My Mom, The Frustrated Artist

I watched My mom take a lot of art lessons over the years. Her experience greatly influences the way I approach teaching art at Firstlight. I want to make sure that others don’t have the same frustrations.

Mom wanted to go to art school, but my grandfather wouldn’t let her. Instead, she had to get a more practical (in his view) degree that was basically “how to be a good secretary”.

But she was always an artist at heart. We had her paintings up all over our house, and they were really beautiful. There were forest streams in the fall, and snow-clad cabins in the winter.

However, there was one really big problem with them. None of her paintings were her paintings. Each one was a copy of the her teacher’s step-by-step follow-along demonstrations. She was copying the teacher’s style and subject.

I remember her showing me all the cool techniques she had learned, like how to make snow on a rooftop, or add some fall foliage to a tree branch. I really enjoyed hearing about these. We talked about art a lot, and my mom always encouraged me as much as she could.

After a while, and after struggling a lot with her work, it became clear to my mom that she couldn’t make a painting look nearly as good unless she was in the expensive class, following along. She tried over and over. Years later she finally made one really large work that my dad loved and placed over the fireplace, but she wasn’t satisfied with it. It was just a larger, less awesome version of one of the snow-clad cabins.

The inability to create paintings on her own deflated her, and played into the fear that she wasn’t a “real artist”. She kept after it though, and eventually found a watercolor class that allowed her to create paintings she liked. I had gone to art school by this time, and I could see that the teacher wasn’t imparting very good technique. She struggled with these paintings too. She said the teacher pretty much left them on their own most of the time, and painted her own watercolors with them. She would show them what she did from time to time as instruction.

Then one day, she was in an antique and collectibles shop in another state. She saw her own painting! But then she realized it was not her own. It was another student’s painting that had taken the same lessons from the same teacher years before. I didn’t realize until much later, but this was devastating to her. The work had been on our walls for years, but now, to her, it was all fake. Shortly after this she gave up painting, and turned to writing poetry as her creative outlet.

This story is more common than you think. The teachers she had were good artists, and they did what they knew how to do. They painted, and they told their students what they were doing as they did it.

It seems very reasonable. It just doesn’t work very well.

Some students can move past this, and incorporate the follow-along into their own work, but most cannot. Most art students need real training and insights.

My mom was not taught how to find reference; how to compose a work; how to control color mixing; how to draw accurately; and lots of other very important things that make creating art much more accessible – much more satisfying and rewarding. So when she tried to do these things, that had once been easy when following along… she couldn’t.

So at my art school, I make sure we teach these things.

It’s really hard to teach art with a balance. Some teachers allow students to mostly work on their own, developing their art in their own way. Other teachers have students follow along and make copies of their own work.

We want to explain exactly how we do art, yet not force our own style on students. This takes lessons that delve into the nitty, and the gritty, like how an artist analyzes their subject so they can reproduce it accurately, or how to make a bright color look like it’s in a shaded area.

This approach does create some different problems though, and that is with perception. Sometimes I have artists and parents who want to see the pretty snow-clad cabin paintings coming home on a regular basis. They misunderstand the fact that many of our lessons that don’t produce lovely finished artwork.

They can be frustrated with the slow pace of learning such a huge endeavor as art.

I know without a doubt, that there are no shortcuts; no magic method to achieving competence in drawing and painting. But there is good news! Anyone can improve and learn to create their own work at home – if they get past two misconceptions.

1  One is that you are born with talent or you don’t have it. Talents are gifts that make some things easier to learn, or propel some artists to an extremely high level. It’s not necessary to be at that level, or even close, to really enjoy creating your own work though. Even highly gifted artists create work they do not keep and do not show to anyone. I ask students where all of Michelangelo’s work is that he did when he was young and learning art. They don’t know! We don’t have it, because no one kept it. It was practice work.

2  The second misconception, is that you can get quick tricks that will make your work instantly better instead of doing steady practice. I’m sorry, but even though the internet if full of buttons that promise secrets that will instantly change your life, it doesn’t happen with things like playing the piano, or painting a beautiful scene. There is a lot to learn, and it takes time, practice, and a well-trained teacher to incorporate the foundational insights, master the basic techniques, and discover your own personal style.

Our program is actually as short as I can make it for once a week lessons of an hour and 45 minutes. I’ve also worked to ensure that the teaching is consistent. Our teachers use the two-year curriculum I’ve worked on for 12 years now, and they go through weekly training. The curriculum has been written out in specific steps and with set times for each step and sub-step. They have explanations and videos of me doing every single demo that they can access at any time, 24/7/365.

After working with over 1500 students, some for as many as 12 years, I can guarantee you that if you stay with it, and follow our lessons, you’ll be able to work on your own.

You can be the artist you dream about.

Local Frame Shops

Local Frame Shops

Damico Frame & Art

If you’re looking for someone who will take care to make your work look as good as possible, this is the place you’ll find him. Michael Damico is the best of the best.  Many of our students get there work framed here. Tell him Firstlight sent you!

Hobby Lobby

You can find inexpensive but nice frames and mats for DIY, or you can have the knowledgable folks working here help you with a custom job. They usually have a coupon online, and frames are discounted often (usually every other week).

