Craft and Conviction

Lessons learned from my former art teacher

“Darker”. Photograph by Hannah Wei featuring Samantha Kay

My old art teacher used to pace across the room in our Saturday life drawing class. When he stood behind my easel, I would remember feeling self-conscious by his silent judgement. He was a quiet man and never openly criticized my work or anybody else’s for that matter, but he would often take charcoal from my hands and draw over my paper in a swift, expressive motion.

Darker”, he'd say, and then his blackened fingers handed back my crumbling piece of charcoal. Without another word, he'd turn around to continue patrolling the room. I would furrow my teenage eyebrows at my paper that was violated with dark lines and smudges. After a minute or so I’d get back to work, making the careful, subtle drawings I had done previously match with his. Somehow the artwork always looked better in the end.

Looking back I realized he wasn't really teaching me how to draw a human body. I was already a fast learner and spent a great deal of effort studying details of anatomy. But rather he gave me practice to commit to my craft in a bold way. He was showing me that being a creator took a kind conviction present in one’s every movement used in bring something into life. Those light hairlines of my sketches didn’t really do my work justice. In the years that I studied under him, he pushed me to be bolder from concept down to the weight of my brush strokes. His teachings instilled an attitude that practicing our craft isn’t just a matter of enacting honed skills, but also what we dared to do with those skills.

I didn’t get to fully appreciate the benefits of his teachings until recently when I struggled to find the voice in my craft as a designer and maker of technology. My creations didn’t quite do my skills and values justice, and I subconsciously fell out of love with it this past year. I’m learning to enjoy the craft again, this time with bolder strokes. It is scary, but exciting at the same time.

When I visited my teacher’s home in the summer, his youth art class had tripled in attendance. In his basement were paintings after paintings from his recent gallery show. He chatted excitedly about the accomplishments of his graduated students, pointing to their artworks hung up around his house. As I handed him my own gift, a bar of soap I crafted and branded, I noticed the black dust between his fingernails and couldn’t help but smile.

“Darker”, said the voice in my head.

West coast espresso soap. 1/10 batches of cold-process soap that I made, packaged, and sold last summer.

This essay first appeared on my Instagram, which is also my creative journal.

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