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Studio Art & Design Journey: Be Creative. Constantly Challenge Yourself. Continue to Grow

Posted Date: 02/28/2024

Sarah Tuttle and her artwork“I don't know how I'm going to get into this program, but I will do my best.”

With this thought, Sarah Tuttle set her sights on learning and expanding her artistry through the opportunity to become a student in Excel TECC’s Studio Art and Design class at Orange High School. It is through this experience from a few years ago that she has grown into a successful artist who has given back to the program while continuing to learn from it through her recent artist-in-residency with teacher Mr. Daniel Whitely and the current Studio Art and Design Class.

Sarah remembers hearing about the class through an orientation given by Mr. Whitely. She was impressed with what it offered, so she interviewed and was accepted into the program.

“It was so cool to be shown methods of drawing and seeing, observing, and learning about light and color, all the fundamentals of Art and Design,” said Tuttle. “I had known before just certain practices, instead of just drawing from pictures, drawing from life, setting up a scene, thinking creatively in that way, and then working with your peers to create. It was amazing, and then also just learning how to draw quickly. I remember I spent so long drawing, and it really pushed me to let go.”

The class was launched at Orange High School in 1966 as the Commercial Art program. In 1970, it became a part of the Excel TECC consortium. As the program continued to grow and earn a great reputation, it became known as Visual Art and Design. In 2014, Dan Whitely used his department chair experience and program-planning skills to enhance the program with new academic standards, merit-based college portfolio requirements, and career awareness for the visual arts to help the program evolve into Studio Art and Design.

“I think my biggest takeaway from the program is the experimentation,” said Tuttle. “I remember it was so scary to try new things. Each time we would do something new, whether I liked it or not, I learned something from that. I'm taking something away.”

Her experience in this class exposed her to many different contemporary artists. She learned about the Masters and found ways of including their way of thinking into her own work. The books, field trips, technology, and other class resources gave her constant exposure that helped develop her awareness of the art world.

“Once I got to college, I noticed, wait, I already know how to do this, and that's when things just really started to click for me,” she said. “We learned about oil painting and using pastels. And, yeah, I used oil paint and pastels, but there was something about using them physically that was so influential because once I went to college, I started to realize that it was influencing even my digital color palettes. I'm using it to this day whenever I'm creating a new piece.”

She remembers times when they were thinking about concepts. Mr. Whitely would give the students a prompt, and they had to set up the scene. This is something she used throughout her entire college experience.

“It's like everything that you create is somewhere around you, and you can create that in your way,” said Tuttle. “Creating that imagery and those stories.”

As the Studio Art and Design program continues to educate current students and looks ahead to students from various high schools in the consortium coming to Orange Schools to experience this amazing opportunity, Sarah offers some sound advice: be open to new experiences.

“You're going to feel like some of the things you're trying are completely out of your comfort zone,” she said. “You might wonder why you're even doing it. It feels scary, or it's not something that you like to do. But, everything that's taught is for a reason whether you realize it at the time or not, and you'll look back and you'll realize exactly why it happened. Stay open to what's being taught to you. It's for a reason.”

When Mr. Whitely contacted her, Sarah was working at a Montessori school teaching art to middle school and high school kids along with serving as a designer at District Gallery in Shaker Heights. It was an experience she enjoyed. When he asked her about the residency it was a no-brainer.

“I loved working with students, and there was some flexibility with still being able to work at the gallery,” she added. “It was a perfect opportunity to not only work with students and the gallery but also to work on my own personal work and my own journey as an artist and then being able to show up professionally for students who aren't sure about what opportunities are available.

“You think a lot of it is being able to carve your way and find that career that really speaks to you. And I didn't know what it was at first. Now, I feel like I'm finally finding it through, not only the gallery but through the patterning that I was doing during the residency.”

Sarah found the experience of working in a creative environment with students who are now in the position she used to be in inspiring. The technology available allowed her to take her very traditional work and digitize it to create patterns. Additional technology resources like cameras, computer tablets, scanners, and a large monitor also assisted Sarah in her residency experience. The space itself helped build a creative artistic community.

“I think it's hard to sometimes step back from your work and realize how you can improve what you're doing, but when you have a second set of eyes, it really goes a long way,” she said. “I would even ask the students sometimes ‘what do you think about this?’ They would always have opinions. They helped me in so many different ways, and I was happy to do the same for them. I felt like I really stepped into myself and really found a style for myself.”

Mr. Whitely was a great influence on Sarah. He taught her to never settle and always take a step back. The importance of thinking about how to improve something even if it means putting the piece away for a certain amount of time and then coming back to it later. The importance of not rushing something just to have it done. He would always come up and ask about her art as a way to get her to think, reevaluate, and improve.

“He's amazing,” Tuttle exclaimed. “I think one thing that has really stuck with me ever since Excel TECC is reevaluating what you're creating as an artist. Constantly challenging myself and thinking about ways to improve and then ask for feedback. It's great to step out of your own perspective and see how the work is being communicated. Through him, I constantly think about how something is coming across to others and if it's telling the message I want it to tell.”

Her time working with students during her residency as well as the art gallery and teaching experiences have allowed her to grow creatively and artistically while also being able to educate others. It has allowed her to develop design skills she uses for communication design, such as newsletters, pamphlets, and booklets. These experiences will allow her to continue to build up her freelance business of patterning and the practical ways of applying them to spaces that can be used by people.

Some of her clients have included The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Case Western Reserve University, the Cleveland Botanical Gardens, the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, and Cleveland Magazine.

As she continues her journey, drawing from her experiences as both a student and a resident artist in Studio Art and Design, she is now proud to have her own personal studio space, which will aid her in furthering her growth as a professional artist. She eagerly anticipates developing a new website to showcase her work to the world and to foster collaborations with other designers.

Sarah Tuttle Art Class Collage 2024