Photo of students painting flowers

Written by on February 15, 2012

Win-win watercolor

Earlier this week Jesse Vestermark, architecture and environmental design librarian, hosted a watercolor workshop for students who live in Sequoia. About fifteen students dropped in and out during the course of the three hours. I asked him some questions about it and he gave some great answers…

What inspired you to host a watercolor workshop?
I was thinking out loud during a conversation with Tim Bethune, the Student Success Coordinator for Sequoia Hall, so let me say first that I’m thankful to him for the opportunity.

Library faculty are encouraged to perform outreach at our respective residence halls. However, you quickly learn through trial-and-error that between 5:00-8:00 PM, after most of their classes are over, students don’t really want to attend heavy academic programming.  So, I decided to go almost the opposite direction for three reasons.

For one, painting is therapeutic. Secondly most, if not all, CAED students are expected to incorporate their own visuals into their projects at some point, so I thought it would be fun to play with one of the most rewarding-yet-challenging visual mediums in a zero-pressure situation, and attempt to minimize self-consciousness.  Finally, I have a background in painting and I never get to do enough of it myself.

Working with and then painting alongside the students is simultaneously fun and humbling. I have to make sure I follow the same advice I give to the novices and still step-up my game next the experienced ones, which is win-win for me. Also, I’m still working out whether I should even be offering much advice, or just let them go. Most of them seem to prefer the latter. I provide the supplies, and it’s a relaxed two-plus hours, so they’re free to drop in, paint, chat, not chat and leave on their own schedule and at their own level of commitment.

Photo of flowers used for paintingWhere did the flowers [subject of the paintings] come from?
I got a tip from some colleagues that I could get free flowers if I contacted facilities services, and that they would even clip them for me.  After I traced my way to our landscaper, Gareth, I even got to ride around with him in the little golf cart and pick out the flowers I thought would work best for painting.

What did you enjoy about the workshop? What do you think students enjoyed about it? 
I enjoyed the relaxed, communal vibe it engenders. Also, like we were talking about earlier, since I set it up, I wanted to make it as fun as possible and not worry about critique.  Again, if a student asks for advice or a critique, I’ll offer it — and only in a constructive way. I don’t want to sound all new-agey, but I’ve been a receiver (and, once in a while, a giver) of enough harsh critiques to know they can hurt as much as help. At the end of the day, literally, no one wants that. This is a talented group of students and watercolor seems to bring out a remarkable range of personal styles. I’d hate to be responsible for homogenizing that phenomenon, since I value personality over technical skill.

As for the students, again, it’s therapeutic, quietly social and sometimes even a bit nostalgic for them.  There was one point last night where there were about nine of us at once and we went (what seemed like) five full minutes without talking to each other. Considering the otherwise semi-chaotic setting, it was kind of a beautiful thing.  Also, you can see in the photos how refreshingly the flowers and paintings contrast with the institutional architecture of the residence hall.

How does this fit in with your role as librarian?
Well, I asked this myself and I have already addressed some of the obstacles to presenting “real” library help at the residence halls.  I will say that, of the seven students that came to my first session (the photos above depict the second) one has already stopped by my office for class help, which is actually a decent ratio. It’s outreach and I’m in a supporting profession, so if students see that I’m supportive in one role, they’ll know it will translate when they need me for research or other kinds of academic help.

When/what is next?
This was set up as a monthly program, and I have been hoping to get outside eventually.

Actually the original idea was to do architectural illustration, but because I had to start in January, it’s been too dark of course. At this point, considering my intuition about the sessions providing a complementary experience to their academic, technical work, I almost have some hesitation over doing architectural painting once the days get longer, though I suppose we’ll try it at some point in April or May.  So, I’m tentatively thinking the next session will be held one of the first days of Spring Quarter and we’ll try for something landscape-y nearby, and maybe graduate to buildings by mid-late spring.  I haven’t yet worked out how and where we’ll meet considering the semi-spontaneous, drop-in nature of the indoor sessions so far, but I’m open to ideas.

I have an e-mail list going of past participants and anyone else who wants to be notified of future sessions.  If anyone would like to be added, they can leave their e-mail address in the comments section or notify me directly at jvesterm – at – calpoly – dot – edu.

Thanks, Jesse!

— Karen

Photo of paintings posted to fridgeStudents decided to put their work up on the “fridge” — looks great!

Read more on cal poly, college architecture environmental design, jesse vestermark, kennedy library, librarian, painting, sequoia hall, and watercolor.

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