PLEASANT HILL -- 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 will aid in personal growth.

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, who despite her fine arts master's degree in drawing and painting, said she feels right at home in a classroom and that becoming an arts teacher 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 artist Kristan Le enjoyed art from an early age, she had a mid-career epiphany when 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. "That image was quickly shattered. I learned that I had so much to learn. I cannot stress enough how important it is to study the basics.

"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 is conversation. Villat found some classes tend to inundate students with verb conjugations but no 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 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 as art.

She also organizes a traveling group for her students and the public twice a year to France, one to Paris and the other to a different province each year.

Justin Levitt said learning to play the piano and exploring music in general is an important part of his 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 have been done to prove that playing the piano helps the brain -- allowing one to concentrate and learn better, the piano is simply a beautiful instrument to play.

"It's one of those things that will stay with someone their entire life," he said. "Let's just face it; today we live in a world where there can be lots of stress, thus playing the piano is one of those things that can help relieve and cleanse the body and spirit of all the unnecessary, toxic stress. Adding beauty and enjoyment to our lives is highly advised these days. It's never late to start."

It could be someone's New Year's resolution to take up piano. Steinway Piano Gallery in Walnut Creek, where Levitt is manager, provides professional teachers in every city as well as teachers that could travel to the home.

Mattison, who teaches figure drawing and painting classes through Civic Arts Education, has a workshop coming up in January for the figure artist: Sunday Portrait Drawing Intensive at Artuforia in Martinez.

Teachers and artists say it's never too late to pursue an arts education.

"The new year is a great time to think about a new pastime," Villat said. "Learning a language is also an excellent way to exercise your brain."

"Everyone thinks about exercising their body but the brain also needs to be kept active," Villat said. "Anyone can work at learning a language and older people can find enjoyment in this activity also."

"There should be no fear in learning something new," Le said. "Every time you come to a class, whether you are an expert or a novice, you will learn something."

artistic, educational endeavors
Some places to take classes include:
  • Pleasant Hill Recreation and Park District; www.pleasanthillrec.com
  • Civic Arts Education
  • Frenchwithclass.com
  • Renditions Art Gallery, 1383 N. Broadway, Walnut Creek