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Artist in residence experience showcases creative careers

Arts Faculty Mar 28, 2024
A man stands in front of a a screen in a classroom

KOKOMO, Ind. — You can have a career as an artist.

That’s the lesson Aaron Pickens hopes students in a north central Indiana school district learn from his time with them.

Pickens, assistant professor of new media at Indiana University Kokomo, spent a week in March as an artist in residence with elementary students at Carroll Consolidated School Corp., Flora. He will return later in the school year to work with junior high and high school students.

“I’ve always been fortunate, ever since I was in college I’ve had arts-based jobs as a primary source of income,” he said. “Students think there is no way they can make a living out of their enjoyment for art. To have someone come into a classroom who has been able to make a career doing this is nice. The more they are exposed to professionals working in a creative space, that’s awesome.”

Pickens worked with Carroll Elementary School students, grades K-6, on digital art. During a 50-minute session for each class, he introduced them to Photopea, a free web based photo and graphics editor like Photoshop.

Children in grades K-2 learned how to color in images created for them in a digital coloring book, using the program to “fingerpaint” on their iPads. Those in grades 3-6 prepared for his visit by drawing cartoon characters in black marker, which their teacher scanned and uploaded into Photopea.

“The younger kids were able to colorize the pictures through the program,” he said. “With the older students, we went into some more extensive tools, like editing out backgrounds, taking advantage of layers, controlling the brush size, and using the magic wand tool. We were able to get into more in-depth content.”

Even more than engaging in art, Pickens wanted them to see that there are tools available to them to create whenever they want.

“I wanted them to take away that there are tools at your disposal like Photopea, which is a free program, and you can do quite a bit with them,” he said. “We want them to see they can make art, and they don’t have to do it only in a classroom setting. It’s something they can explore on their own. They can use a computer to create art, and that’s kind of cool.”

Pickens looks forward to working with junior high and high school art students later in the school year.

“I’ll get to go more in-depth and talk about theory as well as the technical side of using the computer. They’re going to bring an idea to life and fully develop it, to make their image look more 3D.”

Art teacher Jessica Rowe said the school has hosted an artist in residence for more than 10 years.

“The program has a great impact on the students, and it is very valuable for them to meet a real artist, and learn a type of art that is outside my regular curriculum,” she said. “Aaron’s knowledge and skills in the digital art program he shared with students was incredible, and they all learned so much.”

She especially appreciates that he used a free program, so students may continue to use it now that he’s taught them the basics.

Pickens also created a video highlighting his work, to show students the possibilities as an artist.

“I wanted them to have insight into how my lesson can translate into a career in the arts,” he said. “I’ve done a lot of work professionally. It was my knowledge and general skill sets that allowed me to have a variety of opportunities. I’m not saying the road was easy, but I’m doing something I love. If you’re passionate and you work hard, opportunities will present themselves.”

The artist in residence program is sponsored by the Flora Psi Iota Xi chapter.

Education is KEY at Indiana University Kokomo.

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Danielle Rush, communications specialist

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