Being an art instructor provides artists with a steady stream of income, but leaves them little time to create, and that is why Haverhill native and artist Susan Kneeland will spend time only with dedicated students, to have more time creating.
Kneeland, one of the few art teachers from Maine to Gloucester who specialize in teaching children, is ready to promote herself and her work.
To accomplish that, she will modify her annual student art show because it takes at least four months of preparation. Given a choice, Kneeland would rather spend time helping her students develop their talents.
And though she has a waiting list, she will not fill any more teaching slots. She will instead keep the students who are the most dedicated to their work — the ones who come regularly and make the most of their time, and hers.
Kneeland's students have been accepted to prestigious art schools with the portfolios they create in her studio. Schools include Brown University with free admission to Rhode Island School of Design for a second major, Pratt Institute in New York, Ringling College of Art and Design in Florida, New Hampshire Institute of Art in Manchester, MassArt, Montserrat College of Art, and Salem State College for art teaching.
A current high school student was accepted to Tuscany, Italy, for a plein-air course over the summer, which garners her automatic acceptance to that school when she graduates. The same student also earned a two-thirds tuition scholarship for a six-week course at Maryland Institute College of Art, which also gave her automatic acceptance to that school.
Kneeland has dedicated herself to nurturing the artistic talents of children, but she also enjoys peeling back the layers of inhibition in adult students. She describes them as tougher to teach because they've had many more years of people telling them they can't do things, which chips away at their self-confidence.
Some of Kneeland's adult students have left their "day jobs" and gone on to become successful fine artists as well.
"The dream of every artist is to be an independent freelance artist," said Kneeland. "Teaching provides a constant and reliable source of income, but you have to balance teaching and having time to create. It may mean less income for more creativity, and then you hope you sell your work."
The wheels are already in motion: Her Web site is up and running. The mother of one of Kneeland's students created the site in exchange for art lessons for her daughter.
And though a Web site can help a person become better known, that is not why Kneeland wanted it. She views the site, which displays a large gallery of her work — from landscapes to still lifes, portraits, places and animals — as a portable portfolio for the world to see.
Those curious about her artistic style can log on, view her paintings, and decide if they would like to see more, or commission her.
"Some artists use the Web for self-promotion instead of art shows. You can't carry all your work around with you. A Web site makes your work tangible. People can review it and decide if they like your style. It lends credibility and attaches worth to you," Kneeland said.
Kneeland is also branching into fine-art photography.
"That's not a wedding, birthday or family portrait photographer. It's a visual artist recording the information they see. They take a picture of a landscape, and use it as a photographic reference for paintings ... a rendering," said Kneeland. "When you have enough of them, you can mat and frame them, and sell them."
Kneeland said businesses sometimes hire fine-art photographers to take photos for brochures and Web sites.
"Many artists do not regard photographers as artists. They say it's a cheat because they're just taking a picture and anyone can do that, but that's not so," Kneeland said. "There are many settings on cameras so you can manipulate images to make them true works of art."
Kneeland's goals are to increase sales and commissions and strengthen her reputation for photography. She would also like to take some of her more classic photographic shots and have them made into posters that can be mass-produced.
One shot that comes to mind is from her recent trip to China.
"The men carry their parakeets and canaries in bamboo cages. They ride their bicycles to go play cards. They hang the cages in trees and the birds sing while the men gamble on blankets ... with their hats on. Their birds are like our dogs. They take their birds for a walk," said Kneeland. She can also see one of her photos from Venice becoming a poster.
"It's of a Venice water alley. The building is stone ... dark and almost slimy, with stark white laundry hanging from the window. I could look at that forever," said Kneeland with a smile.