The Encinitas Years Part 1: Westlake 2000-2007
Before I start this next chapter of the Atelier’s history I would like to preface it by saying I have seen so much in the way of human behavior and have helped to cultivate so many wonderful artists who have gone on to incredible careers. Alas if only that was always the case. Along with the amazing relationships there have always been difficulties with complex personality types that simply do not factor into your plans for peaceful teaching, but one must put behind the trials and tribulations in the true pursuit of beauty and mastery. This is one of the ironies of life and to this day I aspire to create a truly peaceful and productive environment to study in. I have left out the names of certain individuals during this phase as it would only serve to open up old wounds. I felt this important to mention before moving on as it has forged my personality in so many ways.
It was during this phase that a few young talented students begin to stand out as potential teachers and a new era of development and growth would begin. They would all prove to be indispensible to the Atelier’s future success and would become my extended family of sorts. They all were just beginning their artistic journeys but were such incredible students and people that I can’t begin to say enough great things about them. Amongst these young talents were Ben Young, Meadow Rozelle-Ryker, Lucas Graciano and Mark Hill. It was truly a great period. I was designing new classes and started a dual teaching program to assist in the development of new teachers from within the ranks of the Atelier. I have yet to see this style of teaching as adding a second teacher would be too expensive of a proposition for many Ateliers.
At the time the name Atelier had not caught on and we used it as a new way to reinvent an old method of training. I applied to a new organization called the Art Renewal Center run by Fred Ross. They were trying to assist getting the word out about small privately owned entities that were of exceptional merit. At first my curriculum was a hard sale as they looked over all of the class descriptions and commented on the fact that too many of the classes utilized photos and were too illustrative. I developed a well thought out response about the different careers and paths present day fine artists and illustrators where going to have to navigate. Much to my excitement the reaction was a seal of approval on our entire program. I was on my way to finally getting recognition for the successful teaching and the program I was designing.
This was truly an exceptional growth period for the Atelier. I was teaching full time and helping develop new tiers of teachers who were originally my understudies and now were proving instrumental in the new momentum. The gaming industry had taken note and many of their professionals were coming in to train. People were coming down from L.A. to see what was happening and all was quite surreal. My ability to cultivate exceptional skills within my students was now becoming fairly commonplace. All seemed great but the wear and tear of carrying a successful illustration career, teaching full time and trying to stay true to my fine art aspirations was starting to affect my health.
It was at this time that I had expanded the Atelier to 3 rooms. We had a lot of overhead and although things were good I was starting to yearn for a permanent location for the Atelier. We now had a 13 year track record of consistent growth but not strong enough financials to purchase something. We tried on numerous occasions but were denied. I continued to push, grow and change the program. We started a youth program called the Future Masters Program. It was very successful and all teachers participated. Along with this I designed a variety of Certificate programs for students looking to navigate the some 60+ classes I had designed.
Many new challenges arose as I begin to work with the young talented staff of new teachers I was grooming. Many were in their early to mid twenties and were new to the responsibilities that accompany teaching students their own age or significantly older. I too had witnessed this and had to learn to manage successfully all of the variety of personalities and true characters one runs into in this sort of business. This is an awkward time for the teachers as they had to compete against each other to try and fill their classes and gain a following but at the same time try to respect their fellow teachers and not sabotage their efforts. I started to see some troublesome patterns as one of my senior teachers, whom I had let back into the school, had started to constantly undermine the other teachers as he vied to try and sway the students over to his vision and intentions.
This started a very difficult period of management for me as I was constantly trying to shore up the school and keep it on its original course. It was as this time that I also made contact with an old friend from school who was very instrumental to my growth back in my Calabasis years. He had vanished and no one knew where he was. I finally tracked him down and offered him my first full time teacher position and was ecstatic when he agreed. He turned out to be very helpful to the very advanced students and teachers but did not enjoy teaching the rudimentary level students of which much of my school consisted. This would prove to be detrimental and caused numerous problems. This period was not all bad and as with all difficult times there are always lessons to be learned. This phase lasted about a year and then I had to let him go. I truly have no hard feelings towards him and hope this most talented individual finds his way.
After his departure it became apparent that a vacuum had been created and someone had to step into it. This would be the senior teacher with whom I had so many previous issues. He had long been plotting his exit but not in the professional manner you would expect from a senior employee you had not only trained from day one but also had such strong ties to all areas of the Atelier. I will not go in-depth into all of the issues and events that transpired. I have always held fast to my belief in Karma and it was truly time for this tumultuous period to come to an end. I apologize if I sound a bit negative about some of these events. I feel it is important to address this issue because it was such a long period of the Ateliers history and it established many of the qualities I now look for in potential teachers. I am happy to say that this lead to the most joyful and solid period that the Atelier has had. As I look back over all of the many phases and plateaus it brings back a wonderful book I have read several times. It is titled “Mastery” by George Leonard. It is a great read and addresses the many plateaus and trials one must face on his or her journey to mastery in any field. I would highly recommend it as you are moving forward on your artistic path.