Program Spotlight: Painting and Drawing

As part of New Urban Art’s 25th Anniversary, we will be spotlighting current programs and initiatives across the organization. For our third month, we are highlighting our Painting and Drawing program with an interview with our Painting and Drawing Resident Artist Mentors, Dana and Sherly, and a current NUA student that has been very involved in painting this year, Geany.


Why is Painting and Drawing important to students and the studio?

Dana: Painting and drawing is the gateway medium to a greater artistic practice–it’s what people first encounter normally, what they understand as art.

Geany: It’s the most important thing in your life. When you’re little you paint a flower, your mom or your dad or whatever, it makes you feel happy. If we didn’t have that… it makes you feel less stressed. The paper, the brushes, you can make whatever you want.


What’s going on in the studio for you right now?

Sherly: We are coming back from February break and installed all our findings and nature art on our walls. Some students are completing their art that was left before we closed for break, others are starting from scratch. At the same time, I’m encouraging students to exhibit their art for the upcoming show in April.

What are your hopes for Painting and Drawing going forward (immediate future)?

Dana: I wanna go 3D! I’ve been talking with Sherly about wanting to do a papier-mâché workshop, maybe make masks. More sculpture and painting the sculptures, of course.

Sherly: I hope for students to dive into charcoal or ink drawing at least once. Also, we are running out of acrylic paint, haha.

Geany: There’s already everything, you can do it all. You have your hands, the brushes the paint, you can do anything. More brushes, more colors of paint, I guess, high quality stuff. And more canvasses! And more space to store the paint and the paintings.


What are your dreams for painting and drawing at NUA over the next 25 years?

Dana: I mean it would be cool to do another mural somewhere in the city. Maybe a big summer project and a big mural.

Sherly: One of my studio goals is for students to feel encouraged to pin their art on the walls without having mentors to ask them to. I want them to embrace the studio as their space not only for creation but also for personal exhibition. 

There are two mentors in this media area. What does that look like, how does it work?

Dana: It’s pretty fluid, there’s usually a lot of students in our zones so we can spread ourselves a lot more and we both have different areas of expertise which is pretty cool, and Sherly speaks Spanish which is great because we have a lot of students who prefer Spanish, and she has a lot more technical practice in painting and drawing, whereas I’m a little more head in the clouds, conceptual, mixed-media oriented. I’m more of a big ideas first, medium comes after type person. 

Sherly: My approach is more academic. I believe Dana has a more expressive approach. I tend to focus on the practices of color theory, proportional drawing, and the overall elements and principles of art. I find it important to have two different minds work together to mentor because it will remind students that there is no one way of making art; and that art making is really down to personal choice.


How did you start painting or drawing at NUA?

Geany: Everything about art has my attention, and I see all this paint and brushes and I think I need to do something. I did my first painting, I haven’t finished it yet, but I will. I was really excited about it, but I needed to do something else and then another one and another one and I haven’t finished any of them, but I will! I can do a lot of things, I can express my feelings in painting, or a situation. And there’s something about art where I can express myself. If you’re angry, and you paint, then you will do something horrible! That will express your feelings. In music you can hear it too. 

Dana and Sherly, you were both students at NUA before you were mentors, did those experiences influence your mentoring? How so?

Dana: Having an adult to talk to that’s not someone in my family and not someone who is an authority figure has been a big influence. That experience has informed a lot about how I mentor and think about power dynamics—I’m a mentor, not an expert, and I make sure the students know that, and I think that evens the playing field a little. Also, in my experience as a young person, looking back, I was told to do a lot of things and I just listened because I didn’t understand I could be the driving force of my life. So when I mentor, I really emphasize the agency part of our core values and make sure student know they can make decisions on their own and it doesn’t have to do with getting good grades or impressing anyone.   

Sherly: During high school I struggled to focus on a lot of things but when it came to art my focus was on the compositions and details I was creating with painting and drawing. It felt like for the first time I had control of what I wanted to do and make. I figured that I wasn’t the only person that went through that and despite them being a different generation, some youths are also going through the same mental process like I did. I want to guide them through it.


How has painting and drawing at NUA changed since you were students?

Dana: When I was a student there was a little more structure to each medium. I remember coming in and my mentor Julia saying I’ll be here Mondays and Wednesdays doing block printing on the press, which felt more like a drop-in class. Our capacity pre-pandemic was much bigger than when I was a student, so it feels more open. I’m not necessarily being sought out as a painting mentor, but when I see someone interested in painting I approach them, just because there are so many students now and it’s so accessible: you see a canvas and you see a paintbrush and you know what to do, it’s intuitive to want to put those together.


Anything tips for students who have never done painting and drawing at NUA?

Geany: You can do whatever you want, everybody has different eyes and sees things differently.