I’m thrilled to share this interview with Emily Gould. Emily exudes a strong and genuine passion for the craft of teaching art, which is directly reflected in her inspiring projects. Her past experiences and circuitous path in becoming a teacher are also fascinating, which we delve into below.
This will be Emily’s 16th year teaching art. She teaches at three schools--two elementary and one middle school/high school in Maryland and the District of Columbia. She received a BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1992. Check out the amazing work on her Instagram account here.
Emily, from looking at your projects, it seems like both you and the kids have a blast. The quality of work is also remarkable. You told me, however, that your entry into education was somewhat serendipitous. Can you tell us what you were doing before teaching, as well has how you got into the profession?
My first art teaching job happened by accident....I had just graduated from art school, and I was sharing a painting studio with three other artists in Chicago. I needed a stamp because it was time to send the bills. There was an elementary school on the corner near my studio, and I remember thinking...a school could have stamps! So, I went into the school, and I didn't know I was talking to the principal. She said, "You look like an art teacher, and I need an art teacher.” Maybe I looked like an art teacher because I had paint all over me? I needed a job, so I told her..."Yes, I'm an art teacher!" I was hired! I immediately walked to the Chicago Public Library and checked out several books about teaching art (There was no internet in 1993.).
I taught for the rest of that school year and summer school, and then I started working in film. I worked on television commercials for eight years in Special Effects Makeup, Food Styling, and the Art Department. I drew set designs using two point perspective, shopped for props and dressed sets. It was very exciting to see my drawings being built into actual television sets. Working freelance meant that I created my own schedule and to meet my living expenses, I only needed to work about half a month. A typical work day in film was 12 to 15 hours. I even worked a 23 hour day once. So, one couldn’t physically work every day in a month, and my hours allowed me to maintain my art studio/gallery. Typically, I spent about half the month working on my paintings. When I became a mother, I no longer could work these long days. I was overwhelmed with the demands of my infant, sleep deprived, and I made the choice to focus on my son.
Concerning the types of lessons art teachers teach, I feel as if we all fall somewhere within this spectrum: on one end the projects are very procedural and step-by-step oriented, while on the opposite end they are much more unstructured and would include choice-based art education (TAB). Where do you think you fall--more towards the procedural, TAB, or perhaps right in the middle? Do you think each side has its merits? Should we be cautious of subscribing too much to one side?
Concerning types of teaching styles, I feel as if I fall somewhere within the spectrum too. It really depends on class dynamics. Every class is very different, and some groups crave structure. A step by step approach can help to build confidence and focus on a technique and still have room for creativity. I think children should be exposed to all the different styles of creating art, the different materials, different techniques and art history. When students have a solid foundation, and a respect for materials, I like to introduce assignments that can be interpreted within a theme. I’m not sure there is one right way of teaching art-- there are so many different learning styles.
You teach art to students from K through 12th grade, which seems remarkable. You told me that, “There is not one age that I prefer to teach the most.. it is the subject that I adore.” I completely respect that statement, but could you tell us your favorite aspects about each age group, along with some of the associated challenges?
I don’t want to be locked into one age group. I love the subject I teach, and there are things I love about teaching all age groups
Kindergarten students create quickly and love to explore materials. Kindergarten is a great time to introduce art history but not every lesson. Usually at this age, I combine literature with art projects. Reading a book and creating art related to a book is a great way to divide class time and keep the class interesting for that age group
Elementary students love variety in their lessons. My elementary students tell me they like a mix of lessons that are finished in one class and ongoing lessons that take several classes to finish. My elementary students like to be challenged, and they learn from doing. I don’t give long lectures. I see my students one hour a week, and we spend most of that hour making art. I try to keep my lessons exciting because when students are excited about what they are working on there are few classroom management issues.
Middle school/High school: Art journals are required at this level. We usually start class with art journal drawing exercises. When we get to know the students, they will teach us so many things. Last week we were working with joint compound, and my high school students had the idea of putting the joint compound in small zip lock bags with the corner cut, like cake decoration, and then it was syringes borrowed from the science teacher, syringes of joint compound. I made a video of this technique—a very innovative approach! The group of middle school/ high school students I work with I have been working with for four years now, and they are an incredibly talented group. Most students at this age work slowly; craftsmanship becomes more important, and they really take pride in their work. I can present them with an idea, a few guidelines, and offer material advice when needed.
