Finding Your Art: Instructor Interview with Susan Singer

Last week I sat down with Susan Singer, one of VisArts’ long time instructors who, before teaching, took many classes here as a student. We chatted before one of the sessions of her Visual Journaling class.

When did you first know that you wanted to pursue art seriously?Screen shot 2015-11-11 at 11.59.37 AM

I knew I wanted to pursue art when I started doing polymer clay, which was in about 1996. A friend taught me how to do it, and I took a fabulous weekend workshop here at VisArts with City Zen Cane. They make the most incredible canes out of polymer clay and put them together to make jewelry and other things. It was so cool that I couldn’t stop making them–I turned them into jewelry and candle holders. Then I became a member of the co-op gallery “But Is It Art,” and that also sort of launched me, and I knew then that I had to be doing as much art as I could.

What were you doing before that point?

I was a teacher. I taught German in Austria, and then I was a tutor here in town while I was raising my kids, and I continued to do that up until four years ago.

Can you tell me about some of the other classes you took at VisArts before becoming an instructor?

Well, let’s see if I can remember them. I took a drawing class–it was one of those classes that eventually dwindled down to one person. I remember drawing a Wayne Thiebaud piece of cake, and then a shell that we were supposed to draw very large, and I got so attached to it that the instructor eventually gave me the shell, and there was such kindness in that. I still have it. I’ll find it on my desk every once in awhile. I took a paper-making class. And the vats–this was before the building was renovated, in 1988 or 90–they left the vats out all the time, so I would come in whenever I could and make more paper. But that was so fun to learn that process and the skill behind it. I wish they would teach that again. And I took watercolor. Those might have been the major classes before I started doing art on my own.

Landscape painting from Susan's trip to Iceland

Landscape painting from Susan’s trip to Iceland

Since I’m a teacher here, we get to take a class every semester that we’re teaching, and so I’ve taken beginning classes in clay, letterpress, printing, glass bead making; I’ve taken several figure drawing classes with Tommy Van Auken, and David Tanner’s oil painting. I’ve taken Adobe InDesign–I was working on a book and wanted to know how to design the book myself. I try to take something in a different area each time, because as an artist I find that I get stuck in a rut sometimes, and when I take a class in something where I get to me a beginner, it’s total freedom for me. I get to be a little bit perfectionistic in my normal work, but when I’m a beginner I know I can’t be perfect and I know I’m not going to be good at it, so I can just screw up all I want to, and learn and have the opportunity to do something brand new and exciting.

Do you find that teaching art is different from the kind of teaching you did as a schoolteacher and tutor?

Yes, when I taught German that was in elementary schools, and so everything about that was different, and it was in a country where they got to practice the language every day. And then when I was tutoring, that was all academic subjects kids were having trouble with, and some of them didn’t want to be there. Teaching adults art is exhilarating, because they want to be here, they want to experience their creativity. Many of them have had a yearning to do art all their lives and have never given themselves a chance–they’ve now retired, they now have time. It’s a partnership, which is a little different than teaching in the schools. It’s partnership with people who want to be there and want to learn and are excited by everything they’re doing.

What other projects are you working on outside of teaching?

Susan Singer 1

One of the illustrations from Birth Affirmations, a book to empower pregnant women and new mothers

So many! I’ve recently written and illustrated a book called Birth Affirmations. It’s 69 affirmations and 29 illustrations to help empower women to have the kind of birth that they want, and to feel comfortable and confident in their birthing and parenting. Then I’m working on organizing an artist’s and writer’s retreat to Iceland this coming summer. I was there last year and loved it, so I’ve got to go back. I’m working on a body affirmations book right now that will be similar to the first book, but a little bit larger and I’ll use paintings that I’ve done of female nudes in that from my “Beyond Barbie” series. And then I’m working on a Spanish version of Birth Affirmations–one of my students from here is helping me translate it into Spanish. I’m doing a lot of drawings from Iceland–I’ve never done landscapes before, particularly.. And I’m doing a plein air workshop in Lottsburg, Virginia next weekend–I always have about eight or ten things going on.

Can you tell me more about your new Visual Journaling class here at VisArts?

