Professional Learning

The Art Ed Now Conference, Road Trips, and Jen Stark Stories (Ep. 128)

With the Art Ed Now conference just two days away, Tim and Abby get together to discuss the upcoming excitement. Listen as they discuss how amazing Jen Stark is in person (3:45), what it’s like to go on the road to AOE headquarters (9:15), and advice for everyone planning on attending the conference (15:30). Full episode transcript below.


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

It is finally here. It is the week of the Art Ed Now Conference and as always we are going to do a full episode conference preview, and joining me today is none other than the one, the only, Abby Schukei. Abby, how are you?

Abby: I’m doing great. How are you doing?

Tim: I’m really excited for the conference. Weird like it is soon and I’ve been working on it for so freaking long that I’m just excited for it to be here, I’m excited for it to happen, and I think it’s going to be a really, really cool day, I think it’s going to be a good experience for everybody. I’m excited is what we’ll say. I wanted to have you on because a) you’re presenting at the conference, b) you got to talk to Jen Stark, do her interview. People probably heard the podcast. If you didn’t, go listen to it. But let’s just dive right into it, like how cool was it to get to go talk to Jen Stark in person?

Abby: Well, to put it simple it was so cool. It was a really awesome kind of surreal experience that I was able to do and it was super exciting. I think one of the coolest things from it was just how normal of a person she was. Just as we, art teachers follow artists everywhere, especially our day and age of Instagram and social media, that it was just so cool to be able to genuinely put a face to the name. I felt like she was just like me. It was super fun. A cool opportunity to go and see her, and it was just awesome.

Tim: That’s cool. I think it’s super cool because they always say don’t meet your heroes, because you’re going to be disappointed, but actually worked out for you.

Abby: I was fearful of that. I think, like I don’t even know, I don’t even really know how I discovered who Jen Stark was, but I do remember it came from this old 2011 video that PBS made. It wasn’t like an art 21 thing or anything. It was just a terrible low quality video, and I just remember looking through and seeing her artwork and I was like, “Holy smokes, that is so cool.” Then I just kind of like grasped on and was obviously super taken back by her colorful work and just really related to it, and I definitely thought that I like built something up in my head that she was going to be this awesome human being and then I would get there and she wouldn’t be. But don’t worry, that didn’t happen. Yeah, it was okay to build that up in my head because it was so worth it.

Tim: That’s cool. No, but she seemed like super down to earth, she seemed very relaxed with everything that we did and very just kind of chilled throughout the whole process. I think people are going to really enjoy her presentation, they’re really going to enjoy her talk, and just like seeing her studio is kind of a cool thing too.

Abby: Yeah, it was super cool. I will give you this kind of funny story about what happened. Being that I was in Los Angeles, the traffic in Los Angeles is horrible, it always takes forever to get everywhere as everyone says. However, apparently not in the direction that was I going that day, because I was a little bit early for the interview, not like super early but just kind of like …

Tim: Enough that it was just kind of awkward?

Abby: Yeah, a little obnoxious. So like, I kind of just like waited a little bit, and unfortunately she was out walking her dog and I was just standing there and I was kind of like, “Oh, this is so awkward.” I was just like, “Oh, I was trying to like,” didn’t want to rush her or anything like that. But it was okay. I think I was more awkward and embarrassed about it. Probably wasn’t even a big deal, but I was just kind of like, “Oh, okay. Well, note to self, wherever I’m going LA it’s going to take me not as much time as what I need.”

Tim: That’s good. Now can you confirm the rumor that Jen actually has a three legged dog?

Abby: She does. She had two dogs and they were so cute, they were so friendly. Yes, I can confirm that. But it was just like, felt like other than the weird awkward standing there way too early. Felt like I was going to my friend’s house that I didn’t know, so it was super cool.

But one other thing that I will add into that, she … talking about the work that she had done, one of the things that we just had a conversation about and one of the first things that she started doing was her paper sculptures. She made a comment to me about why she started doing those, and it was because it was cheap and as a student she had access to that and didn’t cost a lot of money because art supplies are expensive. So that was actually something that I shared with my students, and I think that’s just like one of the cool qualities of her as an artist and how relatable she is because there’s lot of our students that want to explore all different types of art making but financially it’s hard. I just thought that was a really cool testament that she had shared because we can all relate to that.