Teaching adults: I used to teach adult drawing classes at a local community college. I enjoy working with adults--they are in an art class because they want to learn not because it’s a school requirement, and that’s great energy! I taught art in the local community college for three years—not just adult classes but figure drawing for teens, and studio drawing for kids. The schedule was not the best for me because I taught evenings and weekends, and those are busy times at my house.
Last year I taught a workshop about creativity, play and art to university professors. The workshop started with a few warm-up drawing games with the purpose of breaking down inhibitions and relieving the fear of being judged by others, and then we jumped right into a painting project together. I loved that experience, and when I received the feedback forms, they had written very positive things about the experience. This was a new direction for me, and it inspired me to auction off an art lesson for a group of adults for a fundraiser last year at one of my schools. I will be doing it again this year!
Starting next month, I will be teaching a group of adults once a week and so far I have had three local businesses offer the use of their space to host the art lessons!
How do you stay on track with teaching so many different grade levels? From a planning perspective, that must be incredibly difficult!
A lot of my lessons work for all ages; of course, results and expectations are different for different ages. I’ve been teaching art for 16 years now, and I don’t want to show you the storage space where I keep my lesson plans and prototypes –it is organized chaos; however, anyone that saw my space may think otherwise. I have hundreds of lessons to pull from, and that makes planning a lot easier.
It seems evident that you like to teach students art history. A lot of your projects are based off of famous paintings or art movements. Is this an intentional part of your practice?
My favorite way to expose my students to art history is a hands on approach. It’s important to know about the history. In art, one can learn a lot from the masters and learn a lot about oneself from trying out the styles of famous artists; this clearly helps in the development of finding one’s own style.
A really fun art history lesson that I love teaching is called Style and Art. I introduce ten different artists that have ten completely different styles, and we have a discussion about art movements; the lesson is very visual. I drew something simple in the style of the ten artists discussed, and the lesson is like a test! Students must match the drawing style to the famous artist that might have drawn that picture. Then students get to test me. They select a simple object to draw in the ten different styles discussed! They love the idea of testing the teacher. A lesson like this makes art history fun!
Teaching students about various styles of art and art movements helps students understand that there are many ways to create art, and they are all valued. Aesthetic conversations about art and artists help students realize that their original ideas have value and that there are many ways to be artists besides drawing skills. I don’t expect all of my students to become working artists one day, but I want all of my students to leave my class with an appreciation for art and creativity.
You taught for three years in Pachuca, a town north of Mexico City. Can you tell us about that experience?
In 2003 I was offered a job teaching art in Mexico. I taught art at The American School of Pachuca, (grades 1 to 6). I had 580 students and taught 5 art classes a day! I also started an after school art club for elementary and middle school students. This job was my art teaching boot camp. I was determined to make it work! This was the first time art classes at The American School of Pachuca were ever taught in English! All specials had been taught in Spanish, and half the school day was in Spanish. So, not only was I developing an art curriculum, I was also teaching young students who didn’t speak very much English-- but with art we communicated because creativity is universal and contagious! My Spanish is not perfect, so I kept my classes very visual. One of my students placed in a National Mexican art competition, and that was very exciting!
Art supplies were an issue, and we didn’t have many supplies. I was watering down (water based) house paints to teach painting. Somedays we didn’t have water, so I would fill buckets the day before just in case we ran out of water the next day for painting. One day a man from a beach town showed up at our inland school, and he was selling colored sand that he had colored himself. This man could create incredibly detailed sand paintings in minutes. He gave me a demo, and I watched him create The Virgin of Guadalupe with sand in less than five minutes! My school asked if I would like sand for my classes. This was the first art supply they ever offered to buy, so I had to say yes! My entire 6th grade class designed family crests out of sand and glue; sorry, I have no pictures of these creations!
I taught art in Pachuca for three years.
One fun fact about the city of Pachuca….A few years ago (2015) Pachuca became famous for having the largest mural in Mexico! This mural is really amazing! See it here…
Living in Mexico really inspired my personal artwork. I started to paint landscapes based on the roads I drove every day.
How did that experience shape the kind of teacher you are today?
