Today we’d like to introduce you to Gregory Navarro Pickens.
Gregory, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I have always found art to be my saving grace. I believe I gravitated towards drawing as a kid as a means of trying to control my environment as well as sooth my nerves, which it still does for me. Flash forward to my dad asking me what “job” I planned to do as I worked on my Master’s degree in painting. He suggested being a teacher, but I was not at all interested, despite having had some amazing teachers through the years. Fortunately, my Master’s program required that I teach a “Painting for Non-Majors” class as part of my degree, and at age 24, I was instantly hooked. I realized that I get just as excited about other people’s successes in art as I do my own. This insight has led me to teach and make collaborative art in a wide range of situations including public and private schools and colleges, non-profits, prisons, juvenile halls, street festivals, events and public art programs.
I opened STUDIOPICK – Arts Integration Studio at 4356 Atlantic Ave. in Long Beach on August 2, 2019 as an opportunity to bring all my experiences, passions and interests together under one roof. The studio allows me to share the creative processes I’m especially passionate about in many different formats including workshops, classes, parties or walk-in customers. There’s nothing more exciting to me than to have someone of any age walk in and realize they have the opportunity to jump right in. I’m definitely all about trying to remove any barriers or inhibitions people may have to just giving art a try. I picked this Bixby Knolls neighborhood because I knew, having done many projects here, it would be supportive of a creative venture and there were lots of families within walking distance of the studio. There is also an incredible First Friday event each month where thousands of people stroll the sidewalks enjoying their local artists, musicians and businesses, so there’s direct marketing built into the location.
The “Make-it” stations at StudioPick are set up so customers can instantly dive into a number of creative processes that include acrylic pour painting, spin art, chain-pull painting, pendulum painting, recycled sculptures, even a remote-control car painting booth. Other more traditional painting or drawing projects can also be spontaneously created with a little instruction. It has been truly inspiring to see people’s reaction to the studio. It takes a little discussion for most people to understand what’s going on since there aren’t many studios that function this way. Generally speaking, the whole community has made me feel very welcome and valuable.
Young kids and teens have enjoyed art programs at StudioPick and will have an opportunity to do so again with Summer ART Camps. Family art experiences are also offered periodically, allowing families the opportunity to create a collaborative work of art together. These have included a mandala making workshop and this summer, a table-top painting class. Adult art programs have a ‘sip and paint’ format, but the instruction is not cookie-cutter style at all and allows participants to do their own version of the particular project. It’s my nature as an art teacher to constantly want to emphasize the fundamentals of art. I enjoy bringing a group along step by step, but I don’t ask them to replicate my brush stroke or composition, but more apply demonstrated techniques the way they see it fitting into their artwork.
In fact, many of the processes I love to present require that you let go to allow the materials to do their own thing. No two results are the same which tends to relieve everyone of trying to make a comparative judgment about their work at the end. It’s awesome because it’s their unique expression, not because it looks like the teachers, but specifically because it doesn’t. This supportive, non-judgmental environment is essential for people to feel free to explore their instinct and intuitions. To me, that’s what art is, an exploration, not a destination. StudioPick is available to rent for parties or events (kids and adults) if you are looking to integrate art into your gathering. The studio can comfortably accommodate up to 16 participants, but most engagements have been groups of 10-12 people. “Art party” customers bring their own food and refreshments while they are led through the creation of 1-3 works of art, depending on the project.
As the co-founder of 2 local non-profit art centers, Artists Reaching Kids (ARK) and The Art Exchange (now Long Beach Museum of Art -Downtown) I have been designing arts education programs for the Long Beach community for the past 30 years. I love my current part-time job teaching ART at Intellectual Virtues Academy High School in Long Beach which allows me the flexibility to continue creating StudioPick. The AP Art class from IVA meets in my studio twice a week, which has been a wonderful opportunity to combine my professional worlds.
