“No person has the right to dictate what other people should perceive, create or produce.  Everyone should be encouraged to reveal themselves, their perceptions and emotions, and to build confidence in the creative spirit.” – Ansel Adams

Drawing and painting teacher Ascha Drake, like Ansel Adams, believes that “it’s important to hook students on a personal level.” As a result, her projects are generated by questions like “what do I believe in?” and “how do I want to articulate myself visually and confidently to the world?” Self portraits come to mind – and for good reason; indeed, “the Drawing 1B students are starting a self portrait project,” Ascha said. And because the project is so personally engaging, she added, “they’re scared. You’re looking at yourself, it’s very intimate and you know that you’re going to present it to the school.”

But self portraits aren’t the only projects that engage students on a personal level. “We encourage students to process, play, experiment, envision, make mistakes, make discoveries, and create,” Ascha said, and through that process, they become more and more confident. After easing into the school year by selecting and portraying Hipstamatic photos of “snowy landscapes in New Mexico through the frosty veil of a windshield,” Studio Art: Painting 1B students got truly immersed in their work with a project that allowed them to personalize even their materials:

“They just stretched their canvases. We’ve been doing a lot of readings about alchemy and paint and how art supply stores haven’t always been in existence. We’re thinking about other materials artists in the Renaissance used. The readings are interesting and kids love them because it’s kind of gross to think about using pig bladders as your paint tube, for example. They’ve really liked preparing their materials. It’s been empowering; they start thinking, ‘Yea, I don’t have to go to the art supply store. I can make my own canvas and have ownership over it.’”

With personal investment comes success; “As students develop their own language and style,” Ascha said, “they learn how to ignite the creative spark.” Then it’s a matter of connecting with each other, the community and the surrounding world in the way that best suits their individual interests.

“As a collective, we talk about the importance of working authentically, trusting the gut and making one’s own mark,” Ascha said. And to make the community connection, Ascha makes a habit of “sending out a list of all the cultural institutions in the city and what exhibitions they have going on” and encouraging students to select their personal favorites and go with their families. It’s important for everyone, she said, “to go and take advantage of this great cultural city that we live in.”

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