CMA Stories

“To identify and learn from the clarity and truthfulness that [children] reflect requires patience and devotion” — 5 Minutes with Teaching Artist Jacob Hicks

CMA Teaching Artist Jacob Hicks is back to teach Online After School Classes this semester. Get a behind-the-scenes look at his upcoming painting course for children ages 8-11 and learn all about his practice as an oil painter (hint: it involves frogs!) Online After School Classes kick off on September 14 and continue through December. Looking for a bespoke course? Inquire about our Custom Art Pods and Virtual Private Lessons.

Can you tell us about your art practice and how working with children inspires you?

I am an oil painter who uses indirect technique, letting one color passage dry then applying subsequent thinner layers of transparent color on top to create optical hue. This provides color that only exists as light rather than color that exists as the physical “mud” of paint. Indirect painting is similar to the effect of light changing color as it passes through a stained-glass window, just replace the colored glass in this comparison with differing levels of transparency in paint. The magic of oil painting is it allows for both direct mixing as mud towards black and indirect optical mixing of light towards white. The range and diversity of phenomenon the material can create is infinite and wholly distinct to the medium.

I paint magical realism devoted to beauty and meditation. The longer I spend on a work the more alive and responsive it is, and it becomes a testament to my persistence and growth as an artist. Working with children is very similar. As I teach, I witness the blooming of children’s creative minds. To identify and learn from the clarity and truthfulness they reflect requires patience and devotion. A child’s perspective told nonchalantly acts as a reset button to my older mind, often too hardened by disappointments or disbeliefs.

I decided a few years back I only wanted to make paintings of beautiful things, that there is so much upset and instability in the world that I want to spend my time creating images that are meditations on peace, tranquility, color, and beauty. I feel that applies to my teaching as well.

Tell us about your experience teaching Online Summer Art Camp this year. What were the challenges (and rewards!) of transitioning to virtual learning?

I had an absolute ball teaching Summer Art Camp for CMA. After mastering the technical aspect, it really was as if the computer screens vanished, and the kids and I could exist in a virtual classroom with our minds attuned to materials and making. A real highlight was always our end of the week exhibitions, or “Campfire Shares,” where families and friends joined to celebrate everyone’s creations. We had relatives from all over the world join in — a grandma in India, my own mom and dad in Texas, and a dad in London. During an uncertain time in the world I loved working with different groups of bright minds to focus on imagination and creativity.

This semester, you will be teaching Tools and Techniques: Painting each Wednesday. Can you share a “behind-the-scenes” look at the class?

I am excited for this course, where we will explore the materials and process of great painting masters throughout time as well as the physicality and properties of water-based paint. Imagining we are students in the studio of a great Italian Renaissance master like Domenico Ghirlandaio, we will learn what kind of tools we need and how best to use them. We will take a deep dive into visual thought starting with color theory, one-point perspective, and anatomical proportion. Each day we will study a different artist like El Greco, Francisco de Zurbaran, Faith Ringgold, and Betye Saar, to name a few. We will learn how pre-industrialized artists made their own brushes, pigments, and materials and how contemporary painters are moving into the realm of digital creation.

What advice would you give to young artists who wish to pursue an art practice?

Nurture your creative spirit. As you get older you will receive more resistance from those around you who did not nurture their own creative impulse. The artist’s path, though sometimes arduous, brings with it great rewards.

Why is it important to make art accessible to all children and families?

To make art requires and teaches courage, self-confidence, empathy, and understanding. These are basic human principles we all must acquaint ourselves with if we are to right the struggling human ship we together comprise.

Do you have a favorite memory of making art as a child?

In middle school I loved to listen to Tracy Chapman’s album Crossroads and paint images that represented my favorite songs. Painting while listening to music was and probably still is my favorite activity.

Can you share a work or artist that inspires you to make art?
My best friend Kaitlyn Stubbs is an amazing museum educator and painter. She inspires me to keep making — here is a link to her website!

Finally, please introduce your frogs, which often make guest appearances during your classes at CMA!

When I was little, my first dream was to be a herpetologist (a kind of biologist that studies frogs.) I wanted to spend my life crawling through the rainforests of South America looking for tree frogs. As an adult I decided the next best thing was to keep a mini frog zoo for my personal inspiration and to share with my students.

I’d like to introduce you to Jumping Bean and Stinky Bug — two Golden Tree Frogs. Jumping Bean constantly sings and chirps, while Stinky Bug mainly sleeps in her log. She hates winter and I literally saw her emerge from her log only two times during our last cold season. Larry and Poompky are Dumpy Whites Tree Frogs from Australia. Poompky is a baby and Larry is 7 years old. I adopted Larry from a pet store that was not treating him right, so he has anxiety issues and loves to stay hidden in moss all day. I got Poompky when she was smaller than my thumbnail. She is seriously outgoing and lacks all shyness. Helen is a Red-Eyed Tree Frog who loves to eat and sleep, and finally we have Lunita and Conchita. Lunita is an American Leopard Frog and Conchita is an American Green Tree Frog, both super common species you could probably find in your own backyard, as long as you aren’t in a desert region. All of my frogs are nocturnal, so as I’m heading to bed they are just beginning their nightly frog party, which consists of leaping and singing, chirping and climbing.

View more of Jacob’s art at and follow along on social media at @jacob_hicks_studio

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