Yes, I think I was probably born to teach. As I prepare for the next round of online workshops, I realize that teaching these classes is getting me through the isolation of this pandemic. I’m so grateful to the many folks from around the world who have joined me to learn about perspective and watercolor from the comfort (and safety) of our own homes. I hope that these classes are helping you too.
I also think back to how I started teaching. You may be surprised to learn that for most of my 5 years of architecture school, I was not particularly good at drawing. Before entering our 4th year in the program, our portfolios were reviewed by 3 professors, and you had to pass this review in order to move on. In my review, two professors literally wrote “weak graphic skills”. I was so discouraged, especially after already investing 3 years in college, but I turned it around and took it as a challenge to do better. And wow, look what happened! I clearly remember struggling with learning how to draw, and it’s that struggle that helps me be a better teacher today.
But this isn’t how I actually started teaching…after graduating with my 5 year architecture degree from UT Austin (as Valedictorian, no less–HA, that will teach the architect who discouraged me from going saying women shouldn’t be in architecture!!!!), I moved to NYC to attend graduate school in Interior Design at Pratt in Brooklyn. I arrived without ever seeing the place and knowing no one. Coming from an architecture degree, I placed out of the required drawing courses, which helped me to find time to work (I had an entry level job at HOK in Rockefeller Center–every time I see the Christmas tree on TV, I remember seeing it out the window from work!)
My fellow classmates, however, had to take the drawing classes which were unfortunately taught by a teacher who didn’t actually teach. He would take them outside and simply let them loose and say, “Draw.” Now this method could work if you have a lot of time, but the trial and error involved is too quickly discouraging. So… they came to me and asked me if I could teach them!!!! I went to the department chair, who said that due to union rules, I couldn’t “teach”, so we started a “Sketching Club”. Twice a week, they would meet me for lunch and I’d project slides and teach them to draw the way that I was taught in architecture school. I loved it.
The year after finishing grad school, I started teaching at Parsons in the Environmental Design/Architecture program, then I was asked by Tim Gunn (yes, that Tim Gunn) to be the first hire for the new Interior Design program they were putting together. I ended up teaching at Parsons for 10 years. We moved to Seattle, where I taught briefly with Frank Ching at the University of Washington, then a number of years at Cornish College of the Arts, the Parsons of the Northwest. Once my dad got sick, I left teaching university and started the travel workshop life, thanks in large part to Urban Sketchers (I just sent in my annual donation, nudge nudge.) I’ve been so incredibly fortunate to have parallel careers in teaching and architecture/illustration my entire adult life.
As this terrible year comes to a close, I find myself grateful for so many things in life, including the ability to teach during a global pandemic. Who knew? Teaching fills some inner need to share and pass on what I have learned, to see the light bulb of understanding illuminate in someone’s eyes. It’s why I always ask, “What was your ah-ha moment?” Mine is that teaching teaches the teacher so much. Thank you to every single student over the many years for what you’ve taught me.
I get quite emotional looking at these photos. I love teaching so much, and I love the friends I see in these photos, friends made along the way. I miss you all. Let’s hope for some in-person 3-D learning and travel in a better 2021!