Tim: Oh absolutely, and I think that’s why she resonates with students so much because if you tell her story, it is, it’s all about her finding cheap materials and then just working her butt off, like that’s all it is, and that’s what we want for our kids, like explore new things and work hard and good things are going to happen and that’s like, she epitomizes that story. I think it’s always a really good thing to introduce artists like that to our students. Hopefully people can see her presentation and maybe springboard that into what they’re doing in the classes.

But I want to talk about the rest of the conference too because it is obviously about more than Jen Stark. So let’s chat about your presentation. I love all of your clay ideas that you’re going to present. Can you give people I guess a little bit of a preview of everything that you’re going to share?

Abby: Yeah. Basically clay is one of those things that your students always love doing. We always want kind of a fundamental project to start off with which is generally slab building. So I’m focusing on just slab construction, but slab construction can literally be the most boring thing in the world. I can’t tell you how any times I’ve had to see students just make a boring slab box, which is so boring, like there’s so many cooler things that we can do, but basically my presentation is all on how you can take this fundamental hand building project and really make it into some really cool techniques.

I don’t know how many different projects we explore, at least six, seven, there’s a lot of different ways that you can teach beginning lessons, there’s ways that you can adapt it into your elementary classroom, middle school, high school. I show some cool things about how you can weave with slabs, even talking about introducing some colored clay within it and just kind of using underglazes and just a whole lot of different processes that are so beyond that basic slab construction that your students will find interesting.

Tim: Yeah, and I think what’s cool is just looking at some of the ides that you’re going to be talking about, is they are so accessible, like simple texture tools and simple ideas with glazes. So even those teachers that are kind of intimidated by clay, I feel like your ideas are a good place for them to start.

Abby: Some of the processes too. Back in the day I used to not have access to a kiln, and so I would do a lot of these same techniques with using air dry clay. So if you are a teacher that doesn’t have access to a kiln, we even talk about that a little bit, some of the processes can very much be applied to using your air dry clay too.

Tim: Yeah, and I think, yeah, all of those work really, really well. That’s going to be a cool one. We are sending out a big list, so by the time this airs, people are going have their list of supplies they need. So if you want to get clay ready and literally work along with Abby while she’s doing her presentation, that opportunity is out there.

Abby: All right, if you need to you can always just take some time, wait for the after pass to really take some time to dive in, because I do go through them pretty quickly.

Tim: That’s true, that’s true, but it’ll be fun no matter how you decide to do that. Then just speaking of other cool things that we have going on besides the art making, you and I are actually going to be at AOE headquarters in Iowa for the conference on Thursday. It’s road trip time. By the time this publishes, this airs, we are going to be on the road together, which I don’t know. First of all, are you going to be sick of me by the time we’re done with this?

Abby: I’m already sick of you, so, yes.

Tim: We’ve been here 10 minutes. Who knows what we’re going to do for hours and hours on the road together. But can you kind of tell everybody about all the cool things we have planned for the conference experience when we’re at headquarters?

Abby: Yeah. We have lots of things planned. If you are not part of our Art Ed Now Attendees Facebook group, do that because there’s going to be some special things happening there. You’re really just going to get to have the opportunity to have kind of a behind the scenes look at how it works. I know that if some of you guys follow AOE on Instagram, sometimes we give you a little glimpse into that, and I know a lot of our followers are kind of interested in that and how it all works and you get to see the people behind The Art of Education. We have some fun things planned for you throughout the day, so definitely keep a lookout for that.

Tim: Yeah, I think it’ll be good. I think the behind the scenes thing will be really fun, and like you said, give people a glimpse into what’s going on in headquarters and kind of see everything that you don’t normally see on conference day.

Abby: I will tell you this. Tim does put a lot into … You put a lot into all of this conference stuff. If you guys want to see him sweat a little bit, we’ll get the behind the scenes action of that too.

Tim: That’s what you need, is just like well you can follow me around on the road trip in the Instagram stories and just like rate my stress level for like the two days-

Abby: Yeah, I think I might be need to GoPro for this.

Tim: So yeah, we can just be in the car together and be like, “Tim what are you worried about now?” It’ll be great. Now we have a lot of cool things going on behind the scenes and I think hopefully it will run smoothly like we’ve done it enough times that I think we …

Abby: Oh well, we’ll just provide the fun.

Tim: We can be successful. Yeah, that will be it.

Then I also want to ask you, besides your presentation, who else are you looking forward to? We have so many really cool presenters. Which ones really kind of capture your attention?

Abby: There are so many. I am really looking forward to Lena Rodriguez’s presentation.

Tim: Encaustics.

