Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Interview & Studio Tour with Artist Julie Benoit

Julie Benoit

Masters in Fine Arts from Maryland Institute College of Art
Native of Baltimore
Currently in Longmont, CO
What did you want to be when you were a child?
Oh goodness, I wanted to be a teacher. I always wanted to teach art. I went to college for my bachelors and I was an art education major and a year in I decided that I wanted to be an artist, so I switched it up. I think I'm going to go back to school this summer (if I can get someone to watch my kids for me) to teach Montessori. So, now 41 years later, I am going to do what I said I was going to do when I was tiny. Teach. 

I also entertained the idea of becoming a vet.
It sounds like you've been interested in art and teaching since you were a child. Did your parents encourage that?
They didn't exactly encourage it, but I was one of six kids. I used creating and art as a way to get away from the hustle of a busy family. If they were watching something I didn't want to watch, I'd go sit by myself and make something. 
When I was going away to college, my dad said that he wouldn't pay for me to go to art school because he thought I'd never get a job. After high school, I completed my AA degree then took two years off to start a dog walking business in Baltimore (which I still have). After the two year break from school, I was back in college working toward my bachelors. At that point he didn't really care what I was going to school for, just that I was back in school. So I earned a bachelors in fine arts, and I kept my dog walking business. When I went to get my masters, my dad didn't understand why I wanted to go back to school. He said, "You have a great dog walking business. Why would you want to get your masters?" The whole thing switched, which was kind of funny!
Even now, my dad is funny, he has these big ideas of paintings I should make. I tell him he should take an art class and HE can make his idea.
It sounds like you had an inner drive to create art. Making seemed like a sanctuary or refuge for you. 
Yes, totally. When I was in high school there was this guy named Angel who was the most amazing illustrator. He drew the most amazing people and characters, they were always really dark and I was so impressed by his skill. I was never that kid. Once I figured out where I was good, then it all made sense for me. It was fun being back in school for my bachelors after taking a few years off, because I was a print making major and I was the first print making major in 9 years at my liberal arts school. I felt like being a masters degree, since I was the only print making major I didn't have structured classes. I had a lot of direct instruction and independent studies from professors. So I spent a lot of time printing and figuring out my voice. 
What called you to the idea of being a teacher?
I always liked kids. I have even taught at a university in Baltimore. I just really like learning, and learning from other people. My favorite method of teaching is an active environment to learn, my students would teach me many things. I have a desire to learn and to suck it all in, and then share the things you learn. 

How has teaching art affected your own art?
I feel like I've learned so much from my students. When I was teaching art, I would always give projects based on things I was interested in learning more about. Then it became a large research project, it's always worked that way and has been so fun!
I see the sparkle in your eyes when you talk about teaching.
Totally, yes! It is so fun! 

In moments of self doubt or adversity, how do you build yourself back up?
So, grad school kind of ruined me as far as art goes. It jaded the heck out of me. I was making decorative work and I got stuck with a very conceptual mentor. Grad school made me think, and over think, and think even more about what I was doing and why I was doing it. It got to the point where it took the fun out of making art. But now I can look back on the work that I was producing during grad school and learn from it. 

To answer your question, keep doing whatever it is that you want to be doing. Even if you're making crap, or total crap, and even if you think it doesn't make sense. Whatever that thing is, keep doing it. Because it might not make sense now, but when you look back 1 year, 5 years, 10 years from now you might find the answer. Just keep making, you're making for a reason. Even if you never show it to people, you're doing it for the process.

Looking back at all the work I did from youth, through bachelors, through masters, to now, I feel like I've come full circle with my art.
It feels good. The work that I'm making now, I'm making it just to see where it takes me and leads me. Not a set purpose. That feels good after the contrast of being jaded after grad school and feeling like I was done with art being so elite and brainy. Now I'm making quilts to be hung on the wall, and it feels really good. I actually emailed my old professor picture of quilts I made for my girls, thinking that he would hate them because they are not conceptual, but he really liked them. I'm really excited about them too, I want to make them and I look forward to it. It feels good to be making something and being productive. 

