A Conference to Inspire Your Students (Ep. 263)

We always value the connections we make as teachers–our PLCs, our PLNs, and our collaborations with artists and community members. And now it’s time to give our students some of those same opportunities!  In today’s episode, Lena Rodriguez joins Tim to discuss The Palette, a conference she is helping produce for student artists across the country. Listen as she shares the reasons behind the development of the conference, the opportunities available for students, and why students need to connect with each other.  Full Episode Transcript Below.

Resources and Links


Welcome to Art Ed Radio, the podcast for art teachers. This show is produced by the Art of Education University and I’m your host, Tim Bogatz.

So last week either Wednesday or Thursday night, I got on Twitter where I probably spend a little too much time to be honest, and I had a notification from Lena Rodriguez about this incredible art conference that she’s doing. And I took a look at it and just great sessions, great ideas, great artists, appearing and presenting. I was like, “This sounds incredible”. And then the kicker, it’s a conference for art students and I was all excited to go to it myself and then I realized it was for students. And then I thought, I said, it was just an incredible idea. So I invited her on the podcast to talk about the conference and she said yes, she’s here right now, Lena, how are you?

Lena: I’m doing great. This has been my passion project so I’m so excited to talk about it today.

Tim: Awesome, I have so much that I want to know about it. So let’s just start, can you give us an overview? Can you just tell me about the conference? What is happening? When is it happening? And I guess most importantly, what can students learn if they are attending this conference?

Lena: Yeah, of course. So, the palette virtual art conference is… This is the first time we’ve decided to do something like this, it’s taking place May 14th through the 16th and it’s going to be virtual. So anybody, any students grades eight through 12 can participate for super low fee and learn from all of these different artists. There’s 20 different sessions and we have different ranges of artists from professional working artists, students that are at art universities, art teachers including myself, and then even a couple of our younger art students that are both freshmen and sophomores.

Tim: Nice, I saw that you had some students presenting and I was like, “What an awesome opportunity for them,” I think that’s so cool. Now are they nervous about having to present in front of everybody or are they playing it cool?

Lena: They’re pretty cool because with both of them, they are sharing something that’s so important and significant to them, one being her Navajo culture and then another one who is just super passionate about costuming and fibers and sewing and things like that. And from what her peers say, because I’ve never worked with her directly when we started planning this, that she’s just a natural teacher. And so I’m really excited to see them exercise those muscles.

Tim: Yeah, that’s really cool. So what about… Or how should I say this? What was the inspiration for this conference? Where did the idea originally come from to put this all together?

Lena: So in previous years, we’ve always been able to find and create opportunities for our student artists to work with other artists who have in-person workshops or where we go to artists’ studios, go to galleries and museums and things like that. But because of COVID restrictions and we’re really limited, we can’t really take field trips, we can’t get everybody jumbled up on a bus and we have to also be very careful about who we bring in. And so right now, it’s limited to just students and staff that can be on campus. So it really just forced me to brainstorm, how can we still provide those experiences and give them the gift of choice so they can pick and choose what they’re really interested and drawn to, and be able to do that in a way that’s safe. And honestly, it’s been a blessing in disguise because we’ve been able to get artists that normally wouldn’t be able to take much time out of their day to do this work. For instance, our gouache landscape teacher, she’s in Boulder, Colorado.

We don’t have the budget to fly these people in and things like that, so our kids are getting a really great experience under unusual circumstances. We just made the best of it and I think this is something we’re going to keep doing every year, both virtual and hopefully again one day and in person.

Tim: Yeah, that’s cool. Now, what made you decide to just open it up to everybody rather than just your students? Was that a tough decision?

Lena: Not at all. I have met so many great educators through either AOEU’s network of educators and leaders and through my APSI retreats and things like that. I went to a great residency in Kansas city a couple of years ago and I just thought if I gained so much interacting and working with people from all over outside of my personal circle of Texas, I think our students can do the same thing because you just never know, these kids might be able to connect with each other as artists and really just branch out and never too soon. You’re never too young to network and I thought what a great opportunity to spread the word about all of the great things that we do at our campus and just provide that opportunity for more people. And I think it’s great for our artists that are presenting because they’re actually able to get out of their region or area. And now people from all over can learn about how awesome Riley Holloway’s work is or Whitman Butler or Whitney Dowdy. So it was just a win for everybody.

Tim: Yeah, that’s awesome and I think that is a really good opportunity for both students and for artists. Now, I want to ask you about the schedule, you mentioned providing a lot of choice, a lot of different sessions for people. And I guess the first part of that, it looks like there are just a ton of studio sessions happening. You mentioned the gouache landscape but what are some other sessions that are some of your favorites or what are some that you think are going to be really popular for people?

