Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Teacher Alice Armstrong on Art & Community

When Alice Armstrong walked through the door of Castle in the Air nearly 14 years ago, we both knew we’d met a kindred spirit. She had recently begun teaching rubberstamp art, and when she showed me some of her work and asked if she could join our growing crew of teachers, I immediately said yes.

Over the years Alice has gone on to become one of our busiest instructors, expanding into teaching techniques as diverse as collage, book arts, calligraphy, and drawing. She and I had a chance to speak recently about her thoughts on art and community, and her hopes for the students who come to Castle in the Air.

Karima Cammell: At Castle in the Air we think of ourselves as a family of artists. One thing you and I share is that we were both raised in artistic families.

Alice Armstrong: It’s true, and in fact it was my sister who first brought me to Castle in the Air. She knew it would speak to me. I was fortunate to grow up the daughter of artists who always encouraged me to create. Art became like a language to me. I constantly felt compelled to make things. I haven’t grown out of it, and I hope I never do.

What’s been your overall experience here as a teacher?
I immediately loved it here, and I flourished. The shop truly supports the idea of “art for everyone.” The good attitude everyone here has toward learning and teaching has been incredibly satisfying. By now it’s grown into an amazing and really generous community. I feel I’m in good company. And we can make a living making art! What could be better than that?

Aside from the practical techniques you teach in your classes, what do you hope to give your students?

I want them to be brave and to be themselves. As a teacher, I like empowering people who want to make art. If you want to make art, make art. It’s so silly that we draw distinctions between people who are “artists” and those who aren’t, as if it’s something some people can do and others can’t. I like demystifying the process. That’s the basis for my Drawing & the Art of Seeing class—drawing is a teachable skill.

Tell me what excites you about some of your upcoming classes.

Drawing & The Art of Seeing is a six-session series I’ve done several times over the past few years. Three new series are starting in the coming months. It’s based on the work of Betty Edwards, who wrote Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. Essentially it makes drawing accessible. I’ve been thrilled to teach people with all styles of learning and expression. It’s fantastic seeing students discover their own style. It’s like watching someone learn to walk, or to talk.

The Wing Book class in late August is exciting because it really brings together form and content. And it merges many types of art into one piece—collage, rubberstamping, bookbinding. The finished wing book is a book, but it’s also a sculpture. It’s an intimate object that has to be handled to be experienced. That tactile aspect is part of the art. It exists in real time, and more and more that’s something to be cherished.

With the Books as Objects of Art series, we make books from the ground up. The next series starts in early September, and it’s always been really fun. The class combines free-and-easy expression with the strict rules of bookbinding. I’m as interested in ancient bindings and structures as I am in modern books, and of course I love experimentation. I bring in unexpected objects and we figure out how to make them into new and interesting books.

There’s also Techniques of Alcohol Ink & Wax, a new class in September. I’ve used alcohol ink in bookmaking and wax in collage, and more recently I’ve been working with crepe paper. This will be the first time that I combine all three. As I came up with the class I felt like an alchemist, making so many crossovers with the materials. It’s been part of a lot of new collaboration among the teachers here, so more wonderful things are in store, without a doubt.

Browse all of Alice’s upcoming classes at the Online Shoppe.

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