Falling in Love with Art for Pleasure: Local Artist and Teacher Katy Smith

“I have always enjoyed designing and creating,”says visual artist and founder of Dakota Hill Art Studio, Katy Smith. “s a kid I loved Fridays because it was the day we did art in elementary school. My most vivid memories are related to art lessons.”

Smith grew up in the Santa Maria Valley and attended Orcutt Junior High and Righetti High School. By the time she reached Righetti, the days of Friday art lessons were no more and her schedule was filled with classes and extra-curricular activities, but she continued to pursue the subject in an independent study class she completed during her lunch hours.

From Righetti she moved on to Allan Hancock and Cal Poly where she pursued a degree in Education. Smith says, “ loved that drawing class! But it was another four years before I took a drawing class for teachers in my senior year of college as part of my senior project. It was amazing and really pushed me to want to create my own art and teach it to others.”

After college, Smith took time off to stay home with the four children she shares with her husband and high school sweetheart, Chuck. She returned to teaching a few years ago as an Artist in Residence through the Children’ Creative Project.

“I taught Visual and Performing Arts to TK through sixth grade students in Orcutt, Santa Maria, Guadalupe, and Lompoc,”she explains. “ found I particularly loved teaching Visual Arts.”

Then, last fall, something clicked. “fter some health issues, I found myself at home recovering from surgery and had time to focus on creating my own art for pleasure, rather than just learning it to teach it,”Smith says. “ fell in love with watercolors and finally found my place as an artist.”

Though she started teaching individual classes from her home studio a few years ago while still teaching, this change led to the launch of Dakota Hill Art Studio in its current form this past summer. Smith is now able to work from home and spend quality time with her family. “ really enjoy having fewer students at a time,”she says. “eaching ten art classes of thirty elementary students in one day was so draining.”

Smith’ primary medium when creating her own work is watercolor and she particularly enjoys painting local landscapes and buildings, but when it comes to the classes she offers at Dakota Hill, it’ all about variety.

“I get bored easily and I like to move to the next creative idea, so I’ always adding new mediums to the mix,”she says. “y Art Discovery class was created with this in mind. I teach whatever I feel like teaching for the weeks and it’ something new every week. This keeps my creative juices flowing. When a student find a medium they’e interested in exploring more, they can take the corresponding Art Exploration class in that medium and spend four or eight weeks in that medium [and] have a chance to really master a medium.”

When following her creative moods, she chooses classes to teach based off of things she already enjoys or things she’ interested in learning. “ have always had the mindset to never stop learning, so I like trying new and challenging things,”she shares. “any times I learn something to be able to teach it.”This method has led to pastel classes, urban sketching classes, animation classes, and more.

“My favorite medium to teach is line and wash painting,”Smith says. “veryone from three to ninety is successful and pleased with their results. You can spend five minutes or hours or days on a piece in this style. There are no erasers, so nothing can be considered a mistake, and once you have your line drawing on the paper, the paint really makes your drawing come to life. It [also] works for any subject and any location, which is why this is the medium I always bring with me to Art Excursion classes.”

Dakota Hill Art Studio’ Art Excursion classes have taken students from Morro Bay to Dana Adobe in Nipomo to Ken Adam Park in Lompoc. Smith particularly loves Orcutt parks for classes as well as solo creating and regularly visits Waller Park and Orcutt Community Park. “ld Orcutt is the perfect spot for sketching or painting by myself,”she says.

Another important feature of studio classes is that they are for all ages, from tiny tots to retirees. “ enjoy teaching all ages, but teaching adults and kids ten and up is the most fun because it is more about creating alongside them and encouraging them in their own artistic ability,”she says. “ love to see students make original artwork and the older kids are sometimes more confident and daring in art, so they come up with great ideas for using the techniques we are learning to apply to their own subject of interest.”

Smith also offers classes for public, private, and homeschool students (she is an approved vendor for Inspire Charter Schools so students can use their enrichments funds to pay for classes) as well as Professional Development classes for teachers to give them the knowledge, tools, and confidence to teach Art in their classrooms. “ love that I get to indirectly reach so many students by teaching the teachers,”she says.

“I hope students leave my classes inspired to keep making art,”Smith says. “n class I teach the history, techniques, and general information for the medium we are using, and hope that students will go on to keep practicing, keep learning, and keep creating their own artwork in whatever medium interests them.”

Visit Dakota Hill Art Studio’ Facebook page to find out more.

Rebecca Ross reporting