When you get ideas for new art pieces, what form do they take? 
I feel like there is a little mason jar in my brain with ideas. When I get an idea I throw it into the jar. Sometimes I'll sketch things out or draw on a napkin when an idea comes, especially when I'm with my kids I sketch on whatever is handy. I'll tack them up or throw them in a drawer. Recently, I've been using index cards to jot things down because they're quick and easy to keep around. 
Making these quilts is a lot of math, which has been really fun. I'm constantly working with numbers and fractions, it is so exciting to me! I refuse to use any kind of pre-made pattern in my quilts, so I go through a lot of trial and error. For example: I try to figure out how to make as many triangles as I can, with as few cuts, that are all the same size, or how to make these 45 degree angles. It has been really fun.
When you are in need of inspiration, where do you turn?
I look at fabric often.
Mostly I find inspiration by taking a break, going outside, going to stores, playing with my kids. I love fabric, and patterns, and colors. Inspiration could even be found going to a store and seeing a pattern on clothing that might give me an idea. I also love the simple patterns that exist in nature. 
Do you have a favorite quote or saying that inspires you to do what you love?
"Walk so slowly the bottom of your feet become ears." Pauline Oliveros

What tool, object or ritual could you not live without in your day?
My eye sight and a pencil. My awareness is important; looking and listening vs seeing and hearing. 
Presently, what is your artistic intention? Your current calling?
I want to create this body of little wall hangings. This mathematical problem solving is the intent. I'm following what feels good and what is fun. 
It feels fresh to be making work that I don't have to over conceptualize and be overly theoretical about. 
After grad school I decided that I was only going to make work if it was fun. I went on to teach my art students that lesson as well. 

If it is not fun, don't do it. 
Life is too short to spend time on something that isn't fun or interesting. 

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Read more about my project here and send me a message to nominate a woman you know who is living their true intention.

I love seeing what is on an artist's desk...enjoy some more images from Julie's home studio!

Keywords: studio tour, artist studio, art space, home studio, art interview, following passion, art teacher, fiber artist, quilting art, interview, female artist, pursuing passion, living with intention, girl boss, female business owner, art school

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Interview and yoga studio tour with Shauna Hylenski

Shauna Hylenski

Professional dancer
Certification in elementary education
Registered Yoga Teacher 500 hours
Massage Therapist

Longmont, CO

Opening her own yoga studio on April 10, 2017!
Join her for an entire day of FREE classes on Saturday April 15, 2017!

Shri Studios

What did you want to be when you were a child?
I wanted to be a dancer.
Dancing was a huge part of my life, I started when I was 5. I knew right away that it was the thing I wanted to do all the time, I didn't want to do anything else. By the time I was in high school I didn't have time to be in clubs or get into much trouble, because of dance, which was a good thing. I was dancing every single day, and was teaching at that point. I love working with kids and started teaching kids at the dance studio I was connected with. 
Being able to express myself with movement connected me to who I was. I was also very shy, speaking in front of people was challenging for me. I would blush, which was one of my "big tells" and I didn't hide my feelings very well (I still don't). Blushing would cause me to shut down and not want to put myself out there because everyone could read exactly how I was feeling. But when I danced, I never felt that way. I never felt shy, I never blushed, I never felt embarrassed. I just moved and I just was. 
It was always my dream to dance and teach.

Where did you grow up? 
I grew up in upstate New York, and I went to college for dance in Virginia. My husband and I met in college, he is from the East Coast too.

How did you find your way to Colorado?
My parents were both teachers and would take us on summer trips. The summer when I was 9, my parents took us to Colorado Springs to visit with family friends. I loved it! I told them that when I grew up I was going to live in Colorado and have two dogs, just like you. 
I had forgotten saying that. 
When my husband and I graduated college, we decided to move to Colorado because we thought it would be great. We literally drove out here with a JUST MARRIED sign on the back of our car and all of our belongings packed in the back of an Isuzu Trooper!
When we got married and moved out here and bought this house and got two dogs, she called me and said, "Are you kidding?!" She reminded me of my childhood dreams. 