At first, we take a piece of canvas, and in the first part of the class we decorate the canvas. And then we get a lot of really beautiful paper, and we tear the paper and put them into folios, which are the little groups of pages, and the students learn how to sew it and bind it together. In the next six weeks of class, we decorate them. Tonight we’re doing a vision board; other nights we’ll do other exercises. One of the women is using the book to give to her daughter to celebrate the wedding she just had, another is doing one about a relationship she used to be in, and another just wants to play. It’s an opportunity for people to make a really beautiful book and then they get to play in it, which is even better. I have one that I did from my journey this summer to Iceland, Austria and Amsterdam that has all my fun stuff that I got there, so it’s like a scrapbook.

Working on creating a visual journal

Students create their own journals from canvas and paper

What would you say to an adult who might be hesitant to explore their creative side?

I would say that VisArts is a fantastic place to do it, because they have skill-based, beginning classes where you can come in knowing nothing and learn specific skills that will take you to the next level. Almost every single teacher I’ve had here has been excellent. Not only are they skillful in their own art, they’re kind people who want to be teaching and who have a real ability to find the creativity in each person. So it’s not just the creativity but the skills–and art is a skill. A lot of people don’t know that. They think if you aren’t born with it, you can’t do it. Some people are born with more skill than others, but you can’t do it until you learn it. This places, more than anywhere else I’ve taken classes, teaches you the skills so you can learn it and become good. I didn’t go to art school; I learned my art here.


Learn more about Susan’s art and projects at her website, Look for Susan’s upcoming winter classes in drawing, pastels, zentangles and bookmaking at VisArts.

-Lindsey Kellogg

New Calendar Showcases Letterpress Studio

The 2016 Letterpress Calendar is now available

The 2016 Letterpress Calendar is now available

It’s getting close to the end of the year–and that means that the VisArts Letterpress Calendar is out! This year marks the fourth year that VisArts has released a letterpress calendar available to Richmonders for purchase. Local artists, instructors and VisArts staff members all collaborated to create the calendar printed entirely on a letterpress, which will fund big and exciting improvements to the letterpress studio at VisArts. The title of this edition of the calendar (for the year 2016) is “Big Changes or Transformation.”

Letterpress, a technique of using a printing press to make a repeated impression onto paper, has existed since the 15th century. Each image from the contributing artists is a direct print – either wood cut, letterpress or linoleum cut. Artists need to carve their work as a mirror image of what they actually want the finished print to look like. Colors must be carefully chosen in order to work together and make the print come to life–no more than two colors are used in each print, though some overlap to form a third shade.

The art of letterpress is versatile and can create beautiful layered images such as January’s snowy scene by VisArts registrar Sarah Narum, or bold contrasting shapes like the October ghosts by local artist Matt Lively.

Scenes from the 2016 Letterpress Calendar

Scenes from the 2016 Letterpress Calendar

Over the years, the calendar has been hugely successful and helped raise thousands of dollars to buy parts, tools and even new presses for the studio. The studio is now equipped with four working presses, new work benches, a full drying rack and an expanded collection of type. VisArts offers several classes a year for adult students to learn letterpres.

Paul Morris, a letterpress instructor at VisArts and a printer at Benj. Franklin Printing Co., “truly helps drive the project,” according to Jordan Brown, VisArts’ Director of Adult Programs. He prints the calendars there–after hand-setting the type and calendar grids–on paper donated from the company.

Presses in the VisArts letterpress studio

Presses in the VisArts letterpress studio

“Prepress work (work done to prepare for printing) for me takes about ten hours. When the art is done and printing begins that takes about another 40 hours,” Paul told VisArts. He fits in the calendar after normal work hours over a period of three months.

“One the most fun things to see, when printing the calendar, are the faces of people who have never seen this printing process. They get a whole new perspective of the commercial production and are fascinated with the way the old machinery works,” Paul said.

The Letterpress Calendar is a unique, collaborative piece of art. Come pick up your own calendar from the VisArts front desk or the Valentine’s gift shop for $20, which will go to support additional improvements to the letterpress studio.

-Lindsey Kellogg

Instructor Interview: Mark Rickey on Understanding Woodworking & VisArts’ Woodshop Renovation

I sat down with woodworking instructor Mark Rickey, whom I found in VisArts’ mid-renovation woodshop as he sawed pieces that would end up in the VisArts community garden.

How did you first get into woodworking?

