Tuesday, December 9, 2014

In the Art Room: Art Teacher Interview with Eric Gibbons, AKA Box Artist

Hey, y'all! As apart of my lil Art Teacher Interview series (of which you can read more interviews here, here and here), I have the pleasure of introducing you to Eric Gibbons, aka Box Artist! I'm so thrilled that Eric has allowed me to interview him as his work as an artist, gallery owner, educator and author are so inspiring. And I know for certain y'all will love what he has to say about his journey. So without further ado, take it away, Eric! 

Just who are you, anyway? And where do you teach? And how long you been doin' it? 

I have been teaching since 1991. First in Wildwood NJ, then Egypt of all places, and now in central New Jersey. I did some teaching in Japan, but that was teaching English conversation while still in college to help pay bills when I was living there on a student exchange. As you can surmise, I love to travel and have been to Korea, Paris, London, Canada, Mexico, Israel, Greece, Bulgaria, and Turkey.
I have taught all levels from pre-k through the community college level but am currently teaching in a high school, and teach privately at my gallery in the summers. [Eric's gallery called Firehouse Gallery is seen above. More details can be found here.] My 21st art camp will be this summer. I like being my own boss. I hope to retire as early as I can to publish and teach privately through my sunset years.
And you're an artist AND a published author to boot? Okay, tell us your magical ways. Start with your journey as an artist. Go on, we're listening...

So art has always been in my family. As I sit and type I am looking at 2 watercolors by my great grandmother. She painted till she was 102. Her daughter, my grandmother was an accomplished artist as is her sister Anita Gish. Her work is in the National Portrait Gallery. She too is an art teacher. My mother studied art but went on to become a nurse and therapist, but she stays creative. My brother can draw very well and my sister works for a company that produces books for museums and galleries, so she has the art bug too. It was never discouraged so it was a natural transition for me. I can do many things well, and jump from one media to another with ease. Stained glass to oils. Ceramics to watercolors. Origami to pastels. That versatility definitely helps in the classroom for a broad approach.
My own work, closest to my heart are blind drawing like Matisse, and figure painting like Jacque Louis David, or Michelangelo. I am kinda' known for my figures and still lives in boxes, hence my pseudonym on social media.
I am passionate about my approach to art education. I push a multi-disciplinary approach connecting math, history, language, literature, science, and biology to art. Art teachers know, when we grid, measure, and draw—we use geometry. When we make sculptures—we use engineering. When we mix colors—we reveal information about physics. When we create illustrations for stories—we learn about literature. When we review the styles of art from da Vinci to Bansky—we teach history. When we write about art—we strengthen these skills. When we create works of art, we solve complex visual problems in creative ways.

So is your art form of choice illustration? If so, has it always been? 

I don't think of myself as an illustrator, but if the need arises I can be. For the newest project, "If Picasso Had a Christmas Tree," I put on my illustrator hat and created about 12 Christmas trees in the styles of Picasso, Mondrian, Rothko, Haring, etc... Some took a few minutes like the Cy Twombly piece, and others took weeks, like Picasso and Tamara de Lempicka paintings. It's fun to emulate and create. I am not much for copying, but I like emulation.
Can you talk a lil bit about getting published? How does one even set out on that journey?

So publishing is a surprise for me. I was a terrible speller growing up. Ridiculed for it actually. I had great ideas but no one could get past the spelling. Thank god for spell check or I'd be jobless. My spelling is still poor, but I rely on help from technology and friends, particularly English Teachers!
My first book was call "Christian Voodoo." It started at a collection of stories for my own amusement about old superstitions that persist today. Burying a St. Joseph statue up-side-down in the yard to sell a house. Putting a rosary on a bush outside your home to stop the rain for a wedding, and many others. Some friends wanted copies of my little collection, and it grew. I sold copies on Ebay long ago, and thought to approach a publisher. Schiffer Publishing took it on and though it never really sold great it does bring in a few bucks every year and still sells.
After doing a couple more through them and others, I decided to try it myself through Createspace.com, owned by Amazon. Once your book is done and saved as a PDF, you upload it, and it is for sale on Amazon. I made books and collections of my lesson plans, tests, and other professional stuff and they sell well. I did some other art related books and they too did ok. We're not talking enough to quit my job, but all these little projects do add up to about a mortgage payment every month.
 If you told the 12 year old me, nearly failing English, that I would have nearly 100 books to my credit... I'd have called you crazy, but I do, though many are not under my own name, some hardly sell at all, but enough do that it's worth it and fun.
The newest book, "If Picasso Had a Christmas Tree," is really taking off though. It's for sale in museum stores, and next year will be even bigger. (It was late for this year's holiday season.) That is exciting, and scary. With Createspace I don't have to keep any books here, it's all automatic, I just get a royalty. This new book though, because it did so well, I went the traditional route by ordering 3000 copies. Putting out a huge chunk of cash. But we have recouped our investment and are now earning money on the book. Next year, If I had to guess, we'll need to order about 10,000 copies, maybe more.
So you teach, you create, you keep up a super fab blog and your write books. Talk a little bit about what your ideal average day of teaching/creating might look like. 