Lena: I think one of the sessions that are going to be, I think really popular are with our alum. We have three alumni that are going to be presenting on different topics and they’re also going to be an open forum for their particular school. So we have an SAIC in Chicago being represented, SCAD and also Pratt. And it was really hard to limit it to those three. We definitely have kids spread out even further and we’ll add to that as the years go by. But I think that’s going to be really important for student artists that are thinking, “Is art school for me? What is it that I can learn from them and keep on going? And then also walking Soto, giving a demo, giving a class on, preparing a gallery space and how to secure your own show and to work with a team of people to produce a show.

That’s a requirement for our seniors every year that they have to put on his seat, the student exhibition their senior year of high school. And then I’m excited about my session on tackling artist block because I don’t believe in it. I believe there’s a lot that we can do and to prevent that, and so I’ll be sharing some tips and tricks on what I do to never be without an idea to create.

Tim: Yeah, that’s awesome because I know so many of our students… Well, I don’t know if they run into creative block or if they just say they are because they don’t feel like working but no, just having those specific strategies I think will be really worthwhile, so that will be great. I also saw on the schedule, a lot of feedback sessions with artists. Can you tell me about those? What is going to be happening during those sessions?

Lena: Okay, so we have six professional working artists that are going to be giving studio-based workshops. They’ll introduce themselves, their artwork, the techniques and methods and then as they walk the students through them, they’re actually going to give them a prompt or an assignment for them to work on. So for instance, Mr. Holloway’s presentation is going to be on oil painting early Friday evening. Well then, he’s going to have a session, a feedback session either that Saturday evening or Sunday, where students will have had time in between to work on their projects, come back and then ask questions or say, “Hey, I had issues blending these two. Do you have any tricks to that?” And you’ll be able to get feedback and then for those that request it, he’ll even be able to critique their piece and their work.

Tim: Yeah, that’s such a good opportunity. I don’t know, how often do you get to talk to just such amazing artists and just have them talk to you about their work? That’s going to be so cool for them so I love that. So now, you’ve mentioned Riley Holloway a couple of times, fantastic artist but can you tell everybody a little bit more just about other artists who are going to be there presenting or participating?

Lena: Of course, so they’re all over the spectrum. We have some, like I said, Riley, that’s all he does. He’s an artist in that profession and then we have some that are also educators. Perla Vargas, I think she’s going to just really do amazing and great things. She’s still finishing out the degree, started a little later in life, but she has this fascination with fibers to the point to where she’s wanting and raising her own sheep and shearing them. I know, right? How cool is that?

Tim: That’s amazing.

Lena: Yeah, so I think that was just a fascinating story. Hannah out of Boulder, Colorado was also an educator, which I love and was able to pursue her art to be able to focus on that and her family and she does these amazing gouache landscapes and they’re tiny. A few years ago, whenever I told my students we were going to do a landscape project, one of my students was like, “Do I look like I’m 90 years old about to die? I don’t want to do a landscape”.

So that resonated with me because that’s an association students make with landscape art. So my goal was to… I legit scoured Instagram, I searched for the hashtag landscape painting and I went through a number of different artists, I’m like, “Okay that’s cool,” and then I came across Hannah’s, I was like, “Bam, I need to get this artist”. And I slid in her DMS and she was totally all about it and so we were able to secure her and then Raymond Butler, he’s a well known artist in the Dallas area, he does some really cute, awesome infusion stuff where he’s layering wood and polymer clay, and he creates these little characters he called Sammy’s, they’re like different versions of sandwiches. I think he’s just got a really cool vibe and aesthetic that our young artists would really connect with.

Tim: Yeah, that will be really cool. And like I said, just a really good opportunity and quite a bit of variety too there. So, hopefully everybody can find something that appeals to them and some of them they can dive into a little bit. And then I guess just thinking big picture overall, what do you think students are going to get out of this conference? Or what do you want them to get out of this conference and why is this type of learning or this type of experience… Why is that so valuable for our kids?

Lena: I think they’re going to get inspired and motivated. And really right now, I have not connected with another educator that didn’t agree that our kids are really just struggling with the changes that the pandemic has created. Even though we know a lot more about it and it’s not as scary anymore, there are still lots of conflicts and lots of hurdles for students to return back to normalcy. And I really feel like this could be something that invigorates them and inspires them and want to pick up the easels and pick up their palettes or pick up their clay and just create. They’re all going to get new tools added to their toolbox, they’re going to see artists at all different levels, whether they’re amateurs, artists in training or professional artists, they’re going to see how it’s getting done at all levels and inspire them to wait to actually just want to create and find that happy place again.

Tim: Yeah, that’s… I don’t know, the sooner we can get back to that, I think the better off we’re all going to be. So cool, all right, before I let you go, can you give us all of the logistics? When is this happening? How can people sign up? Where can they find more information? All that important stuff.

Lena: Yeah, so this is taking place May 14th through 16th because we know some students are still in school on that Friday, which is the 14th. We’re not going to start until 5:00 PM and it’ll run Friday evening and then all day Saturday, and then a portion of the afternoon on Sunday, we’ll wrap up.

