Joan Cherrington is an artist, a teacher, and a homeschool mom and grandma – or perhaps I should say she’s “graduated” from homeschooling in that her children are now adults. One daughter has followed in her footsteps and has taught her seven children at home; one has graduated and right now three of them are going to school full time.
In 1969, she came to the Pacific Northwest from the Midwest to go to college, where she met her husband. She says, “I always wanted to be a teacher.” After a second year of college she left school to start a family, having made the decision to stay home with her children. Eventually there were three children, who were educated at home for some of the time, as well as in private Christian school, and public school.
Her husband was a missionary, then pastor, and is now semi-retired. They spent a year in Portugal for language studies, followed by two years in West Africa. After they returned to the U.S. her husband was a pastor for eight years. In 1995, it became necessary for Joan to take up an occupation that could supplement the family income. In her words, “I thought, what do I know? Homeschooling and art. It turned out that I was one of the first teachers in the area to offer art classes to homeschoolers. I first started teaching out at Home Link (a public school program offering classes to children learning at home) and in my home. It’s grown into a family business. My husband is partially retired. He buys my supplies and does the bookkeeping. A daughter living at home works and cleans and helps with a lot of things. We all pitch in together.”
How and when did you get started with art? What sort of help/encouragement/mentoring did you have along the way?
Being an artist is really who I was. I remember early memories of the beauty of the clouds. I remember noticing beauty and wanting to express that, drawing and cutting things out of paper and gluing them. Creativity was a part of me. When I was in 3rd grade, my grandfather saw something I’d drawn and said, “This girl is an artist!” He bought me an oil painting set – that was a starting point. My parents got me lessons when I was eleven. I seized any opportunity to study art – Girl Scouts, high school, college, library books, and classes at local colleges.
Why is art important? Why is teaching art important? How can a non-artist encourage art skills in his/her children?
Teaching children about art increases their sensitivity to the beauty of nature. When you sit down and take time to look at something long enough that you can actually draw or paint it, you start noticing things you wouldn’t notice otherwise.
Art also improves fine motor skills. Sometimes it’s hard to get children to spend time working on those skills through such activities as penmanship or writing. For some children, it’s much more inspirational to use and develop those skills while drawing.
It also improves visual processing. The analytical part of our brains classifies and processes things. There’s a downfall to this; things can be simplified so much that our brains just stop thinking in detail. We just quit seeing all the visual information that’s out there. For instance, we teach our little ones the names of colors. As soon as they name that red object it’s classified as “red” in their brains, and they stop thinking about “orange red, violet red, what kind of red is this?” They don’t notice that right in front of them is a yellow highlight and violet shadow, and the shadow under it is brownish or gray. They don’t see the variances and nuances in color any more, they look at the ball (for example) and say, “That’s red.” When they learn about art and spend time looking at things, they discover all this information that they’ve come to overlook. They learn to glean these facts and details from our environment.
As to my philosophy of teaching art, I feel very passionate about giving children principles of art and techniques and how to use those principles. I grew up in the era of the modern art movement, people throwing paint at canvases, abstract expressionism being the main thing people were interested in. I really was drawn to realism and classical art. I did have a teacher in high school who helped me somewhat, but in college there wasn’t anybody I knew of teaching the basics of art. The method at that time was, “Just go do it.” I was so frustrated! When I found people who were actually teaching the principles involved in art, I remember thinking, “I could have learned this as a child. It would have made things so much easier.”
In my classes, I’m giving these children tools so they really can express themselves artistically.
What can parents do? They can supply good art materials, and lots of them. For experimentation, it might be better to have less expensive paper and colors so they don’t have to feel nervous about using it up, but when your students get ready to start on a more involved project, it’s better to have good quality art materials to help them get the results they want. Inexpensive art supplies can be frustrating to work with.
Giving room for creative messiness is also important. Creativity isn’t always orderly. Let children have space to make some messes. Learning to clean up after themselves is also an important life skill. Provide teachers and art classes, especially if a child is interested in art.