I read that you lived overseas for many years. Can you tell me more about that time?
We first went to Japan in 2003. Before we moved to Japan, we were living in this house with our two dogs. I had a massage business and my husband was doing programming work. At one point we looked at each other and said that this was an awesome life for us...10 years from now. Let's go do all the things that we've always wanted to do! If we don't go now, it will be harder. I was 28 when we moved to Japan.
We ended up getting connected with an organization called Peppy Kids Club. They are based out of Japan and that's how we decided to move there. We sold a bunch of stuff, packed up the rest, rented out the house, got the dogs to a good friend, and left. 
It was a HUGE culture shock! Thankfully, the organization was great and had an orientation where they taught us how to shop and use the public transportation.
We worked in little one room schools. We'd go to one school for one week, then another school for another week. We would move around quite a bit. We had a blast!

You and your husband took such a big step and moved to another country! Where did that courage come from?
When I was growing up, I knew someone who went and worked overseas as a teacher. It made an imprint on me. I never knew anyone who did that.
I don't like to go and visit a place, I'm not the type of tourist to skim the surface. If I go, I want to know a place and know the culture.
Looking back on that time, it was pretty awesome. Something we had always wanted to do.

After living in Japan for a year, we traveled to South Korea. We love it and decided to move. It was very real, not all all pretty and beautiful everywhere like in Japan. After South Korea, we traveled all through southeast Asia. I went to India by myself, and this was the first time I had traveled alone. I went to study yoga.
I started teaching yoga in Japan, just from my own practice and with the experience of taking classes in the US at yoga workshops. When we were in Japan, there was no-one to teach yoga. I found a community center and they invited me in to teach yoga classes. After doing that, I knew that this is what I wanted to dedicate myself to. 
I went to Thailand for quite some time to study yoga traditions there, I also went to Lao and Malaysia to study, and then I traveled to India. When I was in India I was able to absorb and learn. I was doing a lot of searching, and felt I needed someone to show me who I was. No-one told me who I was, I just kept getting mirrors. They were telling me, "You know who you are." 
You don't need to go to India to discover who you are. Don't get me wrong, it was a great trip and I'm glad I went! But the revelation of answers that I thought I was going to find there was really just with me. I packed it with me.

Everything that I have read about you seems to have a similar message...empowering students to help them find their own true nature.
Yes, it is one of my main missions.
So often people will dim their own light and look to others to validate or show them who they are. Or look for a teacher to teach them all they need to know. The role of a teacher is not to orchestrate the unlocking, it is to slide the key. You give the tools and the student will know that they will be there when they are ready to use them. I feel really driven to share that with people.
I love to hold up the mirror that so many of my teachers held for me, "See you, you are here, know how amazing you are."

You have built this beautiful studio on your property, and are inviting the community in to your space which is part of your home. How does that feel and what does home mean to you?
We've lived so many different places and I have never been very attached to a place that I must return to as a home. I have always been more connected to the people that are with me. My husband and I create home wherever we are because we weren't anywhere for a long time. 
I had a home based massage practice in 2005, and I loved it. I loved sharing my home with my clients and to be able to connect with people felt so special.
So having my yoga studio at our home feels perfect. I'm really so glad I decided to go this route, rather than rent a commercial space. This studio is for other people to enjoy this space of connection, to awaken this light inside of themselves, understand this truth of who they really are, and ultimately allow this transformation to effect not just themselves but then send it out there. 

Can you talk about the meaning behind the name Shri Studios?
For a long time I was connected to the name Yoga Tribe, it is what I used when I was teaching in South Korea. I had the corner market on the English speaking yoga teacher thing, I taught to a lot of ex-pats. I ended up working out of my own apartment because working out of a studio there was too complicated. Yoga Tribe was a name that I carried with me.
As I grew my own practice, I realized that the name Yoga Tribe felt too limiting because I want to incorporate other movement and meditation. So I tried to cut the tethers to that name, which had been with me for a long time, and be open to other ideas. 
The word shri is connected to the goddess Saraswati. She embodies an intention of grace and light, she also represents an abundance of wealth that she can unlock within us. She brings with her a clarity of focus, when you invite an abundance into your life then there needs to be a clarity of what it is that you are inviting. 
The name of my studio was a total shower moment. My email for many years was shrishauna. One day I was playing with words when thinking about a studio name and said to myself, "Shri. What about shri?!" My husband is my sounding board and so I called him right away. He loved it! He thought we needed something else besides just shri, "How about Shri Studios?" I loved it! He was on it and registered the domain right away! 
There is flexibility with the name that I love. Many of my yoga teachers are shortening the name and saying, "I'm teaching at Shri. Come see me at Shri." I love that!