I’ve always tinkered, all my life. When I first got married, my wife was taking a cooking course, so I was sitting at home and I thought, “God, this is kind of boring,” and I thought I might do something. Then I started learning woodworking in earnest, taking evening courses and that kind of stuff. But it’s really just evolved over the years. Everything from building parts of houses to building furniture: fine furniture, rustic furniture. I ended up doing work for several churches in Richmond, and I kind of hit the point in my life where I wanted to start sharing [my work], so here I am.

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Some of Mark’s work is in the VisArts community garden

Tell me about teaching your first class.

I’ve taught individuals the components of woodworking, and I have a son who’s a furniture maker, but the first class I taught was here about a year ago. I started with the garden, the live edge, the benches, the tables; then we started the second section and it filled up, so I just kept on teaching and expanding my courses.

So what was it like? I didn’t know what to expect. There’s a huge variety of people in terms of backgrounds, age, experience and that kind of thing, but it was really an eye-opener [in that] I could say it was at least as rewarding for me as it was for the students, and maybe more so, because there’s nothing like watching people’s faces light up as they do something with wood they never thought they could do.. It’s addicting. You want to keep teaching because as long as people keep getting excited you want to be there.

I read that your classes often involve using local woods and the natural shapes in wood. Can you tell me about that?

Well, what they call “live edge” or “natural edge” furniture has gotten more popular over the years, as people have kind of moved back towards the natural. It’s really different than building what I would call “fine furniture:” a cabinet, a dining room table or something like that. Because, first of all, nothing is square, nothing is straight, and so it’s a whole different approach. The other neat part about it that we finish the furniture really well, it’s got a nice, clean, smooth finish, with hand-rubbed oil finishes and that kind of stuff, but right up against that is the bark, the raw edge of the wood, and sometimes even the sawmill marks.

Chair using "natural edge" wood

Chair using “natural edge” wood by Mark Rickey

I hate the word “juxtaposition,” but that contrast when two come together is really, really interesting because it draws your eye to pieces of the furniture that you would take for granted.

Is there anything you can tell me about the woodshop renovation and what will come out of it?

This space has served as kind of a combination workshop for all the stuff that goes on at VisArts, including Robert, the facilities manager, using it all the time for projects and various people using it for storage. Prior to us really starting teaching woodshop classes in earnest two years ago, [storage and project space] is pretty much what this functioned as. When we started getting some teachers–there’s another teacher, Nathan Gomez, teaching now and prior to that Anne Walsh taught classes– and started getting real interest, Robert was instrumental in getting the grant to start renovating. To start, you may take this concrete floor for granted, but it wasn’t like this. They tore the old floor up, and they replaced it. And we had shelves of lightbulbs and supplies for the building here, and a lot of that has been taken out.

We’ve replaced our old table saw with a new one, which has a lot of new safety features in it, making it a lot more difficult to hurt yourself, and the beauty of that is we’ll be able to start teaching kids from Binford [Middle School] and other schools after class. That’s going to be really exciting, because schools don’t do shop classes any more, and getting them some exposure to making things is going to be good. We’re putting in a dust collection system, and all the kinds of things a woodshop should have. We have more plans, but the trouble is trying to fit everything into a limited space.

What would you tell somebody who was interested in woodworking or just starting out in woodworking?

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The woodshop has already undergone significant renovation, and has more to go

First of all, to find somebody that can truly take you on your way, and don’t try to accomplish too much too soon.

You’re not going to learn that until you work with someone directly who can explain things: not what to do, but why you’re doing it that way. You’re not just walking away with a finished product, but you’re walking away with some knowledge that you’ll be able to apply that to other projects.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

In the context of VisArts, what we’re doing back here [in the woodshop] is really exciting, and a lot of people still don’t know it exists. When people think about VisArts, I think they think about clay, glass, painting and that kind of stuff, which is all wonderful stuff, but wood art is also in fact an art form. We’re not carpenters back here, building walls and that kind of stuff. We make some pretty interesting art.

-Lindsey Kellogg

Yoga Comes to VisArts, Part 2: Lizzie Oliver on Yoga and Creative Flow

For the past two weeks, VisArts has hosted a type of class outside of its normal arts lineup: yoga. Students have two opportunities for donation-based classes every week now at VisArts: Creative Flow at 5:30PM on Tuesdays with VisArts’ own event manager Lizzie Oliver, and Creating Space at 10:00AM on Fridays with the VMFA’s Merenda Woodward (who also teaches youth mosaics at VisArts.) Last week we sat down with Merenda,  and this week we talked to Lizzie about her yoga experiences.

