Flex Academies President Joshua Chernikoff interviewed Sara Sennett, owner of Visual Creatives. Flex has had a wonderful relationship with Sennett for more than three years. Flex helped Sennett take her business from one to three schools, offering an opportunity to work with different age groups. It’s really fascinating to hear Sennett’s story about working with both younger and older children and how she instructs them.
Flex Academies: Sara, talk about how the Flex partnership has helped you grow your great business.
Sara Sennett: Indeed. I’ve been working for Flex for about three years and the interesting thing about it was introducing me to younger students. I’ve taught middle school for many years and now I’m teaching both that and elementary school so that’s a whole different world. At first I thought, my goodness what a challenge! Of course I prepared as much for the little ones as the older ones. Nonetheless, it’s been a joy, really a lot of fun. I’ve taken a lot of things that I’ve learned from the little kids back into my middle school experience, like playfulness, spontaneity and an anything goes kind of approach, because I do tend to be kind of structured.
Flex: You have a fantastic company and I have to be honest, you are one of our favorite vendors that we work with. In fact, you are also one of our smallest because you are a sole proprietor. Talk about how Flex has been able to help you in the sense that we do help with registration and we are able to get the schools and deal with the rosters.
SS: In all honesty this was done for me before by PTAs at various schools. It wasn’t me being so proactive and going out. But I wouldn’t have gotten the entrance into the elementary schools except for you and it sounds like there is a constant need for more teachers. Your entry into schools is fabulous. There is no hesitation on my part. Payments are made directly, mid-term and at the end. That’s really good because that wasn’t always forthcoming before. The organization is super. There is constant communication, which is wonderful. It makes me feel appreciated and it makes me feel like you really enjoy it. You enjoy it as much as I, that is seeing the work of the students. There is a real connection there. I think that it has definitely helped me.
Flex: Talk about the skills the kids are learning when they are working with you day in and day out.
SS: I’ve always wanted to give kids a grounding in art principles: One of the main things of art is how to see. This is very challenging. Adults face this in classes. I am speaking of the middle school curriculum per se. I teach them how to see. It’s fundamental to coordinate the hand and the eye. I get students that are saying I can draw and love to draw or students that say I cannot draw at all. They are still there because there are other aspects that they like. I bring them both together to teach them how to see with experiments like blind drawing — like just looking at an object and drawing or measuring things with pencils or thumbs or things like that. It’s challenging. It’s not always the most fun thing they can do, but at the end of the day they are really getting something out of it. In addition to doing this, I also teach them how to unify a picture using principles of good design with repetition, color and value. You spend a lot of time doing value studies. These are skills that are artistic skills that are really necessary later on as you develop your artwork.
So it isn’t just all just fun and play and experimentation. It’s learning to organize these things all together. Value plays a great role. We did some interesting projects with large scale portraits where every student did a little piece of it in a value tonal thing and when they put it all together they got a beautiful face. There are also other skills — how to make 3D work through natural materials and boxes; building sculptures, looking at them from different perspectives; how to cut blocks for block printing; how to use charcoal. A really wonderful project has been exploring watercolors. There are a lot of techniques in watercolors that people don’t know about, but I’m exploring it this very moment with materials. It’s really fascinating to see how kids just suck it up, just like the paper. They love to do this.
So learning the materials, these are skills that they are going to have, what they are going to use with artwork.
Flex: You are a perfect example of a mixture between vendors who bring fun and bring enrichment. How do you know though at the end of the day that the kids are having fun?
SS: That’s a good way of putting it because I tend to be a little more enriching than a little more fun, but I notice that they are having fun because there is complete silence. I know it sounds crazy — can a middle schooler be completely silent? But they can. I know they are really engrossed in what they are doing but the other thing is that they may be just talking gently with each other or just talking about their own work with each other. That’s a measure of having fun. Sometimes what I really like to do is push them to take risks at the expense of a picture that they kind of carefully put together. I’ll say ‘how about a big brush stroke’ or something like that so they take the chance, they do it and whoa, it’s a surprise. They usually go on with it. They think that it’s, wow, this is great. So fun to me is more a smile that will say, wow, I can do this. The whole idea is just to explore and to have satisfaction that you’ve done that. That you’ve taken a risk and that’s OK because you can always start another piece.
It’s not like working laboriously on a research project for months at a time in an academic setting. This is very easy. The paper is relatively inexpensive.
Flex: It’s easy and it’s enriching when you have an amazing instructor and that’s what you are. You have been an amazing partner and I just want you to know that you are a fantastic instructor and a great partner, and we hope for many more classes with you.
SS: Thank you.
To watch this interview, please visit our Video On Demand site.