In moments of self doubt or adversity, how do you build yourself back up?
I first connect in my body and breath. 
The last few months have been really challenging, getting ready to open a new business. Challenge, navigate. Challenge, navigate. 
When I'm at my best, I feel the thing that connects me and allows me to widen is connecting into my body and breath. I'll move my body in a way that reminds me there is physical connection, and reminds me that I'm not all in my head. At the very least, I'll take a few deep breaths. Expanding my perspectives.
I'm 41 and my perspective is wider than it used to be. As I've gotten older, the things that used to really freak me out don't bother me as much. I don't get freaked out as much anymore. Through my life experiences I can see that it is temporary. Challenges don't completely pull the rug out from under me anymore.
My husband is so great for that too, he is super pragmatic and not so emotional. He can help me break it down into logical steps, and take things out of a heightened emotional state (if that is what is going on). My sister is so helpful too, she and I are really close. She lives in New Jersey, we talk on the phone and she is really helpful in sorting out what is happening. My daughter is an amazing spirit, she is probably the most grounded person in this family. She is really beautiful and fantastic and loving. She will just be there for you if you need it.
I'm feeling so lucky and blessed to have all of those resources. My first line of defense are those resources. 

I've noticed that whenever you talk about your husband you get this special sparkle in your eye.
He is amazing. He made this! [points to studio] When I think about it I get teary. He has spent every weekend working here. He is the kind of guy who doesn't get emotional about stuff and doesn't spend his time on things he doesn't think is worthwhile. 
There have times when I really doubt what I'm doing here, starting this business. Then I think that he wouldn't be spending this much time if he didn't believe in me. He has been promoting me to do this since we lived in Korea. I tried to start at a community center there, but it didn't work out and the idea got shelved. When we came back to Colorado, I was working at 7 different studios. He kept encouraging me to do this, open my own studio. I had doubt about running the business and finances and PNL sheets. He said we can hire people to help, but I need to follow this.
Yeah, that guy. We've been together since I was 18 years old. We've gone through so much life together. Sometimes we make each other nuts, but we just know each other so well. 

Do you have a favorite quote or saying that 
inspires you to do what you love?

"Be the change you want to see in the world." - Mahatma Gandhi 
"Wherever you go, there you are." - Jon Kabat-Zinn

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Thursday, March 16, 2017

Interview with art teacher Kati Giese

Interview and Classroom Tour
Silver Creek High School Art Teacher
Longmont, CO

"I'm probably a little unconventional. I'm okay with that."

What did you want to be when you were a child?
When I was 4, I knew I wanted to be an artist. 
I knew that's where I wanted to go and what I wanted to do. My parents always encouraged me, they never said you can't do it. In 6th grade I had some family troubles and I decided that I wasn't going to do art anymore. So I stopped and I didn't access that. I returned back to it in high school and remembered that I liked doing art. Even though I'm an artist and I'm extremely creative and I fall on that spectrum of the crazy art person, I also have a nice balance in that I have to have things planned out kind of ready to go at least in my head. 
Around that time I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do as a career and I didn't want to be an artist anymore because I don't do well with people telling me what to do and I figured the only way I could make a living would be as a commercial artist. I do better telling other people what to do, so I realized being an art teacher would be awesome because then I could be the boss of everybody. In 10th or 11th grade I interned with one of the middle school art teachers. He let me come in to teach a lesson. I appreciated that he gave me his time, and that is what I wanted to...teach middle school art. So I went to school and that's exactly what I got my degree in. 