How did you first get into yoga?

My mother was really into yoga when I was young, and so when I went to college there was a fantastic dancer who also taught yoga–I went to a small liberal arts school so dance was a big thing–I started taking her classes, and she was a fantastic teacher. I found that it was challenging and also rewarding for my body and mind in a way that “working out” wasn’t.

Tell me about becoming a yoga teacher.

Doing urdhva dhanurasana, or wheel pose.

Doing urdhva dhanurasana, or wheel pose.

I did my teacher training at the Charlottesville Yoga School, which took five or six months, and then I started teaching yoga in Charlottesville. I taught for the Guerrilla Yoga Project in Charlottesville, which was one of the first donation-based, city-wide yoga projects. We had a program where we taught yoga in a women’s prison, which was an incredible responsibility.

In your opinion, since this class is at a visual arts center, what connects yoga and creativity?

I think that it’s important, because VisArts is also a community center, and there is often a wellness component to our programming and outreach, I think it makes sense to offer that to our students in the building. I also think that yoga frees you a little bit–physically, you know what I mean? They probably go kind of hand-in-hand, being a medium to do something you didn’t think you can do.

What is your favorite yoga pose?

I would say inversions. They literally change our perspective on our world and build confidence. Inverting used to give me a lot of anxiety but after practice I find that they bring a calm energy to the body. I love the idea of stimulating the circulatory system and providing freshly oxygenated blood to the lungs and brain. I find inversions fun- they inspire a childlike sense of play.

What would you tell people about yoga who have never tried it or are hesitant to try it?

Yoga is for everybody–you just have to find a style and a teacher that are right for you for

Getting adjustments for paschimottanasana, or seated forward bend.

Receiving adjustments for paschimottanasana, or seated forward bend.

right now. There’s going to be a class that’s more suitable for a person who’s been practicing yoga for three years than someone who is new to yoga. The biggest thing I think–for anything really–is to try it.

What are your goals for your class at VisArts?

My class is a flow class–you’re gonna sweat. I want the class to learn the basics of vinyasa, so it involves sun salutations, a standing series, a seated series, back bending, an inversion, and savasana. I want the class to be comfortable with that. I want them to be able to come in and do sun salutations on their own. I want it to be fun: I want to have music, and we’re gonna laugh, we’re gonna work hard. There’s a joyful component to it.


Bring your mat and attend yoga classes through mid-December! Learn more about Creative Flow through the yoga course descriptions.


Yoga Comes to VisArts, Part 1: Getting to Know Instructor Merenda Woodward

For the past two weeks, VisArts has hosted a type of class outside of its normal arts lineup: yoga. Students have two opportunities for donation-based classes every week now at VisArts: Creative Flow at 5:30PM on Tuesdays with VisArts’ own event manager Lizzie Oliver, and Creating Space at 10:00AM on Fridays with the VMFA’s Merenda Woodward (who also teaches youth mosaics at VisArts.) This week, we asked Merenda about her class, creativity and what brought her to practicing and teaching yoga.

How did you first get into yoga?

So I had done some yoga in high school and college, just a little bit, but I really started my regular practice and home practice when I was pregnant with my son and I started going to prenatal yoga. 

Tell me about becoming a yoga teacher.

Merenda with some of her mosaic work: here, a Richmond Art Door

I’ve taught private lessons throughout the summer, and this is my first time teaching in a public space. I finished my training this past June.

What kind of impact has yoga had on your life?

Well, I was doing my training at a big transition time in my life, and it gave me the self-confidence to move forward and make the decisions I needed to make. I think it provides balance: the physical aspect of yoga and the meditation aspect both provide balance, and that practice leads to balance in your life.

In your opinion, since this class is being held at a visual arts center, what connects yoga and creativity?

I feel like opening yourself and creating a calm space in your mind allows the opportunity for more ideas to flow freely, and it sort of creates a fertile ground for new ideas and experimentation.

What is your favorite yoga pose?

That’s really a hard question. I tend to hold my anxiety  in my upper back, so any pose that’s a heart-opener or a back bend is going to feel really good to me. You know, cobra, wheel, any heart-opening pose. The hardest pose for me is shavasana, or corpse pose, where you just lay there. I consider that pose to be the counter-pose to life, because we’re always going and always busy, but in savasana, you clear your mind and train it to be calm, and that’s the most challenging thing.

