Spotlight: Ruby Thompson

Spotlight: Ruby Thompson

Ruby started taking classes at The Art Academy at age 9 and began to learn to draw using traditional methods. Her 1st Pen and Ink was a copy of Bill Watterson’s Calvin.

Ruby Thompson, Age 9
Pen and Ink after Watterson

Ruby finished her first Watercolor at age 10. Her colors were mixed fresh and clean as she discovered how to master the flat wash, which is the basis of all traditional watercolor technique.

Ruby Thompson, Age 10
Watercolor after Disney

Ruby Thompson, Age 11

By the time Ruby was 11 her draftsmanship had improved dramatically. She finished this Pen and Ink in one class period. Fine drawing – with its balance of accurate proportion and expressive line movement – was becoming less of a challenge for Ruby. As her instructor observed Ruby’s progress on this and other projects that she was working on in class it became obvious that Ruby was making subtle but meaningful advances in her artistic development. Something exciting was going to happen soon.

Ruby Thompson, Age 12
Watercolor after Potter

By age 12, Ruby’s watercolor skills had progressed beyond the flat wash bordered by defined outlines. She was able to produce more subtle, atmospheric effects using watercolor and ink. Ruby’s drawing and painting progress was carefully evaluated. It was evident that she was ready to move ahead to more advanced watercolor.

Ruby Thompson, Age 16
Watercolor after Froud

Teaching kids art with a focus on refinement and tradition supported by an intense belief in the natural abilities of all children becomes especially exciting when they take a leap:  Then a student moves from the world of predictive results to a realm of wonderment and surprise. Who could have foreseen such a huge advance in skill development in just one project for Ruby? All of us were amazed at her inspired achievement; and because we had known Ruby for so long and loved her so dearly, it took on added significance and joy for her instructors at the school.

Ruby Thompson, Age 17
Oil Painting

Ruby was ready to climb the next rung of the ladder of artistic skill development and aesthetic understanding. For her first oil painting, Ruby chose a colorful landscape. Oil Painting presents many challenges to a student that Ruby had to attempt to master in one painting: A thoughtful lay-in, subtle color/value relationships, sensitive brush handling, and carefully observed lost and found edges. Following traditional methods of color mixing using a controlled palette, Ruby was able to push her painting to a high level of finish that maintained a balance of subtle detail mellowed into a unified whole.

Work in Progress
Ruby Thompson, Age 17
Oil Painting

Ruby then began working on her first portrait in oils, while outside of class, Ruby self-published her first graphic novel.

Oil Painting 'TIL DEATH
Ruby Thompson, Age 18
Self-published Graphic Novel

The graphic novel tells the story of four folk tales from around the world. The quality of Ruby’s work is truly extraordinary for someone so young. It proves that traditional training is an ideal method to help kids develop the technical and aesthetic skills to express themselves through very personal communication.

Today, Ruby continues her creative journey at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington.

Nathaniel and Zack's Story

From Theory to Practice

Andrew Wyeth in His Studio
"My father believed in sound drawing… he used to say, 'I want you to know the fundamentals.' He was right, of course."
-Andrew Wyeth, 1917-2009
A knight sounds his trumpet
State Fair Blue Ribbon Winner!
Nathaniel Robinson, Age 6½, Oil Painting after Wyeth
NC Wyeth at home
"Andy, free as a bird, has been doing a lot of canvases… He is the ideal student in art, and will go far."
-N. C. Wyeth 1882-1945
What skills are locked within your child? Probably more than anyone imagines. In 1999 my son Nathaniel was six and a half. I decided to try and teach him oil painting privately. I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to test out many of the theories I had learned regarding art instruction, as well as spend some quiet time with my son. So we began working together. Once a week, for forty-five minutes, we'd go to The Art Academy and I'd teach Nathaniel the principles of painting in the simplest way possible. When my second son Zack turned five and a half I began training him, too. The artwork on this page shows their accomplishments.