Where do you come up with art lessons for your students?
That's going to be a big question.
We, at Silver Creek, have moved away from art lessons. 
We don't teach art lessons, we teach kids how to think like artists.
Rather than saying 'this is how you do it' and everyone makes the same project, we say 'here are some skills, here is how you build upon an idea, and this is how you make your own art.'
We're only in our 3rd year of doing this, so we don't have it all figured out and we're still playing with it. But we're progressive in the state. We're not asking kids to follow and do what we say, we're asking them to take risks and make mistakes and figure out who they are artistically.
We might see a kid for only one semester throughout their high school career. But the thought is...
Can I get a kid to accept that failure is okay? That taking a risk is okay? That creativity doesn't have to look like somebody else's idea of creativity.

I was going to ask another question about how you teach creative courage to kids, but your method sounds like it could work really well to enable the courage already inside of them.
Traditional art classes, up until about this point, have been lesson oriented. You might have had a few rogue people, doing what we're doing, but most are traditional. With traditional classes, kids walk out and they're comparing themselves to everyone else because everyone else did the exact same thing. So you have kids that are not as skilled or artistic and they walk out thinking that they're a failure because they're not as good as the person next to them. 
We didn't want that anymore and decided to set up an environment where kids could try something and access their own ideas. By high school they don't know how to do that anymore. 
When you're about 5 or 6 you're about as creative as you're going to be, and then we teach kids not to be creative. We teach them to answer the test, follow these rules, here is how you do it. We don't allow kids the freedom to come up with their ideas. 
So I always tell the kids that this is teacher supported, so I'm here at the bottom and I'm holding you and whatever you need I'm going to be here. Rather than teacher directed, where the teacher is telling them 'you will do this.'
So we've tried to flip the model.
Everybody needs art, you may just not notice it.
Some kids want to increase the number of art classes that can take, but we're already at capacity. My classes have about 35-40 students in them. So we're jam packed and there is no money to hire extra teachers. So we can't increase credits and we can't increase access because there is no funding for it. 

One thing about teaching art the way we do here is that you are not getting art that is considered "beautiful." So you don't get a lot of realism or you don't get a lot of pieces that everyone would consider acceptable and want to hang. 
If you teach art in the traditional way, you'll get a lot of pieces that are aesthetically pleasing to most people and you get it framed. 
What I'm asking the kids to do is to take big risks. And it might not work out.

We try to put the emphasis on the process, rather than the final outcome. In my class we've done away with grading. I still have to put grades in, but I allow the kids to self-access. I say to them, "Why in the world would I give you a grade? It is your process, it is your progress. You tell me what you deserve on this." I have them go through a self-review on the process, so they need to talk about their invention and about their creativity and their technique. They have to write a small essay about their work, the essay accompanies the work, and then they have a look back about the things they've learned and processed. So, rather than assigning a grade that makes them feel as if someone is telling them if they've done okay or not in their own art, we're allowing them to sort it out for themselves and be responsible for themselves. 

When you said that you don't give grades, I had a little relief. As if I could just come in and be myself and it'll be okay. 
Exactly. I'm not going to tell you what grade you get. If you want an A, have an A, I really don't care. What is important to me is your process and your learning and what you grew through and what struggles you had.
Releasing the pressure of striving for a grade, it frees them up to take risks and make mistakes. 

I tell them often...What if life was about learning from mistakes, rather than suffering from mistakes?

This class doesn't have penalties for screwing up. This class actually rewards you for screwing up and trying something and then writing about it. I love it when something doesn't work out! Let's talk about it. Why didn't that work out? What did you learn? Hopefully they can carry that on into their life, that things don't have to be so right or wrong. There is always something to learn.