What would you tell people about yoga who have never tried it or are hesitant to try it?


Doing wheel pose on a paddle board… impressive balance!

I would just say that yoga is finding balance between effort and ease. It’s not about how you look or twisting yourself into some impossible pose and pulling your hamstring, it’s about how you’re doing and what you’re capable of in that moment or on that day. As long as you feel safe and you feel good, you’re doing it right.

What are your goals for your class at VisArts?

I want people to just feel good when they leave. I want them to create a little space for themselves and find a calm space that they didn’t know was there, a little energy that they didn’t know they had, or just a space where they can feel good.

Bring your mat and attend Merenda’s yoga classes through mid-December! (She suggests bringing a blanket too is possible.) Learn more her class through the yoga course descriptions.

Hear from ArtVenture Campers!

This summer, VisArts served over 1200 youth in over 140 classes through its ArtVenture camps. The campers explored everything from stained glass to cartooning to filmmaking and more. On their last day, campers were asked to write postcards to themselves about their experiences (which will be sent back to them next spring.)

The postcards asked the campers to respond to This is what ArtVenture means to me… (share your ideas with words or drawings.)

The following are some of the responses from our many amazing campers, in their own words and images:


To me ArtVenture means having an adventure with art + it also means making new Friends along with the old ones :) :)

Hey future self! Art is awesome and you LOVE it. I hope you are still painting!

ArtVenture means to me having fun and working hard to do my best.

I had tons of fun in Stained Glass! Mary was really nice and I want to come back EVERY SUMMER!!!

I’m from Ireland and I come here every year because my mom’s American. But each year she asks me which camp I want to go to and I say VisArt Centre Richmond. This place is great.

artv blog a artv blog b artv blog cMy favorite part of camp was finishing my paper maché sculpture. I have so many cool experiences here and it’s always FUN!

ArtVenture was such a great experience. I learned a lot and still had fun. I loved it!

The many ArtVenture camps I have taken have introduced me to new skills, new ideas, and new friends. It has been an amazing experience! I can’t wait for my next camp! (P.S. Sorry my handwriting is so small. I hope you can read it.)

Painting was stupendous (apologies for any mispelling) as were all my other classes. It was especially exciting to use all the equipment.

You can be as creative as you want. I love building the clay house

artv blog f artv blog g

art blog replace expressing your thoughts in your own unique way.

I like ArtVenture because you get to experiment with lots of different techniques and styles of art. I have done these camps for almost my whole life & they are still so fun!

Always be yourself. Never give up. Stay awesome.

I love how nice the teachers are.

doing art just the way you like it.

We made a huge mess and broke some pots :) woo! It was really fun!!!! Ms. Karen was awesome!!!!

artv blog l artv blog k artv blog jDon’t want what others want for you, follow your dreams.

Dear Me, ARTVENTURE was amazing. The stained glass was so much fun and I will, 97% sure, do this next year :)

I liked how ArtVenture was a lot of hard work, but you make something beautiful!

play with clay – play cool games – meet new friends – CREATE! – Loved it – come back next year

Dear future self, GO BACK TO VISARTS OR 10,000,000,000 PUPPIES WILL DIE!!!

artv blog m artv blog oIt means a way for me to express my ideas in words.

It’s like a journey you go on while forming a new creation.


Hi. This has been a good camp. I love ice cream

Hi future me! ArtVenture is revitalizing in so many ways. Love, past you (age 12)

Volunteer Spotlight: Brynne Rebele-Henry

BrynneVisArtsWe love our volunteers. VisArts relies on their dedication to the community and passion for the arts to help out with our arts programming. Thank you Brynne Rebele-Henry, VisArts student, for becoming a volunteer and helping with our ArtVenture summer camp. We checked in with Brynne to learn a little bit more about her creative side and what she loves about volunteering here at VisArts.

Where are you from originally? If you’re not a local, what brought you to Richmond?

I lived in Athens until I was five, then my family and I moved here.

Tell us your volunteer story! How did you end up becoming a VisArts volunteer?

I’ve been taking classes at VisArts for years, and then Dean suggested that I volunteer last summer.

What do you enjoy most about volunteering at VisArts?

It’s really amazing to see children creating. I think the processes and ideas are so fascinating and gorgeous.