All the pictures that my sons have painted on this page, save one, are copies after the great American illustrator N. C. Wyeth. Of course, they were done under ideal conditions that can only exist between a parent and a child. I am very proud of their efforts.

So many inspiring stories of art education fill the pages of history: Chimabue walks down a country road and stumbles upon a boy drawing in the dirt, decides to train him, and provides Giotto with the skills to revolutionize the whole history of Western Art; Bernini's father begins teaching him the craft of sculpture at age six and Baroque Art is born; Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema's mother wakes him every morning before school so he can spend a few hours painting and he becomes one of the most celebrated painters in Victorian England; N. C. Wyeth takes time away from his hectic illustration schedule to train his son Andrew and we have one of the most notable painters in America. These are just a handful of the countless stories of children and art education that can be found throughout history.

In the last hundred years, however, we have come to dismiss such thorough training that began at a young age as 'talent'. Yet, the artists of the past rarely separated ability from effort. Addressing his colleagues at a gathering of the admission jury of the official French Salon in 1765, painter Jean-Baptiste Simeon Chardin (1699-1779) stated: "Talent does not declare itself in an instant. It is not at the first attempt that one has the honesty to admit one's inabilities….He who has not felt the difficulties of art does nothing that counts." Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986) said it more simply: "It is very hard work to turn out anything that looks like a good painting."

I have no idea what professions Nathaniel and Zack will eventually pursue. They could fall very far from the realm of art. I do know that at the very least they will have an appreciation for painting, one of the great achievements of mankind. They will also have the skills to pass that knowledge on to others and continue a grand tradition, as well as do paintings of their own, if they choose.

From working with Nathaniel, Zack and other students I have learned a great deal. I have come to realize the true potential hidden within all our children. It is this belief that keeps all of us teaching at The Art Academy.

Annie Nelson's Story

In Memoriam

Annie Nelson

Annie Nelson, Age 12
Pen and Ink
State Fair Winner!
Annie Nelson, Age 14
Watercolor After B. Potter
State Fair Winner!
Annie Nelson, Age 16,
Pen and Ink
Annie Nelson, Age 17,
Oil Painting after F. Von Stuck
Annie Nelson, Age 18,
Cows Come Home
Annie Nelson was a St. Paul native who exhibited a passionate love for drawing and painting at an early age. Her parents, Diane and Wally, enrolled Annie in our Fundamentals Program when she was a young girl.

Annie’s first picture at our school was of an owl sitting in a tree. When we saw Annie complete her pen and ink with such patience and skill we knew that she had ability and assurance to excel in art. Over the next few years Annie created one little masterpiece after another and we asked her to join our teaching staff.

Through commitment and hard work Annie blossomed into a wonderful instructor. Soon there was ease and comfort in her interactions with parents and children. With her growing confidence and experience Annie took on more responsibility. Her dependability was flawless. By the time Annie was 18 she could step in as senior instructor in a room of 20 to 25 children, fulfilling that role perfectly while we talked to a parent or helped a student with a specific painting problem.

Annie was particularly wonderful in our 5 to 8 year old classes. She loved helping children compose pictures and choose pleasing color schemes for their original paintings. Annie loved animals and shared that enthusiasm with her students. During her free time, Annie assembled a special book of handpicked pictures to inspire our youngest painters entitled Annie’s Animals. We still use her collection today.

Annie’s warmth touched my family personally when she taught my son Zack how to color. That seems like a simple thing, but for me it was a major development in Zack’s life. When Zack began classes he was a fidgety 5-year-old. Finding the calm in him was difficult. One day he was too wild to participate with the other students, so I asked Annie to sit with him in the hall and work with him privately. I can’t describe how happy they both were when I’d go out to check on them. Finally, my son was connecting with someone. He was slowing down, doing the work, and feeling the rewards that true effort brings. Annie sat with him that day for an hour and a half. Zack, in the little artist’s bio to the book he was working on with her, wrote that one of his favorite things in life was to “spend time with my new best friend Annie”.