One idea I think is really helpful is to encourage pictorial storytelling or an art journal. My niece has a sketchbook where she draws on one page and her little boy draws on the facing page. They enjoy doing art together in this way. Even if you’re not a good artist, then you can boost the confidence of your child. Having a fun experience of creating together is important.
Anyone can arrange a group of objects and make drawing them a part of the school day. Whether you’re talented with art or not, you can take time to sit down and draw. Encourage your children to see how much they can capture as they draw a picture of those objects.
Who should be trained in art? Everyone! I’m not talented in math, but learning math was something I had to do in school, and I’m better for having struggled with it. I wouldn’t want to have a career in math, but it’s an important life skill. Art can be important in a person’s life even without talent.
In so many areas of life such as math, writing, and music, we think children should start learning at an early age the principles behind it. But with art, we think only the people who are talented should study or “do” art at all. Furthermore, the attitude seems to be that if you are talented at it, you don't need practice or instruction, you should just go and do it. That makes about as much sense to me as buying a piano and telling a child to go play it and if they can play by ear they’ll be a musician, and if not, “Oh well.” Even if you aren’t going to be a great artist, you can learn to create art and can still find enjoyment drawing, painting, or sculpting. Even knowing color harmonies can help you choose what clothes to wear, or help them decorate or paint their home.
My classes are more academic and structured because it’s important to me that they learn the basic principles of art.
How is God at work in your life?
God is very important to me. I feel like I’m always having a conversation with Him about everything going on in my life, through His Word and through prayer. Teaching children to appreciate the beauty of His creation is a way of honoring Him. When I was a child and teen, realizing that an artist was what God made me, I asked Him, “Why did you give me this gift that’s not very used in the church? Why didn’t You give me, instead, a gift of singing or speaking or something like that, which would have been much more useful to You?” And yet, whatever gifts he does give can be used in service to Him. There are quite few churches around in this time, in history, that are beginning to feel that the arts have not been used much in ministry for the church. There are churches making the effort to give artists a way to minister through art. During the Renaissance and the Middle Ages, when not many people knew how to read, churches used art to communicate stories of the Bible and tell about God. So much of the richness of art has been lost or ignored, but we can honor God by using art to reflect the beauty of His Creation.
Do you have a favorite artist? How about a favorite art medium?
My favorite artist is Vermeer, who was a contemporary of Rembrandt. We usually hear more of Rembrandt, but I like the realism he captured. Most of the things he painted were inside his home. Another artist I really like is Mary Cassatt, an American woman who went to France and studied with the Impressionists. She painted pictures of her friends and family; her settings were home situations using things around her. She didn’t feel she needed to be someone that she wasn’t in order to become an artist. Her art flowed out of who she was as a Victorian woman who lived in a family.
My favorite medium in art is oil painting, followed by pen and ink, and then colored pencil.
Do you have any advice for homeschooling families?
I guess I’d say to mothers, especially, to have confidence that the Lord can direct them in what is best for their children. The Lord gave those children to you and He will give you guidance on how to raise them. When I was a young mom, I was always thinking that “this” method or “that” way was the best thing for them (as in letting “experts” take charge of their education), but as I grew in confidence and experience, I realized they were mine, and I wanted to be there when they learned to read just as I was there when they learned to walk.
What is your favorite animal? (My youngest daughter wants to know. She says hers is a horse.)
Horses and cats. We have two cats and no room for a horse, but if I had room I’d want one. My parents had horses. I felt especially privileged to have such a large animal want to be my friend.
Is there anything else you'd like to say?
It amazes me, how the Lord provided for me. By the time it came about for me to be an art teacher, I’d already learned about teaching through homeschooling and teaching Bible study. If I had wanted to be a public school teacher, I would have had to go back to school for classes, and training in teaching. I didn’t need those classes in order to teach art. I had already studied art on my own, so I had the tools and knowledge needed. I was also raised by a family with a business in the home. I grew up with clients coming to our home, even as a child, greeting them at the door and treating them in a professional way. All the different parts of my life came together as a result of the Lord knowing what He was preparing for me. It really is true, that He has a plan for your life and will provide all that you need to be able to carry it out.