How To Do Art Supplies

How To Do Art Supplies

Fall 2019 - Spring 2020 classes are available!


Life is crazy so we are trying to make it as easy as possible to get the supplies you need.


Here are two ways to do it, and why it’s important. The first step is…

1. Figure out what you need

Download our handy checklist and see what you’re missing. Make a check mark for everything you need to buy.

2-A. Purchase online at home

Just go to our online store, look at your checklist, and buy what you need as a pick-up order. It will be ready for you or your child when you get to class. ORDER TAX FREE ONLINE THIS WEEKEND: Friday, July 27 – Sunday, July 29. 

Online Store


2-B. Purchase before class at Firstlight

Bring your checklist. We will be at the studio just to help you get supplies and even register if you haven’t. 

Why worry about it?

Class time is for doing art projects and we begin as soon as you sit down. Our curriculum is timed to the minute.

In the past, we have actually had several classes full of students who were dropped off without sketch pads, critical paint colors, or even pencils, asking what to do and with no way to pay for supplies. With over 200 students, and up to 48 at one time, we need for you to get supplies taken care of – before a teacher is faced with an impossible situation. If supplies are not purchased before class, and the student doesn’t have them, we will probably be too overwhelmed to sell them during class-time for the first few weeks. We will not provide free supplies to students who have not restocked their supplies. Your student may be stuck without the supplies to do the projects if you do not restock before we begin.

Thank you for understanding and helping us make art classes fun and easy.SaveSave


Firstlight is open every day but Sunday, from August 9th to August 18th.

  • Weekdays 1 to 6 pm

  • Saturdays 10 am to 5 pm

Next Open Studio

Next Open Studio

Open Studio

Bring your supplies and make stuff

(RSVP not required for registered students… Just show up!)

Open Studio is free for registered students – $4* for non-students.

Seating is limited for non-students. Please RSVP and look for a confirmation email, or call (# below).

*With your own supplies. You can use our supplies for an additional $4.

9:00 to 11:00 AM

Bring your supplies and work on current projects or get info for any missed days. Stay until Noon if you like while the younger kids are there.

Kids ages 4 to 7
9:00 to 11:00 AM

This time is for our KidsART students in the 4 & 5 year old classes, and the 6 &7 year old classes. Supplies included!

Ages 8 to 18
1:00 to 3:30 PM

Students are in rooms for different age groups.


Copyright © 2019 Firstlight Arts Academy, All rights reserved.
You’re receiving this email because you signed up for emails from Firstlight when you visited our website.

Our mailing address is:

Firstlight Arts Academy

1710 General George Patton Dr.
Suite 108

Brentwood, TN 37027

Give a Friend a Gift… Make Moolah!

Give a Friend a Gift… Make Moolah!

This is so good. Give someone a $50 gift card that you don’t have to pay for. Then get free tuition! FREE TUITION!

We get more students. Someone new gets to come to art classes. What’s not to like about our special deal for bringing in a new student? But now we are also making this way easier.

We have new cards for you to give away. Here’s how it works.

  1. You’re talking to a friend about art classes. They are interested, so…
  2. You whip out your $50 referral Gift Card and write your name on the back (if you haven’t already).
  3. You give your friend the $50 Gift Card!
  4. Friend redeems the card and signs up for a school-year course (any time during the year).
  5. Your tuition draft is skipped for a month!
  6. You do a little Moolah Dance.

Pick up cards at the Firstlight Studio. Take two or three if you like to do the Moolah Dance a lot.

Mr. Dennas

Ok, so why do we put moolah into piggy banks? Shouldn’t we have cow banks? I mean…. MOOOO-lah – IT SOUNDS LIKE A COW. Life can be so confusing. Even the cow bank I found below, was actually labeled a “cow piggy bank” on Amazon.





*Ah, rules. Love ’em or hate ’em, here they are:
Basically, we’re giving one month in tuition for each art student you refer (not good for any summer programs). That means that If you are already an art student family yourself, and refer a family that signs up say… 3 art students, or you refer 3 families with one student each, then you get 3 months off your tuition. If you bring in one student, you get a month off. It’s pretty simple. The considerations are: 1) It’s a month per student, even if the new student takes more than one class, 2) There’s no limit of discounts you can get until your tuition is completely paid for, 3) The referral student must sign up for the rest of the school year program and 4) the new student can’t have already contacted us about classes in any way. Offer good at least until the end of whatever year it is, and probably longer. (subject to change), Void where prohibited, but since no one knows where that is, the point is moooot.

Art Show – Frame the work and bring it in!

Art Show – Frame the work and bring it in!


Please download the form and attach it to the back of the artwork with tape.

1 or 2 framed works per student.

(please note that framing & prints by Firstlight are no longer available. Use Hobby Lobby or another store for framing.)

We require a frame, a hanging wire on the back, and the form attached to the back.

Deep edge canvas is exempt from the frame requirement if it is painted on the edges.

Art Show is Sat. Sept. 9th, 6-9 pm


f o r ~ f r a m e d ~ a r t w o r k

September 1