The blog, www.ArtEdGuru.com is really a place for me to store my ideas, web links, and resources so I can access them from anywhere, especially school. BUT I realized it would be helpful for many others so I added the blog portion and opened it up to others. As something cool comes up, I add it to the appropriate pages, and I hope it helps other teachers. The video links page is AWESOME if class finishes too early and you need something to keep the kids occupied. I have done that a few time already this year.
So as for my day, I am up by 6am, out to school by 7am, teaching from 7:30 am to about3pm. (I work just 7 miles from my home) I use all my prep time and "free" periods to write lesson plans, grade, etc. My daily goal is to take nothing home, because home is more work. I really use every minute of my day. If I know I will be busy, I come early to work.
At home I have to answer email, take and write orders. Wednesdays I teach private classes. My partner ships and organizes the books. I have to find time to write, communicate with the 30 teachers in the book so we are all on the same page. I'm active on the Facebook art teacher's page with advice and opinions, and I only "plug" a book if it truly answers a question posed, but I have tons of free stuff and advice for my fellow teachers, and am happy to share that. It's really NOT about the money for me.
Sometimes I visit the college to talk with wanna-be art teachers, crush their dreams with reality, and those that continue on are either fools like me, or awesome like you!  ;-) I joke of course, but I do enlighten them that teaching art is not for everyone, it's very hard, and schools often do not appreciate what you do. I urge them to advocate for art education, because no one else will. I sincerely believe art is THE most important subject taught in school, and I have evidence to back that up!
For fun, I carve out time to go to 3D movies, visit a museum or gallery, go to a monthly potluck and share my famous cream puffs, or watch Antiques Roadshow.
Many folks give up their personal art when they begin teaching. What have you gained from continuing to pursue your art? Where do you think you'd be without this outlet?

I have come to understand that art is a necessity in my life. When I am not creative I get very depressed. It is my medicine. I am not joking on this point. I get in a very dark place when I am not allowing myself a creative outlet. Some people do it just for fun or to pass the time. That's fine, but I have come to realize I NEED art in my life as much as I need air, water, and cream puffs from time to time.
Creating art and writing books helps me escape my isolation. I could easily become a hermit or hobbit if I let myself. But books and art are ways that I connect with others and share what I have learned. It's my way of giving back to the world, and maintaining my sanity.  
To see my own art, please visit www.firehousegallery.com my books are atwww.firehousepublications.com

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  1. Anonymous12/09/2014

    I loved this interview!

  2. Wow, terrific interview. Though it makes me feel totally inadequate! I mean, I CAN spell, but I've never published a book! And wow, I'm sure I'm MUCH OLDER THAN Eric, but I sure don't have the resume he has! Very impressive! I've read what he has to say on Facebook, but now you've fleshed him put as a real person. - Thanks for bringing this terrific guy to us!

  3. Eric, I am so inspired by your energy, you are so motivating! Curious if you have a book that would discuss your multi-disciplinary approach? Thanks for doing this interview Cassie. SB

  4. I took after school art classes from Eric in the 90's as a kid at the Firehouse Gallery (I lived down the street..) and now I use his blind contour drawings as an exercise with my elementary school kiddos! I was just perusing your blog for some lesson ideas and stumbled on this, small world ;)

    1. How cool is that?! He's awesome!! Small world!


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