WALNUT CREEK -- When life tends to become a routine and you're looking for a way to enliven your creative spirit, local artists and recreation teachers say that taking interesting classes helps one grow personally and adds spice to your life.
They ought to know -- the teachers were once students themselves, and some continue to take enrichment classes to enhance their craft or learn something new.
Take Jody Mattison, owner of Lafayette Studio, who despite her fine arts master's degree in drawing and painting said she feels right at home in a classroom. Becoming an arts teacher, she said, came naturally.
"I love teaching and have become pretty good at it," said Mattison.
As a contemporary realist artist, Mattison uses realist techniques, both classic and current, to create contemporary works of art.
"The classes I took in my studies all helped me gain the technical skills I have to do the work," she said.
Even though Walnut Creek artist Kristan Le enjoyed art from an early age, she had a mid-career epiphany. She quit her engineering career and enrolled at the Academy of Art University.
"I stepped into the academy thinking that I was a great artist through self-
expression," said Le, owner of Renditions Gallery in Walnut Creek. "That image was quickly shattered. I learned that I had so much to learn. Without a doubt, these classes have given me the backbone to all my works today. Of course, you also have to put in endless hours of practice. I cannot stress enough how important it is to study the basics."
Le said teaching art reminds her how rewarding an arts education is.
"Providing instructions and critiques not only helps the students but also helps my own art as I constantly reinforce the foundations," she said. "I also learn so much from individual artists."
Sara Villat studied French grammar at the Sorbonne University in Paris and
realized that while grammar is important, so too is conversation. Villat found some classes tend to inundate students with verb conjugations but not with practical French.
"I valued the classes I took in French at the Sorbonne, as I was able to use what I learned as I was living in Paris," said the Pleasant Hill resident, who began teaching French in the Bay Area in 1986 after living in France most of her 13 years abroad.
Villat, who said she taught French as a way to maintain her fluency in the language, continues to teach French conversational classes/ But much more grammar instruction accompanies it now, as people need and want the structure, she said.
"What is unique about my classes is that I teach out of my home in a comfortable setting, which helps people to relax," said Villat, who considers language an artform. "We always break up the two hours with a snack break, and everyone looks forward to bringing and sharing special cheeses, wines, and desserts. Many of my students travel frequently, so we have sharing of travel experiences through photos and souvenirs."
She also organizes a traveling group for her students and the public twice a year to France -- one trip to Paris, the other to a different province each year.
Justin Levitt, manager of Steinway Piano Gallery in Walnut Creek, said learning to play the piano and exploring music in general is one of the most important things one can add to life.
"The arts makes life fuller, richer and creates so much more substance," said
Levitt, who lives in Concord. "People look to the arts for inspiration, creativity and imagination."
Besides the countless studies that prove playing the piano helps the brain -- allowing one to concentrate and learn more effectively -- the piano is simply a beautiful instrument to play, and a great stress reliver.
"It's one of those things that will stay with someone their entire life," he said. "It's never too late to start."
Mattison, who also teaches figure drawing and painting classes through Civic Arts Education, has two workshops coming up in January for the figure artist: "Hands and Feet Drawing Intensive" on Jan. 11 at Lafayette Studio on Saranap Avenue in Walnut Creek, and "Sunday Portrait Drawing Intensive" at Artuforia in Martinez.
"It is completely satisfying, and addictive, to draw and paint and sculpt," Mattison said. "I find that the time I spend making art is meditative, yet invigorating; the people that populate art classes become communities of friends which extend and overlap into other classes and outside lives."
Teachers and artists say it's never too late to pursue an arts education.
Some places to take classes include