Abby: Yes. That is something that I really just don’t know a lot about, just the medium in general, and so I’m so interested in how she infuses it into the classroom. I’m super excited for that. I’m also really excited about the Memory Project, and I know that’s a project that you’ve done before.

Tim: Yeah, but you’ve done it and you also-

Abby: I haven’t but I want to.

Tim: Yeah, you need to and you’ll probably be right on it as soon as you hear Ben talk, that’s going to be really, really good. For those of you that don’t know, the Memory Project is this awesome project that you basically get pictures of orphan children from all over the world. When I did it with my class one year, we had students from Haiti. Another year we did portraits for kids in Guatemala. But your art kids create these portraits and these memories for kids that don’t have any pictures of themselves, that don’t have any memories of their childhood, and it creates this really special thing for them that’s very meaningful, it’s very powerful.

Debi West is actually going to be the first presenter and she talks about all of these, this like doing art with purpose or art with meaning and she talks about the Memory Project. Then a little bit later Ben who is the guy who started the Memory Project is talking all about the experience, how powerful it can be, and I really think it’s going to get people to want to do that. So that will be a good one.

Abby: Yeah, and I think I am most looking forward to those two presentations, is just because I know that I’ll be able to, you know, school is unfortunately going to be starting again soon, but I know that I’m going to be able to take those ideas immediately into my classroom which I’m super excited about.

Tim: And I want to talk about that in just a second, but I need to tell you a couple presentations that I’m super excited about.

Abby: Oh, I’m sorry, I’m being selfish.

Tim: It’s okay. Well, I feel like I’m being selfish, going, “No, no let me tell my opinion.” But no, Wynita Harmon is doing a really, really cool presentation on print making jelly arts and she’s got some really cool ideas, really cool end product, and also there’s jelly arts in the Swag box for you to play with.

Abby: I got my Swag. I saw it. It’s awesome.

Tim: It’s really cool. That was the thing my own kids were most excited for, so that’s really good. Then Ruth Post, she always does like these really fun presentations and she’s got one coming on the power of pretend and she’s talking about all of these little like stuffed creatures and characters that she creates and puts into her elementary classroom and it’s going to be really good.

Abby: That sounds super exciting. This is a small tangent here, but I just saw the Won’t You Be My Neighbor, the Mister Rogers’ documentary, which was amazing, like go see that, like I cried a lot, which I don’t cry a lot, but I definitely cried.

Tim: I’ve heard that from everybody, like you will cry after this moment. I have haven’t seen it yet, but-

Abby: Yeah, I like-

Tim: … that’s what I hear.

Abby: It was good, it makes me want to tear up thinking about. No, but that kind of reminds me of that which is like super cool, Ruth’s presentation, The Power of Pretend, and how you can do some really cool things with your students by having all of those kind of different characters and things like that. So that will be cool.

Tim: Yeah, I’m definitely looking forward to that. Then let’s just chat real quick before we go about taking those ideas into your classroom because we have a whole hour that’s just dedicated to brand new ideas called New ideas for the new school years. I guess more than anything, like do you have advice for people who are attending this conference maybe for the first time or people who have been to a few before, like how do you transfer these ideas from the full day of conference to your actual classroom throughout the year?

Abby: Well, first off, I don’t know, how, it’s a six hour day, eight hour day?

Tim: Five hour.

Abby: Five hour day. That’s a lot. That’s a lot. That’s a long time, especially I know for art teachers if you think about sitting for five hours, I can’t do that. I think really when you look at the topics that are being shared, really look at the ones that only truly interest you as far as maybe it’s a particular medium or just content area or subject matter theme that it’s going over and kind of highlight those ones that are like I need to know more about this and I’m super interested in applying this to my classroom right away, so kind of focus in on those ones.

Don’t overwhelm yourself with everything, which is a really cool feature of the after pass because we need breaks too throughout the day. So if you have to miss a presentation or if you can’t catch it all, it’s not a big deal, you will have access to it. Sometimes it’s better when you’re in that fresh mindset to do that. But basically I would just really highlight maybe if there’s a certain presenter that you just always resonate with an article or some of the things that they share on social media, go for that, select that, and then kind of just look at those subject areas that are something you are truly interested in because if you already don’t have a little bit of an interest in the subject being presented, you’re probably less likely to apply it into your classroom, so really look at those things that might actually be applicable to you so that when the school year comes, you’re ready to go and try some new things.

