"I was in second grade when I first started using colored chalk and pastels to create images of presidents for a classroom bulletin board," said Shawn Bland, owner and instructor at The Art Center of Wilmington Island.


"I enjoyed it so much that I asked to start taking art classes and never stopped! The satisfaction of being able to create what I saw in my mind and produce imagery that others enjoyed."


The center offers a variety of classes, including open painting classes for children and adults where painters work on their own projects at their own pace in a fun group setting. The after-school program allows students to choose their own subjects while showing them different techniques to accomplish their projects. The center offers school holiday camps and summer camps for students as well.


Bland received her doctorate in art education from Florida State University and spent 30 years teaching in Georgia public school systems before opening an art center in Americus. After relocating to Savannah, Bland opened the Art Center of Wilmington Island in 2013.


"Our social/group painting classes have been really popular," said Bland. "We lead groups step by step through a painting together. Each person starts with the same inspiration and completes the project during the class. They’re a lot of fun, and most of our themes are coastal inspired."


Bland also teaches human portraiture, pet portraits, brush basics, and technique workshops like palette knife painting or incorporating oil on acrylic mediums.


"I love adapting to new trends and interests as well as adding new classes and finding new things to teach," said Bland.


Bland's passion for encouraging and inspiring others to express themselves shines through in all aspects of her work.


"Art education's biggest benefit is helping students discover their passion for artistic expression. I truly love watching a student's face light up when they realize they have found an art form that resonates with them," he said.


"It's as though their life's story can be told through their expression – they have control and can influence it the way they want to. It's a powerful thing to see. Nearly all of our classes require no experience so watching people sit down, sometimes for the first time, and complete a painting they are proud of is so gratifying."


Art at home


The center plans to adhere to the recommended guidelines set by the CDC but say they are exploring communication apps like Marco Polo, which students can use to send messages requesting feedback on their work as well as material pickup paired with online video pairings.


"We’re putting together some take-home kits that customers can pick up and complete at home – for kids and adults," said Bland. "The kits will have everything needed —-a sketched canvas, paint, brushes, etc.--and then we’ll post tutorials online so folks can follow along at home. We plan to tackle that this coming week so we can offer curbside pick-up as soon as possible."


"I look forward to continuing to make art accessible to anyone interested in learning," said Bland.


"Each time I sit down with a painter, I have the opportunity to show them something new. Every interaction affords me an opportunity to share all of my collected knowledge to help a painter become successful."