Short-term goals

How to get a start in art without a months-long commitment

Dana Childs with her painting students.

Dana Childs with her painting students.

courtesy/dana Childs

Ever wished you could take an art class—and then thought, “But I can’t even draw?” Artist Dana Childs has some advice: “If you look at something and say, ‘I could never do that,’ don’t think that. That’s rarely true.” Painting techniques aren’t something you’re born with. They’re something you can learn.

Childs is one of several instructors in the region who offer one-session art workshops. The model is similar to that of a paint-and-sip session or a drop-by pottery studio. By the time students arrive, the instructor has broken down a medium—often one that may take years to fully master—into a class that just meets once. Students often go home with a finished piece, and they learn enough about the medium to decide whether to commit more time and resources to making it a long-term endeavor.

The RN&R talked with three instructors about their one-session workshops. There are a lot more in the region, too. Check the schedules at places like Atelier in Truckee, Truckee Roundhouse, Laika Press and the Nevada Museum of Art.

Paint a picture

“From a marketing perspective, it meets people’s needs,” Childs said about the idea of one-session painting classes. “First of all, they don’t want to buy into a series unless they’ve met the teacher.” Childs used to teach English and history to high school and college students. Once, when she was taking an art class herself, it occurred to her that she was better positioned to teach painting skills than the painter teaching the class was.

“I would end up going around and helping teach technique,” she said. “I could think like a teacher.” By now, she’s been teaching one-time workshops in painting techniques for about 20 years.

Childs relocated to Nevada in 2013, and she teaches at several venues including Nevada Fine Arts in Reno, Rustically Divine in Carson City and her home studio in Gardnerville.

Except for in a few classes marked “Advanced,” Childs welcomes people of any level. She likes to see students climb the learning curve and paint on their own. “My mantra is: My whole job is to work myself out of a job,” she said. But if you think you just want to drop by once to give painting a try, that’s OK, too.

Upcoming sessions focus on painting a specific subject, such as a butterfly or iris, or practicing a technique. A March 26 class is titled “Sometimes Life is Simply Black and White—A Blending of Watercolors and Pen and Ink.”

In summer, Childs offers plein air painting classes, in which students paint landscapes outdoors at places like Zephyr Cove.

Nevada Fine Arts
301 S. Virginia St.
(775) 786-1128

Dana Childs

Rustically Divine
410 N. Carson St., Carson City
(775) 434-7404

Piecing it together

Katie Packham owns Copper Cat Studio in Sparks. In the studio’s upcoming workshops, students will learn to create one item, such as a fused glass trout or a little stuffed fox made from felted wool and wire. Copper Cat’s most popular classes are in mosaics.

“I started teaching through a mosaic supply place, 12, 13 years ago,” Packham said. “I’ve fine tuned it over the years.”

Now, she offers several variations a month, in which students make, for example, a birdbath, a garden stone or a Nevada-shaped ornament.

“In our Mosaic 101 class, you start with the same substrate—what you’re ‘mosaic-ing’ on, and it’s usually a plaque or a framed mirror,” she explained. And there’s “tons of tessera.” (That’s the glass, tile and other assorted pieces that are fastened to the substrate to make mosaics.)

Packham said that even though everyone in her class starts with the same materials and the same assignment, people begin to develop their own styles pretty much immediately. “Students might be really detailed,” she said. “It might be abstract. They might be creating a picture or a landscape.”

“I tell people that mosaics aren’t rocket science,” Packham said. “But the way you put them together determines whether they stay together and whether they’re aesthetically pleasing.”

She credits the paint-and-sip model with “getting people out there to get creative,” but, she pointed out, “We’re not a sip and craft place. We don’t need alcohol to get you in the right groove.”

She sees making art as an activity that nurtures people. She said that some of her students who are in high-pressure fields, such as nursing, find it an effective way to de-stress.

Packham estimates that 95 percent of her classes are for beginners. And she aims to balance a high level of accessibility with high standards. “I’ve really done my best to gather the cream of the crop as far as instructors,” she said. “They’re pros in their field.” The studio also hosts meetings of serious crafters like the Great Basin Basketmakers and the Knitted Knockers, a group led by Bryn McCubbins and Donna Koepp that makes knitted breast prostheses for women who have undergone mastectomies.

Copper Cat Studio
300 Kresge Lane, Sparks
(775) 453-0753

Raise a glass

A lot of the time, college-level art programs focus on artistic and conceptual skills, but don’t teach art marketing skills in much depth. Jessica Schimpf decided to study at the Maryland Institute College of Art—MICA for short—because she knew that’s where she could learn 3D art techniques and business skills.

“I went for sculpture,” she said. She also learned the photography, graphics and marketing techniques that she now uses to run her business, Mantra Glass Art.

Glass is a labor-intensive, skill-intensive medium, and getting started can involve a hefty investment. Schimpf noticed that in Denver, where she’s from, it could cost about a thousand dollars for enough instruction and supplies just to get your feet wet. She set up her Reno studio so that people can try their hand at glassmaking in just one afternoon, in classes that cost under $100.

Beginners get as much help as they need to complete a project. “Jellyfish and wavy bowls are two of our best sellers,” Schimpf said. “You can’t actually do those projects alone until you’ve had months of practice.” At Mantra, an instructor will take care of some of the more exacting parts of the process, and students will help.

“I work with them,” Schimpf said. “It’s 50/50 work. It’s accelerated.”

She also teaches glass fusing, which is less demanding. “Kids can take it, same as the blowing classes,” Schimpf said. “We just do the extra work if they need the assistance.”

“We have returning students—we have full time students,” she said. “We get more challenging with them. We get harder and harder with each thing.”

Mantra Glass Art offers longer series of classes, private studio time and several one-stop sessions in which students make items such as shot glasses, coasters or bowls. A workshop in stemless, colored wine glasses is scheduled for May 10, just in time for Mother’s Day.

Mantra Glass Art
651 E. Fourth St.
(720) 708-8998