Are you an artist or a maker? If so, what do you like to make?

Yes! I am a writer and a visual artist, I mostly paint LGBTQPIA bodies, but I also do some abstract and sculpture. I write fiction, poetry, criticism, and political essays.

 What’s your favorite local Richmond haunt?

I really love Chop Suey and Gallery Five!

Tell us a little about yourself! (Where do you work, what do you enjoy doing in your spare time, where are we likely to find you on a Friday night?)

I’m currently in school, and I’m Assistant Editor of Verse magazine. As for Friday nights, I’m generally at a reading or gallery opening or writing or watching Buffy.

Who do you admire most?

I’m currently fangirling over pretty much every feminist-queer essayist/critic/artist. It’s a bit of a problem.

Intro to Japanese Papermaking Workshop

IMG_1215-RawKozoArtist Sarah Briland will be teaching Intro to Japanese Papermaking on Saturday, May 30 and Sunday, May 31 here at the Visual Arts Center of Richmond.

IMG_1271In the two-day workshop, using both traditional and contemporary techniques, students will learn to make sheets of handmade paper for drawing, collage, sculpture, handmade books, and decorative arts. This class will cover all the basic techniques of Japanese papermaking, including cooking and beating fiber, sheet forming, dyeing and painting with pulp, and embedding inclusions in paper. The weekend workshop is open to artists of all levels.

IMG_1275Sarah has taught at Virginia Commonwealth University’s craft department and art foundation program, and is currently teaching sculpture and 3-D design at Virginia State University. This is her first class at VisArts, but she is no stranger to our community art center. In 2012, Sarah’s work was displayed in a group show in our True F. Luck gallery, and just in December, she gave a talk entitled, “Transforming Material: Working in Paper and Glass.”

Sarah Briland received an M.F.A. in Craft/Material Studies from Virginia Commonwealth University and a B.F.A. in Sculpture and Printmaking from Washington University in St. Louis where she was the Conway Scholar. Her work has been exhibited at the Robert C. Williams Museum of Paper in Atlanta, Georgia; the University of the Arts in Philadelphia; the Minneapolis College of Art and Design; UrbanGlass in Brooklyn, New York; the Reynolds Gallery, Anderson Gallery, and the Visual Arts Center in Richmond, Virginia.

To learn more about Sarah and view her work, visit her website


SOHO Chosen As National Arts + Humanities Youth Program Award Finalist

SOHO Makeover collageWe are excited to announce that VisArts’ outreach program Space Of Her Own (SOHO) has been chosen as a 2015 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award Finalist.

SOHO, a mentoring program supporting some of Richmond’s girls most in need, is one of 50 finalists out of 335 nominees from across the country, chosen by the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, and its partnering agencies — the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

“Those involved with SOHO know how amazing the program is, but being recognized as one of the top 50 after-school programs by the NEH means so much to us,” says Jordan Roeder, SOHO’s director. “Our wonderful instructors and mentors put their entire hearts into this program to make it the transformative experience that it is, and in return they are transformed by the little sisters. Personally, it is one of the most impactful programs I’ve ever seen or been a part of.”

The National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award recognizes out-of-school kids programs that encourage self-discovery and arts learning. The award is the nation’s highest honor of arts and humanities programs that celebrate the creativity of America’s youth, specifically those from underserved communities.
The winning arts program will receive a $10,000 grant and invitation to attend the White House awards ceremony hosted by First Lady Michelle Obama. Awardees also will receive a full year of capacity building and communications support, designed to make their organizations stronger.

VisArts is proud that SOHO is one of the top programs, leading the nation in out-of-school arts and humanities programs for children. Thank you to those who have dedicated their time and efforts to supporting SOHO.

More on SOHO:

SOHO: Space of Her Own is an artful mentoring program that supports some of Richmond’s girls most in need and provides meaningful leadership development for women. The program’s mission is to give each participant unique, hands-on art experiences to cultivate a positive view of her future along with the motivation and ability to be strong, confident and creative leaders. In SOHO, twelve women mentors from our community and twelve sixth grade girls living in Richmond’s public housing are paired up as big and little sister for an entire school year. These pairs learn leadership and life skills together through hands-on learning, art exploration and creative mentoring. SOHO culminates with a bedroom makeover for each girl that incorporates all the art projects created in SOHO. Together, they transform bedrooms into positive, colorful, inspiring rooms  – providing each girl with a literal space of her own. SOHO is offered in partnership with VCU Grace E. Harris Leadership Institute and Anna Julia Cooper Episcopal School.

