“Are those the canvases?! They’re huge!”

Is there anything more intimidating than a large blank canvas for emerging artists? How will you fill all that space? How many weeks do we have?

It can be a daunting task. Especially for those who’ve never picked up a paint brush before.


Yet, there we all were standing around 10 stark white canvases and brainstorming on how to express a different zip code for each one.

It only took the first day of rehearsals in the art experience to ease any worry me and Jessicah had of how it would all get done.

Ideas were flying fast around the room, and not just surface level ideas, but impactful concepts on how to highlight the beauty and the struggles that each zip code embodied. By the end of the first day we had a good structure for half of the art pieces. We were in awe of how insightful the teens were and how open they were to learning about areas unknown to them.

And they cared. A lot. About what is going on with each other, the city and surrounding areas.


Even still… with such a great foundation, levels of apprehension came forward from the group. We got some amazing concepts, but how do we utilize them?

“Ughhhh the canvases are so big!”


One of the first things we did was layer all of them in the first coat of paint, and it felt SO GOOD!

It was like cranking a car and hearing the engine purr. We were up and running…


The key was to focus on the strengths and expand the challenges of our wonderful artists. Teens who were fantastic at figure drawing and perspective were assigned to sketch, and would rotate to pieces that needed shading so they could learn that skill set while also giving them a refreshing change.

One of our pieces requires many, I’m talking MANY sketches of faces. We knew it would take everyone’s involvement to make it happen. The challenge was to instill the concept that there is no wrong way to do art. Something that as an advisor I hold dear to my heart. As long as your expressing yourself on that canvas, you’re doing it right! So we talked about how a sketch is a free flowing art piece, not a finalized product in some fancy packaging. Once the first sketches were laid out and we all realized that the more imperfect the faces were, the more human and more powerful the message became, we were rocking and rolling through them.


Then we worked on getting a groove going. In more ways than one.


On any given rehearsal day, you can smell cookies, coffee and hear the soothing sounds of music radiating from our art room. It’s important to keep the energy in the space supportive, so we even wrote little notes to each other to place in our own personal ziplock bags filled with encouragement and love. If we were doubting ourselves, we could open the bag, and read what our peers wrote about us to lift us back up. We were finally vibing and really appreciating the work of expression.

If laying that first coat of paint was like turning the engine on, this was like passing by a slow poke on the highway while sticking your head out the window and waving “so long sucker!”


Every so often now, we take a moment to stop, step back and look at the work we’ve done.

We still have a ways to go, but we’ve covered so much ground already. We are all seeing the potential of the work and believe full heartedly that we are rocking those canvases. Sometimes when we are really making headway (and that engine is in high gear) it’s important to slow down, pull over and appreciate the opportunity to create.


In these last few rehearsal dates, slowing down a bit to see how making the art is actually an artform in itself, will be the driving force to ensure we are putting our passion into the pieces. By doing that, we can send them out knowing a piece of ourselves goes with them.


The canvases will be displayed in 10 different libraries and will rotate. It’s a special kind of gratitude to know that when people are standing around looking at these art pieces, having conversations about how to be thankful for and help their own community, that we are a part of that conversation. That every voice matters, even when on a canvas.  


Shane Manier, PFO Arts Advisor