Art Educator Interviews are back! I have taken a long break, but am as passionate about this series as ever. I get so many emails from readers who want to know how I started teaching art classes in my home and how to take the first steps. I started this series in hopes that these interviews will be a rich resource for anyone dreaming of opening up their own studio, especially in a brick & mortar space.
Today it is my greatest pleasure to introduce you to Alie Edwards from Creation Space in Alberta, Canada. When I scroll through Alie’s Instagram, I feel like I want to teleport myself into her magical world and just sit and observe. She creates so much from the simplest materials. And everything is focused on delivering this incredible creative experience… like none I’ve ever seen before. I mean, she uses a plain, wooden chair as an invitation to explore playdough! Absolutely genius. Alie is obviously still a kid at heart because she has an innate sense of what they need to find joy through art exploration.
And now, here is my interview with Alie. Keep scrolling to see all of the magnificent and inspiring photos from her studio. Her creativity is INSANE!
Bar: Tell me about your family and where you live.
Alie: I live in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. We have a small house but a large yard. My favourite fact about my city is that it has more trees per capita and the largest parks system of any city in North America. So, although we live centrally, I can cross the street and walk down into a river valley that allows me to disappear from city life.
I have have been married for 10 years. My partner is incredibly supportive and tolerant of my piles of art supplies. Together we have two daughters: Amelia is four, and Audrey is seven. Creation Space would not exist without them. They are my life’s joy and inspiration. We also have a dog named Olive. She is a 9-year-old Vizsla and the perfect fit for our family.
Bar: Your home with its surrounding nature sounds so idyllic. Best of both worlds! When and how did you open your art studio?
Alie: Creation Space is still young. I opened in May 2017. I didn’t really set out to open a studio. It was a distant dream that I would bring up here and there. The idea to open a studio came to life rather organically and quickly after my second maternity leave. I absolutely love teaching and making art, and have never been much of a housekeeper, although I do like to cook. I filled both my maternity leaves with the joy of my family and art. After having children, my evenings were at home and I found myself the most productive that I had ever been as an artist.
I created a really large body of sculptural work called Found Flock, an art installation of 303 found object bird sculptures, and was awarded two grants to produce it after my first maternity leave. I took on a few private and commercial painting commissions. Then hand-painted the 256 tiles that now hang in my kitchen during the first months after having my second child. Audrey painted a few as well. The girls and I spent huge chunks of our day immersed in creativity together. Projects for them and projects for me. It was something that brought us together. Something that could engage all three of us and we could all enjoy.
People around us were excited about the things we were doing and a stranger began asking to follow my social media as friends suggested they might find it inspiring. Back then I just had a private, personal account. Missing teaching, I began a few community classes. Then, the owners of the Roots Building where my studio is located approached me and asked if I would be interested in running classes out of their building. They helped make it easy and economically possible to begin. I had taught their grandchildren in the past and they believed in me.
I took over my new space in April 2016, and I threw myself into preparing the studio with a projected opening date of January 2017. My husband helped me install cupboards and build tables, while our girls built forts out of cardboard boxes and were the first children to paint in the studio. Things happened more quickly than I had anticipated, and after throwing Amelia’s 2nd birthday at the studio in early May, I opened Creation Space on May 16th and people came!
Bar: Wow! Ok, so having children seemed to really energize you creatively. I can relate to that because as an artist, my children have always inspired my sensibilities and influenced my creative choices. And how amazing that the building came to YOU! Isn’t it wonderful to have people believe in you? It sounds like you have a background in art and in teaching. Tell us more about that.
Alie: I do. I actually have a background in both.
I have a Batchelor in Fine Arts. I never chose a major, I just loved everything and could never decide. So I took painting, sculpture, drawing, printmaking, installation, and design classes. To diversify so much is frowned upon, but I believe it has given me a stronger foundation as an educator. I now have so many mediums to pull from.
Prior to Creation Space, I taught at the Art Gallery of Alberta for 9 years, where I instructed children’s and adult art classes, as well as led the Art Express program for adults with developmental disabilities and cerebral palsy. At the same time, I took on private contracts writing and carrying out art programming for daycares, and teaching art programs through the school systems and other public institutions around my city.
Bar: Sounds like you made the right choice in studying ALL of the disciplines! I can totally see how you bring your experiences into your studio. How many classes do you teach per week? What age? And how many children are in each class?
