For much of my art education and career, I thought I knew enough and all I really needed to do was practice. Which may explain why my years working on a degree in art and the decade afterwards was so lackluster. I failed to appreciate what was being imparted to me by highly respected teachers. After finally graduating with a BFA in Commercial Art (pre-Graphic Design), I did not take a workshop for at least ten years. But I didn’t practice my art either. Because, I thought, I was a good artist and already knew enough, right?
Watercolor was the medium I started using when I decided I just might have something more to learn. The supplies were left from college days, so it was inexpensive to start again. I began to read articles in books and art magazines. Back in those days most of the photos were black and white, but I could tell the work possessed qualities that mine did not. So I started looking into local art associations and workshops.
Walking into a meeting of people one doesn’t know is challenging, but fortunately the members of the local art guild were welcoming. Several of the members were nationally known artists who taught in the area.
Mary Jane Cox was a watercolor painter and teacher. When I first met her, I was a bit intimidated. She was a well known artist who taught in different parts of the country, wrote and self-published books, painted prolifically, and was accepted into many, many juried shows. She was such a good painter I found it hard to believe that she took workshops too! I signed up to take one of her workshops, thinking I would be lost in the class. I was surprised that she reached out to me and offered to pick me up to go to the workshop site. It was the beginning of a good relationship.
After working with her I realized how approachable she was. Mary Jane had much to offer and gave willingly. I learned more about composing a painting from her than in my years of design classes. I became one of her “girls” because I respected her artistic ability and generosity with her gifts. So why did Mary Jane Cox make such a difference? After all, I was the same person I was ten years earlier.
Because the student was ready and the teacher appeared.
It has been ten years since Mary Jane Cox passed away after a long battle with cancer. Every day I go into my study I look at the watercolor of the Madison County, Mississippi courthouse that she painted and see something different. I use many of her phrases and call them “Mary Jane-isms.” She opened my eyes to the knowledge that we are all students who should never stop learning.
I am eternally grateful the teacher, Mary Jane, appeared. I am glad I was ready! I hope one day someone will feel the same about me.