Printmaker and art instructor Eric Beyer has been working at the Art School since 2002—first as a teaching assistant while he was still an art student at the University of Hawai‘i–Mānoa, then as a full-fledged educator when he graduated in 2005.
“I went to school for art, but I see myself using that knowledge to help others be artists and to learn to be creative and discover their artistic side, rather than being a gallery artist,” says Beyer, who grew up in Illinois the son of a teacher. His father is a Kamehameha graduate from Kailua, and Beyer says he always knew he wanted to live in Hawai‘i.
“I would come every couple of years and get dragged back to Illinois kicking and screaming,” recalls Beyer, who moved here right after finishing high school.
Beyer teaches Young Artist cartooning classes, See Art Make Art sessions, ICY (Immigrant Children and Youth) Art Camps for English Language Learner students from Title I schools, as well as studio components of the Warrior Eyes on Art therapy program for active-duty service men and women.
And that is just his part-time work. Beyer’s full-time job is as a domestic violence prevention educator for the Domestic Violence Action Center. “My art background and work at the Art School has enabled me to incorporate art into therapies and social work at the center,” says Beyer. “I also run art groups at the Hale Kipa Youth Outreach Center for homeless youth in Waikīkī.” He incorporates concepts taught at the Art School into the outreach program, giving the youth “a safe place to express some of the deep-seated issues they face.”
On the walls of the Art School’s second floor are drawings by students in Beyer’s summer young artist cartooning class. One of them is a riot of panels bursting with things like the “(MILDLY FRIENDLY) ZOMBIE PUFFBALL APOCOLYPSE!!!” (sic), drawn with a confident hand. “This is called the Daily Doodle,” explains Beyer. “At the beginning of each class we spend 15 minutes on a specific project. They come up with characters and a scene. One day it might be a character that’s ugly or a hero or a villain. The scene might be a party or incorporating half-human, half-animal characters. Then the students use their creativity to come up with what that would look like, and put it in a scene. It gives teachers a chance to see students’ variety of style and how they think.”
He tries to impart patience to his students. “A lot of them work very quickly,” he says, “and are like, ‘I’m done!’ Those are my two least favorite words when I’m teaching art. Instead of ‘I’m done,’ how about ‘What more can I add?’ or ‘How can I make this more detailed?’ That’s getting them to be patient and look beyond the requirements.”
Beyer just completed a summer art camp for English Language Learner students from the Leeward Education District. He finds that working with ELL students, “Challenges me to explore different ways of teaching.” And it’s also taught him when to get out of the way. “It’s nice to see them helping each other—it helps them find a sense of leadership when other students are struggling and they can pull them aside and say, ‘Maybe think about this or do it this way.’ They take the initiative, they want each other’s help.”
One of the most gratifying aspects of teaching, says Beyer, is when a student returns for more. “One of my students took my cartooning class when he was about 10, in 2004. Now he’s 21 and he was one of my teacher assistants this semester. And he’s been volunteering at the Art School for the last five years—doing it solely out of love for art and wanting to help.”
Beyer finds inspiration in the museum’s galleries. He gravitates to the gallery of Japanese woodblock prints, “because as a printer I’m a little biased and I work very detailed.”
He also explores the temporary exhibitions “to be able to, for myself, understand different concepts and incorporate them into lesson plans and find ways to use the museum to encourage the students to think about art in their lives,” he says. “They see this artwork, they hear the artists are famous, they see how much potentially these paintings and sculptures are worth and they’re intimidated by the idea and think, ‘I can’t be an artist.’ But in reality all those people who are in the museum started out as a young artist. Getting them to understand that gives them some goals or things to shoot for in their lives, and hopefully they’ll continue to pursue art.”