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Meet Valerie Lewis of Art Academics in Fullerton

Today we’d like to introduce you to Valerie Lewis.

Valerie, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I never expected to be running my own business, but after 13 years of teaching for someone else, I began to feel stifled. The large school where I taught emphasized standardization over that unique relationship between teacher and student. So I left and began working with private students and rented out space in galleries, coffee shops and even a comic book store to teach small group classes. Each location was active in the local art walk and had changing art on display. This detail was important to me — I wanted my students to be immersed in art in all its varieties. Now that we have our own address, we are still keeping the feel of our early days by partnering with the JosephineJoan Gallery and becoming our own art walk destination.

Back then, I was a completely mobile art school and what I offered was personalized lessons that focused on both accurate realism and creativity. What mattered to me then, and still to this day, was to keep every group class student’s experience as close as possible to a private lesson. To do this, our classes are kept small — really small like 4 to 6 students. This may not make us rich but it will allow us to give every person an authentic connection and completely individualized experience.

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?
My world got rocked with a Stage IV breast cancer diagnosis just six months after we opened our storefront. Not only did I have to hustle and get on top off all the businessy stuff, I had to figure out how to replace myself. I am the main teacher, office manager, janitor etc. So in this next part of the journey, I am learning how to pass on my knowledge to a growing staff. I’ve found really fantastic people who enjoy the culture we’ve created. I’ve been really lucky that way.

We’d love to hear more about your business.
Art Academics offers lessons in drawing, painting and creativity. As I mentioned earlier, we promise a private-lesson feel in a small group class. Our smallness is one way we are set apart I think. Many students felt lost in the crowd at other schools, many needed more attention. In our classes, there isn’t a structured curriculum that every student has to follow. There is no need to, for instance, pass “watercolor” before you can try “acrylic” — and yes you can paint a unicorn flying over a volcano whenever you want! I believe that there is something to learn in any media and there’s no need to be an expert before you try. We’ve got you, if you fail it’s on us — but we won’t ever let that happen. I always tell new teachers that we’re here to teach technique, strategy and faith. Every picture a student finishes helps them have faith that they can follow through and create anything they can dream up.

We also teach adults. I didn’t realize that was unusual at all, but apparently, most little art studios focus on young kids and adults are left to fend for themselves in college classes or the occasional wine and paint class. With us, they can work on exactly what they want in their own time frame. Most adults come to class for a relaxing activity, but some really have a goal of showing their work. We’ve even had an artist who for medical reasons lost strength in their right hand and was working with us to develop strength in their non-dominant left all the while selling art in local galleries.

There is also the gallery. I’m really proud to be able to provide that experience. Every student that comes through will feel more comfortable visiting galleries because they get to watch shows come up and down. Sometimes they are present when we are working with our artists and planning shows. Just having this in the background is great for students.

What were you like growing up?
I was always that introverted art kid. In my life plan, however, I really tried to squash the art because it wasn’t practical. I had planned to teach English but ended up working in editorial at various magazines. It never felt right. As an adult, I went back to school for a second degree — painting — and I was able to start teaching. That felt right instantly. Teaching is my happy place so much so that when I take vacations, I think I get a little bit depressed being away from work. I really think you can’t escape your inner artist, I couldn’t.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Leanne Sargeant
Slav Zatoka
Valerie Lewis

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