Poppet Art Studio Tour

Article by Melissa Gignac, photos by Jody Beck.

For mixed media artist and art educator Andrea Soos, connecting to her community is a driving force, from mixed media courses taught in her home studio to the Six Breaths retreat she recently held at Sleeping Dog Farm.  A long time instructor with Island Blue Print’s studio classes, Soos now teaches from her home studio, as well as through the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, Cedar Hill Recreation Centre, and through schools. She also participates in local craft fairs, and will be taking this year in the TD Art Gallery Paint-In (the Moss Street Paint-In).stairshall suppliescloseSoos has lived in the Fernwood/Oaklands home she shares with her husband Nick, and children Jasper (5) and Carson (9) for 12 years. Five years ago, when she was pregnant with her second son, the family undertook an extension to the home, allowing the former upstairs master bedroom to become a studio. Completion of the renovation coincided with Island Blue Print closing their studio, so Soos decided to transition teaching to her home studio. “I had always taught adults and kids at Island Blue Print, but when that closed I was really loving what was going on with mixed media, it was just taking off in my own brain, and I was doing it already here in my own work, so I thought I’d start taking some smaller groups.” And thus, Poppet Studio was born.supplyroombestapronHaving a home studio has proven to be a blessing for Soos. After years of working in a small den, bedroom, or shared space, having a dedicated studio space is a luxury. “I feel very blessed in that I can stay at home with my kids and work my schedule around their schedule. The next year will be a change with my youngest going to kindergarten, so I’ll be able to work more.” Her students also enjoy the home setting. “People who have been coming for years love it, they love being in someone’s home. It’s less intimidating in a way, and a little more personal.”Andrea-mixingThe studio is grounded by a large community table, where students and instructor work together. She did not want the space to feel like a classroom, with separation between teacher and student. ”It was all supposed to be a combined space. You feel, here in this setting, a little less intimidated, because there isn’t a ego between teacher and student, we’re all on the same level playing field, we’re all using the same materials, we’re all sharing.”studio1cornerbookHaving never worked in a traditional office environment, Soos doesn’t miss the social aspect of having coworkers. Besides, as in instructor she’s constantly surrounded by like minded people, which has had an impact both on Soos personally, and on her work. “Our groups get really close. I’ve made some good friends out of my students, and my students have become closer. There’s certainly an element of sharing that’s involved. There’s a bunch of moms struggling with similar situations, and we’re all talking, and sometimes we’ll get someone in the group who doesn’t have children, or who’s older, and then we have a perspective that’s outside. It’s been really nice, it suits me, my art has grown more from this experience than it did maybe teaching in a bigger space.”floorpaintingsIn terms of teaching kids and adults, she says the approach is very similar, though, with adults “you do have to work a little bit more with insecurities, you have to push them past their uncomfortable zone a little bit more than you do with kids”, who tend to be less inhibited. Soos’ teaching philosophy is “very much process based, not product based, and so, especially with my adult students, there are very few product goals. It’s more like play.”

Students invariably pick up on Soos’ style, which she describes as whimsical and colourful, with a cartoonish, childlike quality. She’s unconcerned though about her style creeping into her students’ work. “If you are going to teach, the idea is to give people tools to find their own style. If that means that they are imitating you for a few years until they can figure it out, then that’s fine. I’m not painting their painting for them. That’s them using their own hand and brush. When you are first learning I think it’s important to learn that person’s style. It’s not a conflict. There’s so much room for everyone. For a long time I wondered what I was bringing that was unique, and then the more and more I practiced, the more uniqueness came. You’ve just got to keep going.”wallgrouppaintingsIt’s not about how to make art, it’s about giving students to tools to access their creativity. “I don’t teach just one way of doing stuff. It’s more ‘here’s a whole bunch of ways, and what do you connect with’.”

Soos is aware that, for many, art is ‘an extra’. “Spending your money on an art class is a bit luxurious when everything is so expensive. And when people connect with it, they don’t want to stop. Some of my students have been with me here for years, and (they say) ‘this is therapy for me. This is where I come to centre myself, ground myself, and figure out my week.’ And then they take it home with them. It’s so important. The creative need is deep inside, and some people shut it out. And when they rediscover it, especially in adulthood, like some of my students have, you just want to keep giving that to them. It’s so gratifying to see.”andrea5Looking to the future, Soos is considering the possibility of finding a storefront in the neighbourhood to expand Poppet Studio, which she sees as an opportunity to offer a amenity to the her community. She envisions “a resource room, that has big tables, lots of chairs, art supplies off to the side so the space can be used in different ways, as an event space or something like that.” She sees it as “something that other part-time workers can use, art therapy, something that the community is benefiting from, not just me. I want to stay in Fernwood/Oaklands, and give my community something like that.”

When I mention to Soos that, for her, everything seems to come back to community, she smiles. “Totally. And really just supporting each other.”