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Ann McMillan Teaches her Students to be Kind to Themselves

Ann McMillan Teaches her Students to be Kind to Themselves

If there is only one thing that art instructor Ann McMillan wants students to learn in her classes, it is this: Be kind to yourself.

“Sometimes you can see someone struggling with art, and you want to help them succeed, but they get angry with themselves,” says Ann, who is currently teaching adult classes at the Art Center in People Art Skills, Painting: Beginning and Beyond, and Mixed Media and Collage Experiments. “People may engage in an internal conversation about what they are creating that may be harmful, and that’s not going to help. You need to accept what you can do and realize that you’re going to accumulate skills that will make you a better artist over time.”

Ann started her art career in science illustration, drawing botanical images or scientific concepts such as blood pathways to the human heart. Her formal education prepared her for a Ph.D. in biology, but she says she was more interested in storytelling through art.

“Art has always served as my translator and connection with nature,” she says. “After working en plein air landscape for many years, I opened my practice into some stories and themes that had been appearing in my path for many years. My installations and abstractions show my interest in a more intuitive and innovative art practice.”

Her approach to her own artwork is reflected in her teaching style.

“One thing I tell beginners is that they don’t know what their limits are, and that they make a tremendous amount of progress in a very short amount of time,” she says. “It’s lovely what people can accomplish during the course of a three-hour class.”

Ann will sometimes ask students to draw a chair at the beginning of the class, and then again towards the end of the session. The chair students draw at the end of the class is much more accurate and proportional because they have been given additional tools, she says.

“I’m happy to help my students do the work they want to do, not the type of work I want them to do,” she says. “Many in my classes have never taken an art class before, and are afraid to try new things. But they have gotten up the courage to come to class, so I try to bring a certain amount of compassion to teaching.”

She says that two types of students enroll in her classes: Repeat students who have a good grasp of art techniques, and beginners who work on shading, greyscale and hatching their artwork.

“I guess my approach to teaching is a bit eclectic,” says Ann. “I’m different from teachers who come by and look at your drawing and tell you what’s wrong with it. I want people to give themselves permission to doodle and try new things.”

Ann’s own artwork has been recognized by her peers. Over the past several years, she has received awards from the Pastel Society of the West Coast, the International Association of Pastel Societies, and the Morro Bay Art Association, and has exhibited at the California Art Club in Pasadena, Filoli Gardens in Woodside, and the Studio Gallery in San Francisco.

“Some people like to make a painting to hang on their wall,” she says. “But I don’t necessarily make paintings to put on my wall, or paint for other people. I like to make paintings to get better at painting.”

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Last Updated: February 14, 2019