Meet the teacher: Rebecca Chester

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Wednesday, July 15th, 2015

Ever wonder what your art teacher does when they aren’t teaching? Lancaster PA illustrator Rebecca Chester, who teaches a variety of classes for the Continuing Education Department, shares why she loves art, along with samples of the kind of art that she creates.

What is your favorite medium to use? 

As an artist, I work primarily in pen & ink and watercolor. I really love the intensity of color that can be achieved with watercolor and the “happy accidents” that occur when colors blend. For me, the most beautiful thing about watercolor is that it forces you to relinquish a bit of control. I always tell students to just let the paint be what it wants to be. Let it go where it wants to go. No drawing ever ends up exactly as I’d envisioned, but that’s what I like about working in watercolor. I like the surprises. But I’m also very linear as an artist, so beginning with pen & ink allows me to retain some control over my drawings and to guide them. The lines give the watercolor a place to “live.”

I also absolutely love working in colored pencil. It’s meditative and so relaxing, and it allows me to work realistically and focus on one of my favorite sources of inspiration: nature.

Why does art matter?

As human beings, art is how we’ve communicated for thousands of years. It is how ancient civilizations expressed what was important to them and recorded important events, and we have learned who they were and how they lived through the art they left behind. You cannot separate World History from Art History. The two are inexorably linked.

And if you look around you, art is literally everywhere: the clothes we wear, the houses in which we live, the cars we drive, the books we read, the dishes in our kitchen cabinets, the birthday card you just bought for your friend. Artists and designers create the visual world we live in.

History and fashion aside, for today‘s students (or anyone really), the opportunity to make art is more than just learning how to gesso a canvas or create a papier mache mask. Young children develop fine motor skills and language skills through making and talking about art. And art provides endless opportunities for students of all ages to problem-solve and develop creative thinking skills. They learn to take risks, and they learn that it’s okay to make mistakes. Inventiveness, creativity, patience, cultural awareness, and tolerance are fostered as students work alongside their peers and learn to thoughtfully and respectfully respond to the work of others. No matter what field of study these students eventually choose, the skills they learn in the art room will benefit them for the rest of their lives.

Art also helps students gain self-confidence, which transfers to other areas of their lives, both academically and socially. I remember my own first “Aha!” moment as a child, the moment I realized that I could make the lines on my paper actually look like something. From that moment, I was hooked. And as much as I love creating art and talking about art, the best part of being an artist and educator is, for me, being able to witness my students’ “Aha!” moments. To see them recognize their abilities and get excited about something they didn’t realize they could do is an amazing thing.

 Who is your favorite artist?

balancing-act-Rebecca-ChesterI can’t say that I have a favorite artist. I’m drawn more to work, in general, that is strong in line or color. That being said, the artists that influenced me the most and to whose work I always seem to return are illustrators, cartoonists, and children’s book artists. To me, art is about stories, and I’ve always been fascinated by the relationship between words and pictures. John Tenniel (the illustrator of the original Alice books), Aubrey Beardsley, and Edward Gorey are among my favorites. Along with cartoonists like Charles Schulz, Jim Davis, and Lynn Johnston, and children’s illustrators like Maurice Sendak and James Flora, these artists were my greatest influences when I was young and dreaming of being an illustrator. I am inspired by their work still.

I also love knowing something about the artists themselves and the creation of the work. Every work of art in my home was created by someone I know or has some story that makes me feel connected to it. I can walk through a gallery or museum and appreciate the art on exhibit, but for me to truly love a work of art, I need to know its story. It needs to be meaningful.

Where is your favorite local spot to look at art?

Wherever local artists are selling their work! I love the work of local craftsmen, and I believe strongly in supporting local artists, so places like Friendship Heart Gallery (Water Street), PA Guild of Craftsmen (Queen Street), and Lancaster Creative Factory (S. Prince Street) are my favorite places to check out what folks are making and to see demonstrations and work in progress.