Friday, 19 April 2013

Creative Comfort: Laura Daub Gallery & Art School

Post Script: Laura has moved herself and her studio to Toronto, Canada since the time of this article. However, I'm leaving it posted because Max and I had such a fabulous time and it was such a great learning and bonding experience. If you have the opportunity to take a kid in your life to a similar class, I absolutely recommend you do.


A couple weeks ago, 8 year-old Max and I headed down to Laura Daub's gallery and studio for an art lesson. Max is a great mini-human (the son of my sweetheart, Alan); he's patient, kind, sweet, and personable. He is, unfortunately, nearly six years older than his little sister Blueberry, who is turning 3 next month. Max is incredibly good with Blueberry, and I can say with certainty that, if my little brother had been a toddler when I was Max's age, I'd have stuffed him in the microwave long ago. Everyone's attention tends to get hijacked by her antics. Both Max and I occasionally reach our breaking point with this, and so when Laura offered to give Karter a special art lesson, he and I both jumped on the chance to go. It would be Jordan-Max time without any screaming, crying, or Dora the Explorer.

I met Laura Daub about six months back at the Handmade Harvest craft show. Her mini houses and colourful acorn sculptures drew me in, and I was lucky enough to get a print of a fox done by her, as well. I immediately started following her social media channels, and was thrilled when she announced that she was opening a gallery/studio space down in Britannia Village.

Max was thrilled when we arrived at the studio and looked around, and frankly so was I. The space that Laura has claimed is right down by Britannia Bay; it's a great little building that stood vacant when I was a kid, until another art gallery took it over and ran for over a decade. Laura has restyled the space with warm white walls, simple decor, and some of her fabulous friendly art, making a place that says, "Come create here".

We settled in and Laura explained to Max that we'd be working on superheroes today--faces in particular. Armed with a tiny bit of information I'd given her over email, Laura had prepared a lesson based around Hawkman--a Max favourite. Her way of explaining things was kid-friendly without being patronizing, and Max listened in rapt fascination as she explained the proportions of the human head. We both drew along with her instructions, with Max happily tossing in some comic book trivia as we all conversed. 

The environment was comfortable, the lesson was at a level Max could understand, and before long he had a drawing he was seriously proud of. I was so happy to see him enjoy the time so much, and I know he felt pretty cool being allowed to use high-end art supplies like the drafting markers and inking pens that Laura brought out. When we left and were walking to the car, I asked Max if that was fun and he quite literally yelled a happy 'Yeah!'

Two weeks later, we were sitting together and drawing again, and Max asked about the proportions that Laura had taught him. He remembered everything, and we practiced measuring each other's heads to see if the math really worked. Then he drew the Flash, and I couldn't get over how much his skills had improved from that one short hour with Laura. We immediately hung his Flash drawing beside his Hawkman on the fridge--the place of honour for all great art accomplishments. My fridge is a happy fridge.


So who is this Laura Daub, and how did she get to be so awesome? I asked Laura some questions about how she got started and what drives her passion. She was kind enough to give some tips on encouraging new artists, too:

In 5 sentences or less, what do you offer at the studio?

I make and sell my own artwork at my studio, with a focus on illustration, intuitive paintings and clay sculptures. I do commission work and also attend shows and sell in shops! I also offer private and small group art classes for parents who are looking for focused art instruction for their child who has a a serious passion in the Arts and are looking to further explore their talents. My goal is to teach children who thrive on exploring creatively through different artistic mediums. I meet with parents and students first, to ensure a good fit with the classes I offer and to ensure each student will get the most out of their learning experience in a creatively-focused, collaborative, non-competive atmosphere.

[Author's note: Laura also offers adult courses; be sure to check them out.]

How long have you been teaching art?

I started teaching adults Media and Design related courses 13 years ago at the college level. I just made the switch to teaching art lessons to children a couple of years ago and loving it.

Why is art important for young people?

Oh boy, I could go on and on about the benefits of nurturing visual art in children for hours! :) I will try to be brief! Nurturing a love of the Arts promotes creative thinking, problem-solving and aids in mastering fine motor skills, but nurturing a love for fine arts and crafts to children also allows them to explore their imaginations and express their creativity in all aspects of life.  I do appreciate that the need to teach art to children is perhaps just one facet of learning in life, but it is such an important tool in positively shaping their lives for the future. I truly believe exposure to Visual Arts is NO LESS IMPORTANT than any other skill that requires creativity, whether learning to play an instrument, writing poems, stories or singing, learning to dance or even learning to play a competitive sport.

