Young Artist Mentoring

Available in Franklin, Hampshire, Berkshire and Hamden counties, Massachusetts.

“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”

--Pablo Picasso

Deborah Savage as a young artist at age 16.

What child does not enjoy drawing with bright crayons or smearing finger-paint around on large sheets of paper? Go into a preschool classroom and you will see—they all do. Then sometime in the years that follow, usually sooner rather than later, most children stop. But not all.  In middle school and high school, a few young people are still drawing pictures in the margins of textbooks, in their notebooks, on every piece of paper they can find. They spend as much time as they can—as I did in high school—in the art room. They want to be an artist.

I mentor young people as they consciously explore and grow into the sometimes difficult, demanding but always meaningful commitment to an artist’s life. These young people are facing the very real problem of how to remain the artist they have always been in a society that gives them few clues on how to follow their dreams.  Young artists need a mentor who can help them develop the inner and outer resources essential for staying true to the joy of those first crayons. 

As someone who has identified as an artist and writer from early childhood and who has consciously chosen to live according to that identification, I have a life-time of experience and understanding to offer as a mentor. I am a published novelist and illustrator, and have for long periods of my life supported myself on my visual art and my writing in a society that does not particularly value or support the arts. With encouragement as well as the honesty born of experience, I help guide young people as they navigate the practical, emotional, artistic and philosophical issues and questions connected with the choice to live as an artist. 

As well, I provide the guidance of a professional instructor in visual art to young artists as they develop in their craft. I support them in their chosen visual art medium, whether it is pencil drawing, oil and acrylic painting, cartoons and anime, found-object collages or graffiti, and I also encourage them to explore working in new mediums. I have taught art in schools and workshops for over twenty years and I have a knowledge of a broad variety of mediums, from wood- and lino-cut relief prints to pencil drawing to collage to oil paints. I am familiar with the works of many artists, from Michelangelo to Banksy, Van Gogh to Spiegelman, Bosch to O’Keefe, and I expose young artists to the work of different visual artists as well as their journals, letters and autobiographies.

“Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working,” said Pablo Picasso. The real work of any artist—and the key to having any kind of success —involves looking critically at your work and learning the craft and techniques of your art. All art is hard work. It is often very uncomfortable work. So while talent and a passion for art is certainly important, it is absolutely essential for young artists to learn the habit of working even when, and especially ­when, they are not inspired and they don’t “feel like” it. The best way for young artist to learn their craft, no matter what medium they work in, is for them to DRAW, draw as much as they can, and to study the works of other artist whether in a gallery, in books or on-line. No teacher can replace the first-hand experience of drawing or learning from the works of the best artists in any medium.

There are many ways for young visual artists to exhibit their work publicly. Small businesses such as restaurants and cafes often invite local artists to hang pictures on their walls. There are also on-line opportunities for artists to post photos of their work, state and regional art competitions for middle school and high school artists and summer programs and conferences for young artists. As a mentor, I help young artists compile portfolios of their work, prepare their art work for exhibition, and write cover letters. It is important that young artists become familiar with the process of finding an audience for their work, whether it is through an exhibition or a publication.

I work one-on-one with young artists in their homes or, with their parents’ permission, in my own home, at a café, or--again, with permission--in their school. I will look at their work, discuss it, suggest ways to improve it. I listen to them talk about their dreams. I share stories of my own experiences as a writer and artist. I offer practical advice, professional suggestions, intellectual stimulation, artistic insight and emotional support and understanding. Whether we work together for a few weeks or for a decade, and whether the young creative person ultimately becomes an artist or not, the experience of working seriously with a mentor can be unique, thought-provoking and valuable.