As Annie’s commitment to art grew, she decided to spend her last two years of high school at the Perpich Center for Arts Education in Golden Valley, Minnesota. Now, her life was art from morning to night, spending her days at Perpich and her evenings and weekends at The Art Academy.

When Annie graduated from the Perpich Center for Arts Education on June 6th, 2003, she had reached a level of maturity as a student and teacher that went well beyond her years. As a student, Annie was tackling major creative challenges. Her senior project at Perpich was to write and illustrate her first children’s book, Cows Come Home, that is full of the playfulness, kindness and simplicity found in such children’s classics as Good Night, Moon. At The Art Academy Annie was busy working to complete several oil paintings before going off to college. In addition, her teaching schedule grew.

In April 2003 Annie was accepted to Montserrat College of Art in Beverly, Massachusetts on a talent award scholarship. That spring, Annie and her family started to prepare for her to go off to school by late summer.

Then on June 28th, less than two months before Annie was to begin college, she and a friend decided to have a summer adventure. They put together a makeshift raft to do an impromptu Huck Finn trip down the Mississippi River. Where they put their raft into the river the current did not seem strong, but the river narrowed downstream and became dangerous. Their raft got caught in a parked barge, spilling the girls into the water, and the current pulled Annie under the barge where she drowned.

We at The Art Academy, along with Annie’s family, relatives and friends, will forever feel heartbroken by Annie’s death. We are committed to help keep the memory of her love and talent alive. Annie came to us as a young girl wanting to learn to draw, and she left as a young woman capable of advanced creative thought. Through hard work she developed the skills to express her feelings in a highly personal manner. Along the way, Annie touched many young lives. We can’t think of a more fitting way to be honored by a student and fellow teacher, and through scholarships and charitable contributions we try to honor Annie in return.

Each term we celebrate Annie’s life by awarding a scholarship to three current students who demonstrate great character but lack the financial ability to continue taking classes. In addition, we contribute to Heifer International in Annie’s name.

Heifer International is a charitable organization dedicated to changing the world by helping needy families become self-sufficient through gifts of animals. First, families are taught how to care for an animal. Then, after proper facilities are prepared, they receive their new family addition. Throughout the year, this animal helps provide for the needs of the family: Llamas supply warm wool, goats and cows produce nourishing milk, chickens lay protein-rich eggs, bees make honey, beeswax and pollen.

When an animal has offspring, the family gives one or more of the offspring to another needy family in the community, making that family self-sufficient, too. The second family agrees to pass on a baby animal when it has one; the next family does the same. Soon, a whole community is transformed and begins to find its way out of poverty.

Heifer International is the perfect charity to contribute to support Annie’s love of people and animals. Through our scholarships and contributions a bit of Annie’s positive energy can go out into the world and make it a better place.

We hope you sense the sum total of little things that made Annie stand out from the crowd. Her kindness, creativity and gentle humor were easy to appreciate. We love Annie and continue to feel her rich presence at our school.

Heifer International


Taking the Next Step

The Art Academy is proud of our students and their work. Some of our graduates have gone on to study art at a college level, many with competitive scholarships.

Emily Tutelman – University of Minnesota, MN
Sarah Fowler – Minneapolis College of Art and Design, MN
Erin Ries – Iowa State University, IA
Isaac Mann – University of Iowa, IA
Ellie Perendy – SUNY Purchase, NY
Nick Pitera – Ringling School of Art and Design, FL
Lester DiLorenzo – Art Center College of Design, CA
Isabelle McCormick – Rhode Island School of Design, RI
Kristin Ries – University of Wisconsin – River Falls, WI
Alex Pederson – Minneapolis College of Art and Design, MN
Emma Kimball – Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts, CT
Kyle Caspers – Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts, CT
David Kramer – Maryland Institute College of Art, MD
Ruby Thompson – The Evergreen State College, WA
Annie Nelson – Montserrat College of Art in Beverly, MA
Michelle Franz – Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts, CT
Molly Dekarski – Concordia College, MN