Students can register at And from there they’ll have a link or they can follow us on Instagram at GPFAA vis arts and there’ll be a link there as well. The all-access pass is $60. So that means they can go to all 20 sessions or they can just pick and choose which ones they go to, they’ll get room information leading up to the event and then on the website, there’s also the supply list so that gives them about a month time to find what supplies they already have, which ones they need to get and to make shopping even easier for something that they can’t find in stores, we even have an Amazon list linked to our supply list. So this is something we just really want to encourage junior artists, grades eight through 12. We are already looking to expand that for the start… have our own sessions for fifth through seventh grade.

Tim: Nice.

Lena: Hopefully, next year and maybe even opening up the advanced sessions for even college age students and adults because I’ve actually gotten a lot of feedback from adults that they want to take the class. So we can probably have conversations about what that looks like moving forward.

Tim: Yeah, that’s really cool. And like I said at the beginning, I was excited to attend and then I realized it wasn’t for me. So if you want to open it up, I will totally be there. But yeah, we’ll make sure that we put links in the show notes too so it’s easy for everybody to find it, register, follow you on Instagram, all the important things there, and we should be good. So Lena, thank you so much for giving us some time, telling us all about what you put together here. I think it’s an awesome opportunity so thank you.

Lena: Thank you so much for having me.

Tim: Now before we go, I want to tell you again this week because I’m really excited about this, about the Art of Education University’s newest course, Innovation Through Design, where you can explore how to use design thinking to help your students solve complex problems in and out of the art classroom. In this innovative course, you will infuse the five stages of design thinking into your art curriculum and instructional practices, expanding your current practices to include human-centered, creative and playful experiences for collaborative learning. After analyzing case studies from our teachers experienced in steam maker spaces, and project-based learning, your toolkit will be bursting with new ideas for practical application at any level no matter what grades you teach. Now, the first section of this course will start at the beginning of May, but they’ll have new sections throughout the summer. You can sign up anytime, we will link in the show notes and you can also go to to learn more.

And best of all, I’m hoping to have Abby Schukei come on the podcast next week to talk about the course more in-depth, so that should be a good discussion if we can make it happen.

Now, a big thank you to Lena for coming on today to talk all about the conference that she’s has helped put together and honestly, a big thank you for putting it together because I think it is such a good opportunity for our students, for our artists, as they continue to explore and continue to learn. A couple things that I wanted to talk about that came up in the course of that conversation. The first one is how this conference gives kids an opportunity to connect with each other. We talk all the time as teachers about our PLN, our PLC and the connections that we make online.

And the thing is our students are doing that too, I see so much collaboration happening online. I see so many connections being made on social media and this conference gives kids the opportunity to expand those connections even more. They can connect with other artists in different parts of the country who are attending this conference. And social media makes it so easy to follow these people they meet on Instagram, on TikTok, wherever they are creating and just continue to see what others are doing, continue to be inspired by them. And the more connections they make, the more places they can find inspiration. So like Lena said, it’s a great opportunity for our students to network with each other. Second thing, I think the talks from students who are currently in art school are so incredibly valuable for our juniors and seniors who are thinking about going to art school, just being able to hear that perspective, being able to hear that real talk. The good parts, the bad parts about the art school experience can really help our current high schoolers decide whether it’s for them or not.

You know, I always ask our alumni to come back and chat about what’s going on with them in art school, what they’ve learned and just open up the floor to questions so the kids who are thinking about art school really have the opportunity to learn what it’s all about. So, those sessions are always wonderfully valuable. And then just a couple of things about creativity overall, Lena mentioned her session on avoiding artist’s block, which I think is a big one for our students. We can do all the right things with sketchbooks and ideation and jotting down notes and finding inspiration from different places but still doesn’t make our kids always want to work. They still run into that block. So any strategies that they can find are going to be really helpful. And obviously Lena is an incredible teacher.

So, anytime your students have the chance to learn from her, that’s a great opportunity for them. And then finally, just the whole weekend, the whole conference, and so much inspiration can come from it, being able to speak with artists, being able to have artists critique your work or shares some additional ideas with you, to have the chance to try out some new media, some new techniques, some new ways of making art, new ways of learning, is a wonderful opportunity for our students.

And then Lena said the cost is $60, which is an incredible value for all of this learning. I know for a lot of our students, $60 is a big ask, that’s not going to be possible for them. But if your students have the means, if they can swing this, I would absolutely recommend getting them signed up for this conference, it is going to be a wonderful opportunity for them that will just bring so much inspiration, so many new ideas to them and will be incredibly valuable. So, if they have the means and they can get there, they absolutely should take part in this wonderful conference. And as we said, we will put all of the links needed in the show notes so it’s easy for you to explore easy to share with your students and hopefully they can take advantage of the opportunity.

Art Ed Radio is produced by the Art of Education University with audio engineering by Michael Crocker. Thank you as always for listening and we’ll talk to you next week.

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.