I keep my classes very visual. I don’t lecture. I may give demos, but those are also visual. I’m a visual learner myself, and I often find verbal directions confusing. I would say my experience in Mexico taught me to use more visuals as direction. When I show students a finished example of a project, I don’t just show one example. There is more than one solution to an assignment, and I want to teach my students about the possibilities.
You told me that you maintained a studio practice before you began teaching. Do you still make art? Do you think it is important for art teachers to create their own work?
Yes, I make my own art I have a kiln in my dining room… but I am a single mother with four children, three part time jobs, and the manager of a travel soccer team (We made it to Nationals this summer in Colorado!), and that doesn’t allow for a lot of extra time to create my own artwork. I tell my kids, break a dish , make a dish. I fire up a kiln full of new dishes when the cabinets are getting low on dishes. This is why I enjoy teaching art right now-- it is my creative outlet. I think I would be a bad mother if I were working on my own art right now. I need large amounts of uninterrupted time when I create, and I don’t work well with interruptions, so it’s good I know this about myself because I could be a mean mother and that’s not how I want my children to remember me. One day I will have more time to work on my own art. Teaching art gives me that creative outlet in smaller less intense doses. I can design lessons, work on prototypes, and be around art materials all day!
Road to Huasca. This sculptural painting took me over a year to finish, I had many interruptions. There are nine sections; each section is 18x24, and the entire piece is six feet by four feet. I used over 50 cereal boxes to build it.
What advice would you give to a first year art teacher?
The internet is an incredible resource--there is so much attainable knowledge. When I started teaching, if
When I was looking for inspiration, I found it in books. It seemed like every book had a few quality lessons, and I seldom if ever got to meet other art teachers. I was on my own. Now, I can find communities of art teachers online, find a mentor to follow, Google for ideas, build portfolios of lesson plans. These portfolios are my arsenals, and if one is a busy person, it’s important to have lesson plans available at a moment’s notice.
Who are two art educators that you find particularly inspiring?
Inspiring art educators…There are so many and too many to mention, but from their inspiration, I have come to know who I am as an artist.
What are your two all-time favorite projects that you teach? Why are these your favorite?
I have many favorites. I don’t think it’s possible to narrow it down to just two, but
teaching children to persevere is an excellent life lesson.
I love art lessons that challenge my students’ ability to persevere.
I love to teach perspective drawing; it’s like learning another language, and the younger one learns it, the easier it is! That’s why I introduce one point perspective in third grade, and my fifth grade students learn two point perspective.
One of my favorite lessons is Split-Face Self-Portraits [shown above] and Self Portrait Drawing. A challenging lesson that involves skillful shading and precise measuring. An artist needs to challenge him or herself to grow!
Do you think assessment is important in the art room? What does this look like in your classroom?
In art school we had no grades. It was pass or fail, and that makes sense to me; it’s difficult to grade art.
At the schools I work at, written evaluations are required; these are very time consuming, but it helps to have digital portfolios of students’ artwork for evaluation purposes.
A student’s performance is assessed through the following criteria: Participation, Concepts, Procedures, Craftsmanship, and Classroom Courtesy.
Each student must demonstrate a willingness to study and work, an ability to concentrate for extended periods of time, and be personally responsible for participation.
What about technology in the art room? Do you think it should be a focus?
Technology was one of my areas of study in art school, and I love Photoshop and computer animation.
This year I was excited to receive an iPad for classroom use, and when I figure out how to make that iPad work for all the students in a class, I will have a few art and technology lessons… maybe next year!
However, without technology in the art room, there is so much to learn and only so many days in the. school year.
What have been the biggest challenges you’ve encountered within this profession and how did you navigate them?
Challenges in our profession: Art budgets, lack of supplies, teaching art from a cart…I have encountered all of these challenges in my profession, and I have to work hard and not give up. Out of the three schools I work in, I have only one art classroom. In the other schools without classrooms I don’t even have a cart. I carry with me a bin of art supplies and travel to classrooms. Students are so happy to have art, and that inspires me to make it work. I often fill my car with ceramic projects to take them to my house and fire them in my kiln.
Is there an exciting trend happening right now in our field?
Exciting trend happening right now: Networking on Instagram, sharing lessons and ideas, this all benefits the students.