Become an Artist from the Comfort of Home

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The Michigan State University Broad Art Museum has been offering a series of art classes via Zoom during the pandemic, allowing participants to pick up new skills and to engage with kindred spirits all while remaining safe at home.

ELi’s Sarah Spohn first reported on these opportunities in August, previewing an embroidery class. Following Sarah’s reporting, I began following the Broad on Facebook, and I have spent some of the winter months enjoying other classes offered by the Broad.

I don’t really consider myself an artistic person, but one class called “Hand Lettered Snail Mail” caught my eye. I had always been intrigued by calligraphy. It seemed beautiful and reminded me of my grandfather’s unique penmanship. (While my grandfather was working as a security guard at the office for the McGraw Hill textbook company in New York, Mr. McGraw asked him to write out all of his Christmas cards because of his penmanship.)

The calligraphy course cost $35, which included not only attending the workshop but also most of the arts supplies needed. I am a member of the Broad Art Museum – membership is free – so I also received a 10 percent discount.

In order to get my supplies, I dropped by the Broad Art Lab (located on Grand River Ave., across the street from the museum) the weekend before the course. This is the preferred method for getting supplies, but the Broad can also ship the packet to you if you cannot pick it up. When I got home, I was surprised with all the packet included – four brush-lettering pens, a notebook, worksheets, three cards with envelopes, and a small collection of old stamps.

If you sign up for a class like this, make sure to look inside your packet before your class is set to start! Some basic instructions are included, and you might need some items from around your home like a pencil or scrap paper.

The class was 90 minutes, and packed a lot of punch for a relatively short amount of time to learn a new skill. I enjoyed having my camera on along with many other participants. It provided a sense of comradery that I had missed during the pandemic.

Sarah Pulver, who taught the class, focused on teaching us the basics so we can use them going forward to expand our abilities and develop our own sense of style. We went through the alphabet, learning techniques for each letter. We each capped off the afternoon by designing an envelope with fancy lettering.

During the course, representatives from the Broad also explained connections among our projects and some of the items in their collection, including older letters. We also learned about vintage postage stamps, which add a nice touch to envelopes addressed with fancy lettering.

I am certainly still a novice, but I left the class feeling I could do this. Now, I often practice as I watch TV, and I have begun making my own cards and having fun addressing envelopes. I even got markers, a T-ruler, and erasers for my birthday.

I also signed up for the Broad class called “Botanical Watercolors with Solstice Handmade” with my partner. This class was $45 and the packet included paper, paint, brushes, and a palette. Since two of us were sitting in, we pulled a folding table into our living room and streamed through our TV.

The watercolor class moved at a faster pace than the calligraphy class, but the instructor spent the beginning of the class – this one was three hours – teaching us techniques that we would need moving forward and providing us with basic knowledge of the color wheel and blending colors.

Then, we moved on to our big project, painting cotton and jute. We also learned about sustainable fibers and some tidbits from the Broad’s current “Seeds of Resistance” exhibit. Truth be told, my partner is much more of an artist than I am, and he did a better job of painting the two plants. I struggled a bit, but I made my own work featuring cacti afterward. Again, I had leftover supplies and felt I had a basic knowledge to explore on my own after the course.

I didn’t realize how much I talked about the classes to those around me, but then again, I’ve already sent out a few hand-lettered cards. In any case, my passion was obvious, and as a birthday gift, my friends chipped in to sign me up for the “Textile Workshop: Kitchen Dyeing Techniques with Adventure Textiles” course, where I will learn how to use avocado pits, black tea, and other items to naturally dye various fiber samples.

I won’t be able to pick up my packet for another week or two, but I am excited to see all it will include. For those interested in learning kitchen dyeing techniques, you can register here by April 5. You can also see what else the Broad is offering here.

This article was corrected on Mar. 18 at 10:30 a.m. to reflect the correct name of the art class Emily is attending for her birthday gift.

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