By Sally Deering
Jersey City’s artist community – painters, sculptors, musicians, film and theater professionals – give this urban city an added vibrancy with a dash of cool. Arts collectives like Pro Arts and Art House Productions – and the Hudson County Division of Cultural Affairs – do their part to support artists through exhibitions, performances and group shows and the Jersey City Redevelopment Authority has been giving well-known street artists highway embankments and building facades to enhance the city’s visual beauty and community identity.
About a year ago, a new arts group, the Jersey City Art School opened its doors in Downtown Jersey City, a for-profit somewhat informal group of local artists and the brainchild of Thomas John Carlson, a Jersey City artist who holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Ringling School of Art and Design and an MFA from the New York Academy of Art. Carlson teaches classical approaches to painting and drawing and the school also offers classes in photography, stained glass, sewing and jewelry making. Classes are geared to adults and children who are serious about art or searching for new ways to express their creative selves.
“A lot of people who take classes with us do artistic things and work in creative imageries, however maybe they always wanted to paint and never really painted or maybe do more drawing,” says Thomas John Carlson, manager of Jersey City Art School. “I get students who haven’t focused in on the classical approach to drawing and painting. I also get a lot of people who have stressful jobs and they want to do something very different.”
Jersey City Art School offers 8-week beginner drawing and painting classes designed to train students to master foundation skills. Students learn about the value scale, gradients, using a viewfinder, sight-sizing, composition, various painting techniques (under-painting, glazing and alla prima,) and still-life. Intermediate drawing and painting classes offer students studio lessons like stretching canvas and focus on drawing the human form first with charcoal then painting. Both classes are taught with a classical approach.
“There’s not a lot of technical training in high school and college art classes,” Carlson says. “I’m giving what I learned and reapplying it to people who are new to painting and people who want something of substance from an art class.
Four week classes include jewelry making and watercolor painting and special workshops are offered in dyeing and sewing. There’s a Pre-College Academy for teens applying to art school or creating a portfolio to show to fellowship programs, potential employers and for those who just want to improve. There’s also a six-week Saturday series of classes for kids 6-10 called the Kids Academy that introduces them to the world of art and famous artists. This goes way beyond arts and crafts, Carlson says, and instead focuses on substance and education.
“Each class is an hour and a half framed around an artist, Monet, for instance,” Carlson says. “We’ll have a talk about Monet and Impressionism and then set up a still life and they draw. It’s not arts and crafts hour.”
Another unique offering is a glassblowing class taught by artist Kiva Ford, a Jersey City resident who works for a pharmaceutical company making custom scientific glassware for research.
“It’s very specific,” Ford says. “We work with blueprints, calipers. It’s a great way to hone your skills.”
Ford sells his artistic glass creations on etsy.com and there’s a video on Google that shows how his scientific and artistic work as a glassblower meld: “Glass is a beautiful material,” he says.
Ford teaches glassblowing at Jersey City Art School’s garage location, a two-hour class for one or two people at a time. Students get a real hands-on experience working with the blowing torch to create ornaments, miniatures, drinking glasses and figures. Ford’s been with the Jersey City Art School a year, now, and he sees the school as great way to involve local artists.
“The Jersey City Art School, the city needed this really badly,” Ford says. “It’s great to get a group of people together who are interested in creative ideas and projects. It was hard for people here to take a workshop in painting, oil painting or glass. Usually they have to go to New York City. Jersey City Art School makes the city a better place. Every year, there are more things going on that involve artists.”
Jersey City Art School offers writing workshops and a Film Forum on Sundays hosted by Jersey City writer and filmmaker Yvonne Vairma. Each week a different “off-the-beaten-path” film is screened and followed by a discussion.
“As the school expands, it will continue to look to local artists to participate both as students and instructors further developing the lively arts scene in Jersey City and beyond,” it states on the Jersey City Art School website. This is something important to Carlson as he builds on relationships with Pro Arts, Art House Productions and other arts groups and inspires aspiring artists to find their muse. Classes that help them – and us – see the world a little differently.
New classes begin the week of June 4th. Why not pick up a brush, sign up for a workshop, see an off-beat film or blow some glass. Whatever you try, it’s bound to be cool.
Jersey City Art School
326 5th Street
Jersey City, NJ 07302-5307