The first SOHO: Space of Her Own program at VisArts began in the fall of 2008. Since that time the program has affected the lives of more than 120 women and girls.

To learn more about SOHO, visit our website, and read the SOHO blog.

VisArts student makes engagement ring for girlfriend + she says ‘yes!’

ring being madeRecently VisArts’ student Johnny Hugel signed up for a metal working class with goldsmith and teaching artist Daniel Eaves with one very special project in mind — creating a one-of-a-kind engagement ring for his girlfriend Molly Szkotak. Taking inspiration from rings that Molly showed him and using his master tinkering abilities, Johnny was able to fashion a beautiful engagement ring for Molly in six weeks. In November, Johnny found a perfect, romantic setting and asked Molly to marry him. Molly said yes. We checked in with Johnny to hear the details of forging Molly’s engagement ring, and how he popped the question.

How did you hear about the VisArts metalworking class?
My friend Kristy Santelli suggested the class after she and her fiance used it to cast their own engagement ring.

Was this an introductory class? And, was it your first time working with metal?
The class seems to be a hybrid; Daniel gave great instruction and one-on-one assistance, which I sorely needed being my first class. But, most of the others seemed like pros, taking it for the tenth time.

Did you take it with making an engagement ring in mind?
That was all that was on my mind.

What did the class entail? What techniques did you learn? And, the end result — how’d it turn out?!
The class was a shorter summer class — so, five or six sessions that were three or so hours a piece. After an intro demo, I was on my own, making my sad wax model match Daniel’s. Luckily, my second model looked much better so refining it, making the mold, pouring the metal and filing and polishing it down amazingly produced something that resembled a real ring. Of course, Daniel helped with the final setting of the diamond, when the ring  became an engagement ring, and not just a shiny element.Processed with VSCOcam with a3 presetWhy did you decide to make an engagement ring rather than purchasing?
I’m a tinkerer, so beyond the humane reasons of not buying something new, when I realized I could have a role in making the ring, and reuse materials I’ve been saving for quite some time, I knew that was the only way I could do it. Molly loves that side of me, even if it  means my projects take over our guest room. So, it naturally complemented our relationship.

How did you propose? Yes, we want to hear the details.
Well, in going to and from the class, I was using an old iPhone box to hold my supplies, figuring they’d have less of a chance to get lost or discovered that way. At some point, I realized presenting the ring in the box was the perfect cover, so I stored it away for the right time. When the iPhone 6 came out in September, and Molly was constantly eying mine, I knew I had to act fast to present her with her new gold ring, under cover of the gold phone.

The phone arrived the day after I ordered it, which had me scrambling to find a good backdrop. Being travelers and explorers, we both had envisioned it happening on one of our trips, but with each one I think it had suddenly became suspect and too obvious. When our friends at Ledbury invited us to their annual Quail Hunt Soiree, I figured it may just offer the perfect setting. I was stressing on our way out to the reserve, searching for a spot and trying to act natural. As soon as we got there, I suggested we get away and explore, knowing it might be our only chance alone.

The setting was perfect, and we were giddy from the fresh air and environment, taking photos of each other and generally being goofs, but I still hadn’t pictured how I’d do it. When she made me pose in front of the pond, I realized I had my chance, and suggested she do the same as I fumbled in my jacket for the iPhone 6 with the extra special accessory.

I had my camera out filming, as I handed it over, suggesting it would add to her enjoyment of the weekend. She was so surprised that I’d given her a gold phone that she didn’t look close enough. When she realized I was being extra weird she took a second look in the box. Luckily it’s caught on video, so we can confirm that I asked her and she answered “Yes.” The next hour is a blur for both of us. We had to sit down before joining the party just to figure out what we’d done.johnny and mollyWhat was her reaction when she found out you forged a ring for her?
She was overwhelmed by the whole thing, but couldn’t believe it. It was modeled in the style of some that she’d shone me by Anna Sheffield, but I didn’t have anymore than a glimpse. I don’t think she believed that I could have made such a thing myself.

Congratulations, Johnny and Molly!

To learn more about our metal working and jewelry classes, click here.