Juggling teaching and painting

June 19, 2005|By Cassandra A. Fortin | Cassandra A. Fortin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Even as a little girl, Katie Rickman loved art. Her coloring book and crayons were never far away.

Years ago, she attended an outdoor concert with her mother. That evening there was a beautiful sunset. When Katie noticed it she said, "Quick, Mom, give me my crayons!"

The crayons have since been replaced with paints, and Rickman is making quite a splash in the Maryland art world, in the classroom and out.

Rickman teaches art at the St. Paul's School for Girls upper school in Brooklandville. Her high school art teacher, Terri McDaniels of Towson High School, led her to the teaching profession.

Rickman recalled her teacher telling her students that she wanted them to learn to see art through the eyes of an artist. Rickman had no idea what the teacher meant. She soon found out.

"My teacher would have us look at something in the classroom and tell us to tell her what colors we saw in the item," Rickman said. "The other kids would raise their hands and say red, green, turquoise, purple and all these other colors. I would look at everyone and then look at the chosen item and think, `You people are nuts. It's blue.' I got so frustrated because I couldn't see what she wanted me to see."

While in high school, Rickman painted landscapes, and the head of the art department at Maryland Institute College of Art visited her.

Her father told her he wouldn't pay for art school unless her focus was art education. She earned a bachelor's degree and later a master's degree in art in teaching from MICA.

She taught at Towson High School from 1998 to 2002 with her mentor, McDaniels, then, in 2002, went to St. Paul's.

`Absolutely tops'

Ann Oster, the art teacher at St. Paul's School for Girls middle school, said Rickman gets an occasional raised eyebrow when students first work with her.

"Katie is absolutely tops," Oster said. "She's very adventurous in her assignments with her students. When I ask kids what they think of her at the beginning of the year, I have trouble getting answers. But she quickly wins them over."

Oster said Rickman does projects such as having the students design a pair of short shorts.

Oster said the drama department at the school did a production called Spring Shorts, using work produced by Rickman's classes for publicity.

In another project, she had the students see the colors in white.

`Fun project'

"She brought in men's shirts and hung them on the wall," Oster said. "Then she put ties on the shirts and had the kids paint them. She wanted them to see all the different colors in white. It was just a wonderfully fun project. Katie has made all the difference in the quality of the art program."

Rickman juggles teaching and painting. She uses oils, acrylics and watercolors, painting panoramic landscapes, old cemeteries and power lines. She paints on canvas or an occasional chair.

The landscapes are usually depictions of places she has visited. She is working on Italian landscapes from photos she took on a visit to Italy with her students this year.

"We were so busy when we were in Italy, I had no time to paint while I was there," Rickman said. "I took tons of pictures, and I use those now to paint the scenes we saw then."

Her most unusual panoramic landscape is of a cemetery. The work's four pieces, when placed side by side, are more than 12 feet wide.

"I took watercolor paper and mounted it to pieces of board," Rickman said. "Then I collaged it. I kept adding pieces to it. Now it's a framer's nightmare."

Rickman said she has always loved old cemeteries.

"I love the wonderful geometric shapes of the plots that just seem to pop up all over cemeteries," Rickman said.

Power lines are the same story. "I love painting skies," Rickman said. "I love the way power lines break up the expansive sky."

Painting chairs

Another of her projects is a series Rickman calls her "Balmer Painted Chairs."

"I was born in Baltimore and have lived all over the area," Rickman said. "I bought a house in Baltimore, and I was so proud of it. I wanted to have something besides old metal chairs on my front porch, so I painted the scene from my front porch onto one of them. I liked it so much I painted six of these, and then my mom found smaller ones, and I am painting several of those."

The small chairs are a continuing project. One series of chairs depicts Baltimore and Baltimore County neighborhoods such as the Inner Harbor, Greenspring Valley Farm, Sherwood Gardens and various streets.

Her favorite artists, she said, are Richard Dibenkorn and Peggi Kroll Roberts.

"Roberts' work has paint that is just so thick and juicy, and the colors are so rich," Rickman said.

She walked into her home-based studio and gallery, and started pulling brown packing paper off finished paintings.

She then walked to her work area. She opened her turpentine, put paint on her easel and went to work. As she painted, she talked about her work.

Working every day

"I work every day," Rickman said. "My teaching takes up a lot of my time. So when I'm out or traveling, I take a lot of pictures and work from photographs. I don't have much time to paint on site."

Rickman said she gets a lot of energy from her students. "I just love to paint," she said.

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