How has teaching art affected your own art?
I don't do art.
I think that happens to a lot of art teachers. You get a little lost because so much of your time and energy is spent helping others develop their ideas and their artistic style. When you get home that is the last thing you want to do. Also, I have a 4 year old and another one on the way. So when I come home it is time do do mom stuff.
The other day we were going to make Valentines (because I'm an artistic mom we are going to make them not buy them). They turned out lovely and it was fun, but I ended up teaching. Still teaching. 
So I think, "Why would I want to do my own thing?" I feel bad about that because I'm not modeling for my daughter. I'm not at home working on a project. Even if we're doing it together, the attention span of a 4 year old is not enough time to do my own thing. 
Part of my issue, the first time I was so set on getting out of college. I wanted to get my life started. I bullied my way through it and was taking 21 credit hours a semester and didn't pay much attention to creating my own artistic style. So when I graduated with my degree in teaching art, that's what I was going to do, but I never really developed it for myself. 
A couple of years ago (when my daughter was 2) I decided to go back to college and get my masters in art and design. It was an online program designed for teachers and in-person meetings during the summer. Instead of focusing on my classroom, I decided that I wanted to focus on my own art. So I took about 2 years to focus on my art and figure out who I was. 
That was my thesis...Who am I as an artist and why do I do this thing where I start something and don't finish?
I did a year study into my own artistic practice. What I determined that I do get bored easily. After I've looked at something and understood it, I don't want to revisit it. The word for it is autotelic. An autotelic personality is someone who needs a peak challenge at all times. They needs something to keep them at a high level. This made sense for me, because with art, if I'm not challenged I'm not enjoying it. I also discovered that my projects could not go on for more than a week or I'd loose interest. So I needed to set time limits for myself.
I'm interested in fiber arts. I invented a way of dying fabric and then layering it to create a diary. I have small pieces that I work on and add to every three or four days. I add something that happened to me or something I experienced. Then, at the end of the month, I have a fabric diary of my time. 
That way I don't get so bogged down with a big art piece that I'll loose interest in.
Now I have a method that I know works for me. I probably would not have figured this out if it hadn't been for my graduate program. And forcing myself to do it. I entered the student art show for my college and two of my pieces were chosen, so I must be on to something here.

Do you have a favorite quote or saying that inspires you to do what you love?
A quote for me:
"Leave everything in its utmost simplicity and clarity will arise itself. It is only by doing nothing that you will do everything that there is to be done." (Buddhist saying)

I feel that in our world we get so complicated by piling stuff on. Maybe, if you pulled it back and leave it in its utmost simplicity it will come to you, and it will be okay. It is okay not to move on it. Which I think is important for sanity. 
However, I don't think that helps me get anything done. 

A quote for the classroom:
One of the things someone sees if they walk into my classroom is that everyone is engaged and are doing something. Which is unlike when you walk into other classrooms and kids are disengaged or on their phones. 

In moments of self doubt or adversity, how do you build yourself back up?
I don't really have a lot of self doubt. When I was trying to figure out who I was artistically, I didn't really worry about it. I assumed I would just make lots of mistakes and find out what is going on and not judge myself. 
The adversity or self doubt of not knowing who I was as an artist was more of a challenge rather than feeling I couldn't do it.

Set it up as a challenge and ask yourself a big question. That's what I tell the kids to do is ask a question. So, rather than stating, "I'm bad at this." or "This doesn't look right." or "I don't know who I am as an artist." 
Ask a question instead. If you ask a question, you have steps to get somewhere, rather than being bogged down with your statement.
For example:"Who am I as an artist?" is better than, "I don't know who I am as an artist."
Another example, if a kid is working on a project and the face doesn't look right I help them re-frame their remarks from "I'm terrible at drawing faces." to "Why does this face not meet my standards?"
When you have the question, you can take small steps to get to the answer.

What advice do you have for someone wanting to enter your field?
I probably average two kids every other year who want to become an art teacher. I can see the results of what I do here in the classroom. 

- Don't expect that everybody loves art. 
- Relationships are the most important part of being a teacher.
- You will spend a large amount of time talking to kids and counseling kids. 

PS: Kati has been participating in The Uniform Project this year! This black dress is the mainstay of her work wardrobe. She is demonstrating to her students that it doesn't matter what they wear to be loved and accepted. 
Be who you love, take chances, makes mistakes, and continuously reflect. 

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