Alie: I typically teach 5 to 8 registered classes plus 1 to 3 workshops or private bookings a week. My registered classes are for 16 months to 9 years. I do the odd adult workshops, collaborative family workshops and even a handful of grandparent birthday parties, too. I have 10-15 children per class, depending on age and if they are parented or dropped off.
Bar: Oh my, grandparent birthday parties sound incredible! You’ve given me an idea for my mom’s 80th coming up this year. How do you structure these parties and our other birthday parties?
Alie: Oh yes, grandparent Parties! I have done a few 70th birthday parties lately. Grandparents can be so difficult to buy gifts for. A family painting session becomes a gift, a party and a memory making experience all in one. Families, sometimes 4 generations, all come together to create a large, collaborative painting. I love doing these so much, the paintings are always so full of joy and laughter. It is pretty special to be a part of. I provide the materials with just a touch of guidance and everyone, babies right through to grandparents, all get to be part of the experience. Sometimes I stretch the resulting canvas into one big painting but sometimes into 5 or 6 and each family takes one home.
Bar: Can you tell me how your structure your birthday parties?
Alie: Well, that depends on the party. But I think that it is always important to have something for guests to do right as they walk through the door. Never do all the guests arrive at once, but I want the fun to begin as soon as they step into the studio! It is a party, after all.
For all of my children’s parties, I have at least one sensory bin, mixing table, or a birthday crown-making station that children can jump right into the moment they are through the door. And there is always a paintable birthday banner and a great big cardboard birthday cake for painting. Which comes straight out of your book, Art Workshop for Children, so thank you! It has become a party staple for me!
Bar: Do you have assistants and how do you train them?
Alie: Nope, just me. Although I do have someone help do a deep clean about twice a month.
Teaching 7 to 11 classes a week plus all the behind-the-scenes stuff is a lot, but I don’t actually live at the studio! I am not there 7 days a week – usually 4.
I run my business ‘family forward’ if that makes sense. Although I am a small business owner and people often refer to me as an entrepreneur, I would never consider myself one. I am simply doing something I love! Something that enriches my life and the lives of my children. Although I won’t deny life does get busy, it is important to me to still be able to volunteer in my daughter’s class, go bowling with my family on Sunday, and read books to my girls until my eyes go blurry. I frequently make the choices that are best for my family over what makes the most economical sense and I remain a passionate and energetic educator because of them.
I also plan my class schedules around family holidays and my daughters’ school schedules. We have a nanny 12 hours a week, but at least one of my girls is with me for over half of the classes I run. So I want to make the studio an amazing place to be – not just because it makes business sense, but because it’s what I want to give my own children.
Bar: I just love your “family forward” philosophy as a working mom. What is your teaching philosophy?
Alie: Creation Space is a process-based studio. I do a lot of child-lead creativity. When I instruct I teach a concept, idea or technique. I want to build children’s creative repertoire and passion – not tell them what to make. All projects hope to encourage creativity and possibility. I also love using art as a tool for connectivity so we do lots of collaboration. Especially family collaboration.
Bar: Where do you find ideas for your classes?
I pull ideas from all over. I often lay in bed cultivating ideas. Children’s books and contemporary art are always a taking-off point for me. Watching my own children and the children that visit my studio and observing their interests is also inspiring. This is why I tend not to theme my classes. I typically don’t know what we are doing in 2 weeks because I like to observe the children and their interests and then plan in response. Outside of these places, I find Instagram’s art studio community both very inspiring and supportive.
Bar: How do you advertise/market?
I don’t really. I have an Instagram and Facebook account to which I post. Word of mouth has been very good to me, and I have been fortunate to have felt much love from my local parenting blogger community. In my 1st 3 months, I wrote a newsletter, but now classes fill up and I’d rather put my time into setting up the studio and working with painty hands.
Bar: Alie, thank you so much for talking with me today. I feel like I want to make a plane reservation immediately to come meet you and visit your studio space. You are an incredible inspiration to all of us who dream of starting an art studio of our own someday.
A little about Alie:
Alie Edwards is an art educator and the owner of Creation Space, a family-oriented art studio in Edmonton, Alberta. Founded on the belief that creative experiences are highly beneficial for the emotional, intellectual and developmental growth of children, Creation Space celebrates curiosity and imagination, nurturing the process of creation rather than focusing on the outcome. Alie has a BFA from the University of Alberta where she couldn’t decide on just one medium so she took classes in them all! Her personal body of work still varies a lot, from painting to found object sculpture and textiles. Alie opened her studio in May 2017.
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