I have been working with the LBUSD for that almost 30 years as well, designing art programs and creating murals with large groups of students, sometimes the entire school population. I have been able to create over 150 murals locally with about a third of them located on LBUSD school sites. I experience most kids as hungry for creative outlets, especially since art has no longer been mandated for California elementary school curriculum.
A few years ago, my friend Rick Schank and I began to explore the use of art as a team-building tool with the creation of a business called ARTISTICO. (www.artisticoalition.com) With the motto of “Insight through Art”, ARTISTICO will be headquartered at STUDIOPICK and will continue to provide businesses, school faculty and students the opportunity to create large collaborative mandalas together with up to 100 participants. This powerful collaborative art experience has lasting effects on business and group culture and can reveal great personal insights for individuals.
We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
It was not an encouraging process at all trying to find this space. Two other potential spaces in the area fell through and I was very discouraged. Fortunately, the space I rented has everything the others had and more. It’s hard to trust the universe to serve up the right solution sometimes, but I got a lesson in allowing things to unfold naturally and I’ve been very happy with the particular studio space that I landed in.
After getting open, the challenge has been getting the word out that I even exist. Although I’m in a popular area for foot traffic, I’m just around the corner from the main thoroughfare and it’s easy to walk past the studio without seeing it. Also, I find that making the time to do the marketing and website maintenance is challenging since there’s always something that needs prepping in the studio. Accepting that I have to keep learning and applying myself to “business” part of the studio has been tough. I’d usually rather be elbow deep in an art project, but I’m gaining acceptance and discipline around those things that allow me to keep this studio experiment going and growing. It was hard to know what challenges were going to come up, but the solution has been to engage more competent, experienced people to help me get from one step to the next. It has been a very humbling process in that regard.
We’d love to hear more about your business.
Regardless of what happens with this business in the current lock down mode, I’m proud of myself for taking the leap and giving it a shot on my own. I have been working with non-profits and community groups my whole career and have enjoyed it very much, but there’s a wonderful sense of freedom in being able to make all the creative decisions without approval or consensus building. I take great pleasure and pride in keeping the space clean and well organized.
The acrylic pour painting and chain-pull processes have become very popular on YouTube and as a result, in the studio as well. People are delighted to be able to jump directly into a painting project with very little instruction and without having to buy the materials or clean up the mess. This seems to be the appeal of having a party at the studio as well. For walk-in customers, panels cost $10. to $20. each and can be taken to any number of MAKE-IT Stations in the studio. Most of the painting processes require that they be left and dry for 24-48 hrs.
I have been watching what things in the studio inspire people at different ages and have been refining those particular “MAKE-IT” stations. I’m staying open to suggestions from groups and artists and just trying to follow my instincts about what is engaging to people. I feel very lucky to be able to experiment this first year while I see what works best in this community. Staying flexible is key at this point and it has allowed me to accommodate some very unique requests.
The studio has hosted groups of all ages over the past nine months with many of the projects accessible to all age groups. I have presented the same acrylic pour painting processes to a large group of retired seniors and a large group of partying four-year-old, both groups approaching the projects with equal amounts of enthusiasm.
What were you like growing up?
I was a very sensitive kid growing up in Northern New Jersey. I was quiet but found a lot of my confidence through team sports, which I played up through college. I was always sketching or making some kind of craft project, just like one of my daughters does now. I was very fortunate to have participated in an exchange program to Brazil one summer in high school where I studied art. More than the art classes, being immersed in another culture was intoxicating and I’ve made traveling a part of my life ever since – 24 countries and counting so far.
I think customers might describe me as very friendly and helpful and perhaps a bit on the goofy side.
- Painting panels are available for $10. to $20. each for walk-in customers and includes all materials for participants in a variety of “MAKE-IT” station options.
- ART Parties start at $300 per event for 10 people ($30. for each additional person)
- Address: StudioPick
4356 Atlantic Ave
Long Beach CA 90807
- Website: www.studiopick.net
- Phone: 562.882.7900
- Email: : firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: #studiopick
- Facebook: studiopickarts
The credit for the photo of me with my hands raised goes to Stephanie Serna.