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Finding balance between teaching and creating.

Artist/Teacher Laura Voth

Artist/Teacher Laura Voth

Artist/teacher Laura Voth grew up in Niskayuna, New York and has been living and working in Tulsa, Oklahoma for the past ten years. She received a Master’s in Administrative Leadership from The University of Oklahoma and a Bachelor’s in Studio Art from Oral Roberts University. Laura teaches STEAM programming for Oklahoma Public Schools at the elementary level and visual arts for a Tulsa public school after school program. When not teaching in schools, she does oil painting & watercolor classes for older adults, visual arts for people with Alzheimer’s disease and their caregivers, Paint & Sips for organizations throughout Oklahoma, and art camps & special events and classes for a local arts and humanities council. Laura also enjoys reading, spending quality time with relationships, being outside, and exploring new towns and places.

Laura recently launched an arts education program called The Backyard Series that connects teachers and students to their neighborhood artists in the comfort of their classrooms. After watching a short classroom-friendly artist interview, students participate in a lesson plan based on the artist's personal practice. The purpose of this program to get art education back into the classrooms by providing teachers with free resources and supporting local artists.

How do you balance art making and art teaching?

Learning how to balance art making and art teaching is an art in itself. The most challenging part is being able to put aside enough creative energy to use after a long day of teaching creative practices. The way I balance the two is by separating my work days between creating and teaching. Four days a week I teach and the remaining three I create. However, I am not perfect and sometimes I fail to meet this schedule.

What other artists influence your work?

Early exposure to Claude Monet’s water lily paintings set me on my path of becoming an artist. The works of Andrew Wyeth, Helen Frankenthaler, & Andy Goldsworthy shaped my artistic style as a young adult. Georgia O’Keefe’s courageous reflections on life and creation, the playfulness of Wayne White’s works, the curiosity evoked by Nick Cave’s installations & sculptures, and the authentic & confronting performances by Marina Abramović currently stretch my mind and shape my perspective about what it means to be an artist in our world today.

You do both representational and non-representational work and also use a wide variety of mediums. Do you prefer one style or medium over others?

I try to allow myself to fully embrace different seasons in life through my art practice which includes changing mediums and content about what’s currently happening in my surroundings. Depending on the content of the piece (which is usually developed as a direct relation to what I’m currently studying or an idea I’m meditating on) each artwork calls for a specific medium to best carry the content’s narrative (and vice versa).  Also, being a teacher and a lifelong learner, learning and exploring new mediums, processes, & styles genuinely excite me. Sometimes my students inspire the medium I choose to work with and sometimes our classroom conversations spark content ideas.

You seem to be involved in your local art scene. How does this benefit you and your students?

People need people. I need the local art scene to foster conversations with artists who carry different valuable experiences to keep my mind sharp and inspire new opportunities for work and possible collaborations for greater projects. All of this strengthens our local art community. My students benefit from my involvement in the local art scene when I invite other artists to visit our classroom and invite them and their families to attend exhibits and studio days at other art organizations in the area.

In your bio, you state: "My goal is to utilize the arts as an educational tool for developing creative and critical thinking skills, collaboration, intellectual curiosity, personal discovery, and citizenship." What are you doing to accomplish those goals?

A huge part of meeting my education goals involves a playful approach to learning balanced with reflective conversations. Never do I dictate the outcome of a project and never do I condemn a child for making mistakes. In the words of one of my five year old students “there are no mistakes in art because mistakes can make your art gooder.” Dialogue is an important part of the creation and learning process because it develops self awareness. At the beginning of every lesson I have my students sit in a circle and discuss the activities with each other and then return to the discussion circle at the end of the day. I find that through the creative freedoms enabled through play combined with thoughtful conversations set the stage for accomplishing those goals.

What does your schedule for making art look like?

In a perfect world, I would create every day. However, teaching all over my state keeps my art making schedule a little crowded. I do, however, create every day because I teach art everyday. One of the reasons why I’ve chosen to be a contract art teacher instead of settling at a school is so that I can choose to not teach on Fridays. Ideally, Friday through Sunday I create my own work, Monday through Thursday I teach.

Do your students see you making art?

Absolutely. I will every once in a while bring to class a piece I’m working on or a completed work. I also invite other artists to visit my classes so the students have a greater exposure to the work being created in their community.

Do you think it is important for your students to know about your art career? Why?

All people need mentors and examples of people working or living a lifestyle dedicated to learning and creativity to inspire them to do better. I wouldn’t even know that an art career was achievable without the direction and transparency from some of my teachers. Also, sharing a bit of experience from your own life with your students helps develop trust and more authentic relationships that builds a safer environment for learning.

How has teaching changed the way you make art?

Just as I hope to inspire my students, they inspire me. Their perspective, bravery, and playfulness helps develop my own curiosity and intensify my desire to get back in the studio and make.

How has your own art influenced the way you teach?

When people ask what my medium is, my answer is learning. I love to learn new techniques, experiment with new materials, and cultivate new skills. Whenever I discover something during my creation process that excites me, I cannot wait to share the experience with my students.

What advice would you give other artist teachers?

My advice for art teachers is to not shy away from play in the classroom. Also, a little trust and freedom goes a long way for a student. Don’t be afraid to give a 6 year old a hammer and don’t silence a teenager’s laughter. Just like your own studio, the art room should be a safe space. Also, allow yourself the grace to make mistakes. We are not perfect and the more honest we are with ourselves and our students the stronger and more authentic art (both yours and your students) will be formed.

What advice would you give to a brand new teacher who wants to be an artist as well?  

The most important piece of advice I could give to a new teacher wanting to be an artist as well is to set a schedule that is realistic. Don’t overwork yourself and be kind to yourself. Balancing two creative jobs takes a lot of energy and energy grows through self-care.

Describe your favorite classroom project.

My favorite classroom projects are when the students are engaged and communicating with one another while also bringing to the table their personal experiences and ideas. I facilitate art experiences and skill building lessons, so choosing a favorite classroom project is near impossible! I will however describe a recent project that was enjoyable. I had the students sit in a circle and continue a storyline while I wrote down what they spoke. Then I gave each child a line from their story and asked them to illustrate. The end product was a sweet storybook that was written and illustrated by the entire class. This project took place around the holiday season, so we gifted out storybooks to teachers, administration, and other community members.

Why is it important to you to continue making art?

We are all artists in our own giftings, talents, and interests. Mine happens to be creating with my hands out of art materials and ideas for education/ arts experiences for others. I can not imagine living without creating, it’s rooted deep within me.

Anything else you would like to say?

Prior to working as an independent art educator & artist, I worked in museum education for a local art museum for over six years. I developed community programs, events, experiences, & classes for the art museum.

What do you do to sell your work?

Every now and then I participate in a gallery or an art fair. People also commission pieces after looking over my online portfolio through social media. Currently, selling art is not as important to me as making work and finding joy during the creation process.

Find Laura’s work at:

Artist/High School Art Teacher/NAEA Vice President James Rees

Artist/High School Art Teacher/NAEA Vice President James Rees

Artist/Teacher Jessica Clark

Artist/Teacher Jessica Clark