Sheri believes that art can be the key to unlocking a child’s creative capacity, and has dedicated her life to fostering that creativity. Here, she talks about taking to leap to follow her passion, why popcorn machines are important, and how her students have taught her a few things as well.
What was your favorite thing to do as a child?
Once upon a time there was an introverted child, quiet and shy. Bookworm by nature, sensitive and inquisitive—I could lose myself for hours reading.
The love of creating has always been a part of me, and by age 4, I knew that I would one day be an artist. At 12, I began studying oil painting with Ted Fogel, and I credit him as the teacher who changed my life. He gave me a gift, not just in painting, but in looking at life. I am very grateful to be able to share this with the next generation of artists.
The happy ending? The quiet child gained self-confidence and a voice through the creation of art, and she has since lectured on television, aboard cruise ships, in schools and in studios, about art and the power it brings.
What about your childhood motivated you to stay involved in your passion?
I hate to say this, but I haven’t always been involved in my passion. There were times I had a day job—from matching colors at Liz Claiborne (bonus: traveling to the orient) to designing women’s scrubs. That job got me to India and a fancy Vice President business card, but it wasn’t enough. I wasn’t satisfied. I’ve always loved travel and the perks were obvious, but in my heart I missed creating. I missed painting. I missed art.
Why did you start your business?
When Hurricane Sandy crippled the company I worked for, I had to make a decision. Do I want another day job, or do I want to go back to my love of art? I had run my own business before—‘7 Fine Arts’ was once my personal fine art business doing portrait commissions, murals and faux finishes. Why not take this opportunity to start a new business linking my love and painting to working with children. I went back to portrait commissions and began showing my art in festivals, expos, and finally (#dreamcometrue) a museum!
While painting live at an art show, a child asked me to show her what I was doing. And so, one small child taught me how to teach. I started with one student at my dining table, and then two, until we outgrew the house and expanded into our current studio space. 7 Fine Arts might be the only art school where children worked together on the floor plan and designed the space (everyone voted for the popcorn machine). My community helped me move the school from its space in my home to our current location. My community helped paint, donated furniture and rugs, even a computer… and so much more. Because of community, 7 Fine Arts was reborn.
How do children benefit from your classes?
The foundation of 7 Fine Arts is based upon inclusivity, self-esteem, and respect for others. When newcomers join us, we pause and have a group introduction. We call it the name game, and it makes everyone feel silly and welcome and comfortable.
We encourage individuality. Each artist is inspired by their own vision of what they’d like to create; our job is to give them the tools to make their vision come to life. Through the use of simple, easy to understand techniques, children create masterpieces. I still give credit back to Ted Fogel for his technique - it truly works!
What has been the most fulfilling part of your job?
I call it the magic paintbrush. When I speak, I use the end of the brush to point out certain details in the artwork. After a while of attending classes, I love handing the brush to a student and I’ll say “I have to make the popcorn. Can you continue for me?” And they pick up where I left off. Whether they’re right or wrong doesn’t matter. When I hand the brush to a child who has only whispered their name during the name game, suddenly they’re speaking so I can hear them from the popcorn machine. What else could we want from life? Watching children create masterpieces is very fulfilling, but when I see this kind of positive growth it does my heart good.
What is the biggest challenge when running your own business?
The biggest challenge is learning how to run a business! What we do is so unique, so it’s been fun challenging the studio to be better, hosting new classes and events (we are adding lots of new classes including a long time passion of mine - swing dancing!), and continuously updating our window displays, website and marketing materials.
If you could have a superpower, what would it be?
I've always wanted a cape... but in reality, I'd like to clone myself.
Share your personal motto or best piece of advice you’ve received in life?
1. Leave your pre-conceived ideas at the door. Translation: We can teach you to paint. You don’t need ‘talent’. You need a good teacher and technique.
2. It’s ok to use a ruler to draw a straight line. Translation: Use tools when creating. Even rulers can be helpful at times.
3. It took da Vinci almost 8 years to paint the Mona Lisa. Translation: Be patient and wonderful things will come, not only in your artwork but in your soul.