August 20, 2014

Elyria
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Teacher encourages pupils to regain creativity

ELYRIA — Ask local freelance art teacher Frank O’Connell or just about any arts aficionado, and they’ll tell you this: From birth to late childhood, human beings learn best through creativity.

Puzzles, drawings, painting, games — they all capture something in the human spirit that leads not only to knowledge, but passion for originality and verve.

JASON MILLER/CHRONICLE
Frank O’Connell will be offering a series of classes for beginning painters starting next week at St. Jude Catholic Church in Elyria.

But then a funny thing happens when human beings reach adulthood: They abandon the puzzles, drawings, games and all the tools that make life — and learning — an adventure, and instead replace them all with the stifling normality of everyday life.

You know: The humdrum job riddled by mediocre performance, the routine life weighed down by exhausting monotony.  

O’Connell, a communications specialist at St. Jude Catholic Church in Elyria, explains it this way:

“When a kid starts drawing with crayons, the teacher will say, ‘Stay in the lines,’” he said. “Then the kid starts to feel frustrated.

They go through life and everything they do is restricted — it’s always ‘Within the lines.’”

Once a boy or girl colors outside the lines, O’Connell said, they’re truly free.

An accomplished artist with a storied career in fine arts and corporate advertising, O’Connell is asking local residents to start coloring outside the lines. Just a bit, nothing dramatic.

O’Connell is offering art lessons to the public, a series called “Painting is Prayer” to be held at the church on Poplar Street.

O’Connell, 61, has been conquering the art world since he was 9. Over the years, his career in art led him to teaching positions at universities in Kentucky, a bout as an editorial cartoonist at a New York newspaper, an advertising gig in Toledo, and countless hours of freelance art lessons for folks looking to put their emotions onto canvas.

Among his greater achievements: Using the Pink Panther cartoon as an advertising mechanism for Owens-Corning.

O’Connell said the fine-arts industry has changed over the years. Large franchises or hotel chains looking for commissioned art pieces aren’t always willing to pay top-dollar for original work, and younger artists are always willing to jump in and do something for free to get recognition.

“Making a living in fine arts nowadays, it becomes a bidding war,” O’Connell said. “Try to sell a piece for $5,000 or $10,000 — they’ll look at you like you’re nuts.”

While pieces that would have been considered “classical art” are often consider computer “clip art” these days, some people still have a penchant to tap into their creativity.

And that means there’s always a market for art classes, art schools and art students.

With that, O’Connell has still managed to do what he does best. These days, he uses his skills to teach children and adults to conquer their fear of painting — and their fear of life.

He’s created programs that infuse art lessons with life lessons, like the “Painting in Prayer” series, where folks can paint biblical messages and parables alongside their artwork.

The Painting in Prayer series teaches a drip method of painting, where two base colors are used to establish much of the painting, and the rest is just filled in with supplementary colors. It’s fun, easy and usually turns out pretty good, O’Connell said.

“You’re finished with the piece before you even start,” he said. “The base colors are laid in, and the rest is just kind of ‘scumbling’ it in.”

For the doubters who think they’ll never learn to paint, he offers this: “I can teach anyone to paint or draw. They can do it — they can come right out of that shell.”

And if the painting turns out looking like it was an accident, O’Connell conjured up the old words of  the late TV-fame painter Bob Ross: “Make it a happy accident.”