Is it important for adults? How so?

Yes! Definitely! For the same reasons as above… it is never too late to explore the Arts to help nurture creativity in other areas of life.

What are a couple good ways to support a young artist? What are a couple things to avoid saying/doing that would dissuade a youngster in art?

I cannot stress enough that a child who is artistically-inclined may well actually have a need to pursue this passion. If you ever read interviews on working artists, I’m sure you will find a common element in the answers to the question, “When did you know you wanted to become an artist?”… almost every artist states that they remember drawing/painting/colouring/creating from a very early age and always reference their passion as something that they have always done and art has always been a huge part of their lives. You might also notice that they also talk about the actual “need” to work creatively and mention that when they don’t, things just aren’t right in their lives! I wholeheartedly agree with this, as this is also my story! As a parent of a child like this and an artist myself, I can suggest to nurture your child as much as possible. I have heard from many parents that they know their child is artistic, but they themselves “can’t even draw a straight line”. I totally understand this and that your child may not have the same interests!

Here are a few helpful tips to help nurture your child in their artistic exploration:

1. Understand that the Arts are important to your child and allow them to explore it! Encourage them, and be conscious of making positive comments on their latest creations. I have to say my student’s pieces of art that I think are amazing are usually the ones that look messy and childlike! One of my hardest tasks as an art instructor of children is to break them of the need to be “perfect” right from the first pencil mark. My goal is always to ensure they keep a free-spiritedness in their drawings!

2. Try out different creative things with your child. There are so many arts and crafts DIY tutorials out there online… many of them not requiring special tools and supplies. Try recycling things into art… maybe your child will collaborate with you on what you can do with that jar of buttons or that newspaper and glue you’ve got. Google DIY Arts and Crafts with your child or check out Pinterest, which is a wonderful resource!

3. Visit Art Galleries with your child… The National Art Gallery has a wonderful program called Artissimo on Sundays. For free, you can also visit many of the smaller galleries in Ottawa too that are selling amazing artist’s work… in the Byward Market, Hintonburg, Westboro and all over the city, There are great art gallery websites as well… the Louvre’s website is pretty amazing. Come and visit my studio too (shameless plug) :)

What does a person get out of making something with their own hands?

I do believe we are not just using our hands, but actually using our head, heart and hands! I learn something new in each piece I do, whether it is a painting, drawing or sculpture… sometimes things seem effortless, but I often make mistakes and get frustrated during the process… but then I feel encouraged by something that's working well and a whole new positive energy arises. In the end, I am always happy and proud of my work and I think there is no better feeling!

“Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time”. - Thomas Merton

Deciding to leave a 'traditional' career and pursue something in the arts: that takes a lot of courage and vision. What's your advice to others who have a creative streak they want to help flourish?

Yes, I agree that leaving a traditional career to pursue something in the Arts does seem like a huge leap that takes a lot of courage and vision! I guess in my case though, my traditional career choices have always been in Arts and Design related and I am grateful that every job I had in the last 20 years prepared me for the adventure of running my own art business today. I think my best advice would be to never give up on a dream, no matter what it is, surround yourself with truly encouraging, supportive people (family and like-minded friends) and to be perfectly honest… be prepared that it is not easy path to take. I have to say this, as I suppose many people might think a career as an artist/artisan looks like an easy career choice, but it takes a lot of dedication and continuous practice, as I'm sure every business or skill does. If you are a creative person who is truly passionate about your artwork, it is definitely possible… there's no question about that in my mind!

You can connect with Laura on her website and her facebookpage; I heartily encourage you to take any mini-humans in your life down to the studio. Laura's warm and inviting space makes art more accessible and engaging for young and old alike.

Max and I bought a pair of Laura's tiny houses on our way out of the lesson, and I don't know what Max was more excited about: that he had drawn a fabulous piece himself, or that he now owned a tiny piece of art from a real live artist who owned an art studio. Thank you, Laura, for this fun and Dora-free adventure.

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