Tim: Yeah, I think that’s good advice. I’ll just say a couple of things as far as making the most of the day itself I would say number one make some art. We have presentations every hour that give you the chance to actually get hands-on to create, and in general as teachers we don’t take enough time to do that. So even if you’re not going to get the project all the way finished during that 10 or 15 minute presentation, you can get a good start and maybe that’s going to be the impetus for you to create more work which I think we should always be doing. Number two, I would say get involved with the chat. We have the live chat going all throughout the day. We have thousands of art teachers together talking about that and there are so many more valuable ideas and valuable conversations going on there that you can get a lot from that as well. I think those are good things.

Then just one other thing that I was going to share Lindsey Moss last year talked about. When she goes to the conference she likes to get one idea that she wants to try right away, like that first week of school or happening really soon. Another idea that they like to try, she’d like to try within a month or so, within a week or within a month, so kind of a medium term thing. Then just one idea that long term like I really want to try this eventually in my classroom. If you just kind of keep an eye toward that as you’re going through things, and I think that really helps you pay attention and focus on what’s important. So yeah, that … I don’t know, if you follow that advice hopefully that can make your day more worthwhile. But we’ll go ahead and wrap it up here. If you guys want to hear more from Abby or more from me, Art Ed Now Conference on Thursday, it’s going to be super exciting.

Abby: Can’t wait. And don’t forget to follow along on our journey. It’s going to be exciting.

Tim: Instagram Story is going to be spectacular.

Abby: Yeah, Tim better come up with a good music playlist otherwise he’s getting out of the car.

Tim: Cool. Abby, thanks for joining me, and yeah, we’ll be hanging out way too much over the next couple of days, so we’ll see if we both survive.

Thanks to Abby for chatting with me. Now like we talked about, by the time you hear this episode she and I will be on the road driving together to AOE headquarters to finish preparation for the conference. We will be coming to you live from headquarters on the day of, wow, which is Thursday, two days away. Honestly I cannot be more excited for this conference. I love the lineup. You guys are going to be so excited about the videos. I love the art making opportunity and I especially love the social aspect of the chat, the presenter Q&A and just all of the art teachers who are attending and sharing ideas. Hey, it makes for a great event.

Now before we go I need to give a shout out to Artsonia for their help with The Art Ed Now Conference. They’re one of our platinum sponsors. I go way back with Artsonia. I want say I started using it like 9 or 10 years ago and it was around long before I even jumped on there even. So we’re old friends. I remember when they started doing Art Ed statements, I remember when they started doing classroom mode, and it seems like they just keep rolling out these new features that are always incredible, always helpful for teachers, and this fall they are going to be added again.

First, two things they wanted me to tell you about. First, they’re going to be allowing videos to be submitted to student portfolios. So along with your art work images, you can also submit videos now. Secondly, they’re also going to allow art works and videos that have student’s personal information contained in them like photos of students for example, which can also be published in the student portfolio. So those individual pieces of work will be part of the student portfolio, the ones with the personal information, but they will stay hidden and only be available to the parent in their logged in area. In other words, teachers can publish their student’s entire portfolios, including videos and photos of students on Artsonia, and when you are publishing the art work or the video, hey, you are going to select whether or not it has student personal information in it, and that will determine whether the art work will be posted publicly in the school gallery or simply be available for the parent in the private gallery.

Make sure you’re on the lookout for those new features this fall. If you have not yet used Artsonia, first what are you doing with your life, and secondly, make sure you go find them at

Alright, that is it. So make sure you’re with us on Thursday for the conference and in the mean time make sure you check out the AOE Instagram page for some of Abby and my road trip adventures. Also, during our Art Ed Now Attendees Facebook page there will be some really cool updates happening and some fun behind the scenes action on the day of the conference. Like I said, there are so many great things happening at the conference, teachers talking, presenting, sharing ideas. It is the best PD that you can get in the summer. If you sign up, you will not regret it. You’ll be going into this year with so many new and amazing ideas and you will be a better teacher at the end of Thursday than you are right now. Hopefully we’ll see you there.

Art Ed Radio is produced by The Art of Education with audio engineering from Michael Crocker. One last push for the conference. Today is literally the last day to register. Hey, you don’t want to miss this, so go sign up for the conference at Use the YOUSAVE20NOW discount code that I’ve been talking about, that’s Y-O-U-S-A-V-E-2-0-N-O-W to take $20 off your conference registration. You save 20 now. Hey, we will see you on Thursday and next week we’ll have a recap here on the podcast of the entire conference event. As always, thank you for listening. 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.