her talent!
Laura’s drawing ability was absolutely fantastic. I would complete my final illustrations once her sketches were approved and it made my job very easy.
The following sketches below were from a book about Santa Fe “Hatch” Chilies. I shared the final illustration on my post about book covers I’ve illustrated. Because I had too many jobs at once, I asked Laura to help me extensively on this assignment. She needed to begin by giving the editor some concepts” for this book cover. Wow, did she ever come up with some great ideas! I thought her sketches were simply wonderful. (The fourth one was a book of chilli “matchsticks,” which seemed quite clever).
A most interesting assignment that I fondly recall was an FSI (Full-Service Insert) ad for Keebler Cookies. An illustration for an FSI would be seen in the insert of the newspaper, typically on Sunday, where there are lots of coupons.
There were several, odd illustrations involved in this assignment. The main illustration involved recreating the “Keebler” tree where the cookie gnomes lived. There was a carved, wooden sign that hung from a branch. I requested from the art director that I be given any reference that might be available.
I was sent some color photocopies of images from a Keebler commercial, and they were somewhat useful. However, it went further than that. I was told that the actual Keebler tree existed and it wasn’t too far away from where I lived in Los Angeles.
There was a sound stage in North Hollywood, and if I went there I would be able to photograph it. I arrived at this location and was pointed into a dark and dusty warehouse. I had to climb over all kinds of props, but finally found the Keebler tree. It was made out of concrete, and it didn’t have any leaves on it at all.
However, I was able to take a picture, and it was still helpful for me. Of course, I sought out other reference to give me ideas on how to render the bark and branches.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have any good transparencies to scan in order to share my final art. Below is a color photocopy which shows my painting in progress. I never received any tearsheets for this assignment either. I’m certain I pestered the agency to get them, but occasionally I was still unable to see a copy of my printed work.
The other supplemental illustrations on this assignment were quite strange. I created a “photo-comp” to help me illustrate a cookie cut-away, and didn’t need any pencil sketches for that.
Laura helped with the other preliminary sketches on this assignment. There were two illustrations of a cut-away log that were required. One was a slice from a log with rings and the other was a log that was hollowed out. Laura’s pencil sketches on tracing paper were quite amazing for me.
I named this post “Drawing Lessons from my students” for a reason.
First off, it was about my amazement at my talented student who had incredible drawing abilities.
I went into my art teaching box in my closet to see if there was any correspondence from Laura that I could share. I didn’t find anything. However, I found some other cards which have prompted me to write further.
Currently, I have been very open. It has been easy to share so many things that I’ve learned. I have shared technical information, anecdotes, and even prices I’ve received on assignments. It wasn’t always that way for me.
However, there was another lesson that I learned and want to mention.
It is very difficult for me to write about this.
Looking back, I’m not proud of a few times where I’ve been less than helpful. I am sad when I think about the mentor I used to work for when I began my illustration career; she was very supportive of me. One day, she asked me if my rep in San Francisco could take her on. I told her that we might be competing for jobs; I didn’t think it would be a very good idea.
I should have thought through what I had said. She was quite upset. Looking back I realize she was right. Our styles were different enough so that even if she illustrated food it wouldn’t look like my style. After that, we no longer stayed in touch.
Now I am also ashamed to admit that there was a time in my career when I felt my niche might be threatened by some of my students. I felt I had created “food artist” clones!
Below is a letter from another one of my talented students. I was very supportive of him, initially. One day, I also shared with him that it seemed to me that we were now in competition for jobs. I regretted saying that immediately, and years later I have felt very sad about this.
However, I spoke with him not too long ago. He succeeded as an illustrator and I’m quite happy for him.
EMAIL CORRESPONDENCE – MARCH OF 2007
I don’t think that you remember me. I was one of your art students when you were teaching in Cal State University, L.A. almost 20 years ago.
I just want to say “Hi” to you, and would like to thank you for all your teaching and advice. You introduced me to watercolor dyes. I really love that technique. However, I didn’t continue my drawing after I had two kids. I would like to pick it up again soon!
It is very nice to see you and your work on the website. I always remember you and your kind gestures! Hope everything is fine with you!
Take Care, Amy
When I saw your name, I did remember you! Thank you so much for thinking of me, and taking the time to write your message. It’s hard to believe it has been twenty years already!
I’m glad you enjoyed learning the painting technique – I remember you did very well with it. I spend most of time on the computer lately, scanning and enhancing my paintings. I can’t believe I was able to paint such tiny details. I’ve enjoyed my career, and a lot has changed with the digital age. I feel fortunate that I was able to work at home with my three kids for many years. I fondly remember how much I enjoyed teaching.
Once again, thanking for contacting me and good luck with your family. Maybe some day you will paint again!
Best of luck, Judy
Thank you for your reply! I am so happy that you remember me. It is a wonderful feeling! I don’t want to bother you and take too much of your time, but I do have question and need your professional advice on this.
After looking at your artwork, I have decided to pick up painting again. However, it has been a while since I visited an art store, and I don’t remember which are the right materials to get. I’m hoping that you may give me some hints. (Only if you have time. If not, I understand!)
Do they still carry watercolor dyes in the art store? I believe it is the Dr. Martin’s brand.
What is the right paintbrush I should get? Most important, what kind of paper is good for this technique?
I remember how to mount and pre-wet the paper, and I am sure all my drawing technique will come back once I start. It is so exciting and I am really looking forward to start.
Again, thanks for all your help!
The paper is important – use 140 lb. hot press watercolor paper (Winsor-Newton, or Arches). I have a lot of extra brushes. I don’t know where you live, but I could mail you one. The brush should be able to have a sharp point (sable). The dyes are Dr. Martin. You’re all ready to start! I wish you luck – I remember you had a lot of talent. I may even still have slides of your work.
Oh! Thank you, thank you. I live in San Francisco now. Only if it were not too much trouble, yes, I’d love to have some brushes! I will pay you back.
I promise you, I will send you a copy of my 1st painting later. Hope it won’t take too long!
No problem, Amy. I’ll mail you a brush right away.
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