Artist/7-12 Grade School Teacher Kara Aina
I was born and raised in New Brunswick, Canada but have lived in Utah for the past 20 years. I studied 2 years at Mount Allison University in their Fine Arts program before leaving to work as a volunteer missionary in Nagoya, Japan for 18 months. When I returned home from Japan I moved out to British Columbia to keep up my Japanese and to finish my fine arts degree at the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design. However, before the fall semester could begin I got engaged and my husband and I transferred to Brigham Young University to finish our respected degrees. We graduated together in 2003 with 1.83 children :) I graduated with a BFA in Visual Arts majoring in Intaglio and Lithography.
When my husband started law school I was blessed to have been offered a full time art teaching position at the charter school where my sons were attending school. I was asked to take over for an art teacher that was leaving on maternity leave, we had also graduated together from the BFA program together at BYU. I didn’t have my teaching certification so I began a Teaching Certification through Utah State University. I would teach all day, rush my 4 sons to their various activities and then go to school and do homework at night while my husband was attending law school full time. It was a crazy time period.
For nearly 9 years I taught various mediums to nearly 600 students per week grades K-8th. It was an International Baccalaureate School so it required some additional rigorous training and altering of my lesson plans to correlate with the IB philosophy and lens of inquiry.
This past year I took a leap of faith and decided to spend more time on my personal art practice and accepted a part-time teaching position at another charter school grades 7-12 where I teach Art Foundations and Art II and run the Art Inspirations program for the school.
How do you balance art making, art teaching, and your family?
Balancing art making, art teaching (and grading :) and family is a constant juggle. Every weekend I map out my office hours for teaching for the following week and my studio hours. I have 3 top goals that I want to accomplish in each category throughout the week and assign which days I will accomplish them. I am not always perfect at it but I try to make my studio hours as non-negotiable as my office teaching hours; often scheduling other appointments and errands around my studio time.
I am continually inspired by connection and interactions I have with nature and my relationships with others. My relationships with others tend to result in the abstract pieces that I create, it helps me to work out the emotion or complexity of the interaction through the interplay of color, pattern, and shape. My work explores the rhythm between emotion and the evolving language of mark making in the bridge between what we feel and what we see.
I am continually drawn to the simple complexity of nature in botanicals, landscapes and even things from the garden. I am constantly learning how to communicate that complexity through dramatic washes, layers of paint and simple strokes and perhaps will never quite get it right; but I’ll keep on trying. Marc Chagall said: “…We couldn't do with out flowers. Flowers help you forget life's tragedies.” I have found that to be true for me, not that I have had a “tragic life” but life has brought tragedies my way and I have found considerable joy in the painting of flowers and it has helped me to process tragedy and pain; for which I am so grateful.
Are you involved in any sort of support network of other artists or teachers?
I have combined with a group of 30 local women artists and have founded the Art Collective Utah. We had our first group show in November and we meet regularly to support and strengthen each other by providing resources, skills, experience, advice and friendship to each other. We have just begun to reach out to other artists outside of our group to provide resources, networking and hope to be the facilitator to assist other artists to create additional artist mastermind groups. We have lots of big plans for the future.
Do your students see you making art?
My students see me making art as I regularly do tutorials for them for various assignments and how to use various mediums and art tools. I also create a fair amount of process videos that I post on my Instagram account https://www.instagram.com/kara_aina_art/ and I have a lot of my students that follow me on that account. Do my students see me making my own art in the classroom? Not as much. For the past 8 years I have been teaching as a full time K-8 art teacher which I have found need a lot of support and are every minute of your time is spoken for to serve and guide them; there is simply not the same opportunity to work on personal art as there would be in a high school or college level environment. Periodically in a middle school class when students are working on personal projects, the classes are smaller and students are very focused on their work I would sit down beside them and work on some things but I found it often tricky to concentrate as you are inevitably fielding tons of questions.
I think it is important for my students to see me creating art and pursuing a career in the arts; they need to see examples of adults pursuing things that they are passionate about, facing fears, and being vulnerable and doing it all over again the next day. They need to see that there is room in this world to pursue things that make us unique. In my years of teaching I have come across many students that really struggle with core subjects and may even need assistance with reading, math and writing but then they come to my class and they have the opportunity to be a leader, to shine, to demonstrate their knowledge and their abilities that perhaps others don’t have. It’s important for students to see that there is room in this world for people to be successful in a variety of ways; not just academics.
Why is it important to you to continue making art?
Even though I graduated with a Fine Arts degree, was accepted into a program based on portfolio review and finished with a solo exhibition I didn’t call myself an artist until 2 years ago. I felt that if I wasn’t earning a living through my art then I didn’t have the right to call myself an artist. When I finally had the realization that being an artist was as much a part of who I was as an individual not merely a profession it changed my mindset and my life in a drastic way. Beginning a regular and daily art practice of my own enabled me to become more balanced as a teacher, relax a bit more and find personal fulfillment where I didn’t know it existed. It saved me from teacher ‘burn out’ and helped me to teach my students more effectively how to push through mistakes, bounce back and learn from failures. I have come to understand that you can’t truly teach others how to be creative if you aren’t engaging in the same practice on a regular basis and that making time for your own practice is one of the best things you can do for your students and ultimately for yourself.
How do you keep yourself motivated?
I started off by making a New Year’s resolution to paint regularly each week and I created an instagram account to post my work to in order to keep myself accountable. Within a few months I applied to a few local shows and continued to sell my work through instagram. Later I began taking commission work, received gallery representation and launched my website. I try to get involved in my local art community by attending shows, taking painting and art workshops from local artists, purchasing local artist’s art, featuring them on instagram and through my newsletter whenever possible; at least once per month.
What advice would you give to a brand new teacher who wants to be an artist as well?
I have had the fortunate opportunity to train 5 art education students over the past few years and we have discussed this concept of how to fit our own studio practice in with such an involved career as being an educator. There is so much on teachers’ plates nowadays, it goes way beyond preparing and teaching a lesson. We are tracking data on students to help them reach their full-potential, overseeing programs and after school activities, watching our students vigilantly for low-blood sugar levels for diabetic students, redirecting students who struggle in regular classroom settings, looking out for students that are suicidal, depressed, anxious, self-harming, possibly capable of harming other, are being bullied or bullying others, sitting in on multiple special education meetings, car pool duty, hallway duty, and the list goes on and on. This is why making our own personal studio practice a permanent fixture in our busy schedule is so vital for our own personal health and well being.
I do feel that this is harder to achieve as an elementary art teacher vs. middle/high or college school art educator. The amount of preparation, cleaning, supply restocking, classroom managing, and organizational skills needed is astounding and I found that although I loved my students, the energy level that those grades needed left me drained not just physically but emotionally by the end of the day. I felt on the days that I taught 1st and 2nd grade my ability to create my own art was so limited and was even painful to conger up the motivation to do so…I learned that on those days I was doing well to paint or sketch for 20 minutes but on the days that I had my 7th and 8th grade students I was left with more mental resilience and focus for my own personal art. When you are an art teacher and teaching various grade levels, be aware of when you are drained the most and keep your expectations of your own studio practice low. Perhaps, reserve those days for simpler tasks such as applying gesso to panels while listening to an audiobook that allows you a bit of a recharge.
Find Kara’s work at: