Creative Artistry Fine Arts School sparks creative energy in McHenry County children and adults in a quaint Crystal Lake setting.
Creative Artistry: Where Creativity and Individuality Blossom
Like a lot of young creative children, Amber Larsen would doodle and write poetry while enjoying the chirping of birds and trickling waters of a creek near her childhood home in Wilmington, Ohio. But art was more than a hobby to her — it was her destiny.
Fate brought her to McHenry County, gave her an opportunity to run Creative Artistry art studio and allowed her to share her gift and knowledge of the arts with the community.
An Unexpected Gift
Growing up in a poor area in the 1960s, Larsen knew what it was like to count her blessings daily. “To get a box of 64 crayons and coloring books would be like the best Christmas ever,” Larsen explained.
When she was in third grade, Larsen won an award for her artwork, which inspired her to continue down the artistic path.
“One of my high school teachers [recognized] the gifted and gave them the attention; it inspired me to teach all who wanted to be creative and do art, not just the gifted,” Larsen admitted.
She says anyone who loves art can be creative and should be able to feel good about it.
Larsen has been able to share her passion for art through Creative Artistry Fine Arts School in Crystal Lake for three years.
A Career in the Arts
After attending Western Illinois University from 1977-1980 under a federal grant, she eventually settled in McHenry County in 1992 to be close to family and her husband’s job. “We chose McHenry County because it had that small town feel 20 years ago and we still love that small-town feel,” Larsen expressed. “They really have respect for the local artists and groups and it’s a good place to do what I’m doing.”
Running Creative Artistry was not the beginning of her career in art education. Shortly after moving to Crystal Lake in the 1992, Larsen became the art teacher for District 47 K-5, which she clung to for 16 years.
She began teaching a few classes/summer camp at Lakeside Legacy Arts Park in Crystal Lake in 2007, which grew into three small classes. A year later, the lady that had previously run Creative Artistry — which is a small cottage that served as the Dole family’s caretaker’s house — walked away from the position. “This place fell in my lap,” Larsen explained.
Soon, her entire day revolved around the arts. She would teach at District 47 in the day and work at Creative Artistry at night. “I can’t think of anyone nuts enough to do it,” she said.
At first, Larsen worked hard to maintain about 70 percent of the previous instructor’s clientele. Now, art students come from as far as Rockford and Belvidere, Ill., to master their skills and creativity at Creative Artistry.
A Fresh Start
Larsen discovered taking over someone else’s business is easier said than done. She first took action by cleaning up the studio, making repairs, followed by repainting the floors and walls with splatter paint.
Donations such as a dark room, chairs, computers, a kiln and even sculpture supplies have helped solidify Creative Artistry’s position as a serious arts center. “Thousands of dollars worth of stuff was donated because people believed and invested in it,” Larsen said.
A scholarship program, run by Joseph and Donna Vestal, allows 20 students take classes at Creative Artistry every year.
Changes made to the business since Larsen took over also include more structured classes set up as eight-week sessions. The summer brings various art camps and workshops, while the school year offers after-school classes by age group starting at kindergarten and ending with adults.
These may include skill-building classes such life drawing, sculptures, creature illustration, digital photography or oil paining. The other option is the fine arts progressive class where students choose their own way to grow and progress.
“The art classroom atmosphere keeps the kids coming back,” she said.
Students have the ability to pick their own subjects, as well as mediums to convey their unique visions, including photography, still life, realism or abstract. Larsen helps them do this by asking “What does this piece need or say to you?”
The determined woman explained that many students come into Creative Artistry with the notion they are there to draw, when really, they get so much more. “I guide them with an air of openness, and the ability for them to choose their subjects makes this art school thrive,” Larsen said.
None of Creative Artistry’s success would be possible without Larsen’s fellow instructors who she’s largely found through Lakeside Legacy or the Northwest Area Arts Council. She currently works with seven instructors and two art student assistants who have a variety of specialties in the arts.
Working with students, especially those who are young and inexperienced, can be challenging, yet rewarding. For Larsen, it is her job to guide children down the right path and help them transfer their ideas onto paper.
“A lot of kids get stuck,” she said. “They are not [used to using] their individual imagination because [they spend a lot of time playing video games] or activities that are laid out for them.”
Typically, Larsen will instruct the student to start with a sketch from which they can work off. She focuses her teaching on process orientation rather than worrying only about the end results.
“Everyone learns, thinks and performs differently,” she said. “We work one-on-one with who they are. My saying goes ‘Creativity is encouraged, individuality is priority,’ and that is what makes it work.”
Work on Display
Displaying students’ work is also important. Creative Artistry pupils are given the opportunity to participate in at least one art show a year, located at Lakeside Legacy. Because some students take time off or only participate in certain sessions during the year, this gives each student a chance to share their masterpieces with the rest of the community.
In 2011, Larsen entered her students’ work in a show at McHenry County College in addition to the one at Lakeside.
“Showing art is just as important as making it,” Larsen said. “It tells the world that visual interpretation is as important and those that come to see it bring the community in to see what the kids are doing.”
Success and Beyond
The quaint cottage located in a woodsy area of Crystal Lake creates the perfect natural, inspirational environment for students. Artwork cover the walls of the studio and Larsen does not get hung up on messes as it’s a part of the creative process.
“They learn that it is their space to be creative and they know where the supplies are,” Larsen said.
She believes that it is a major reason why the students continue to return year after year. “When they come here, they come to another home, a creative, ‘freedom-of-expression’ home,” she explained.
Located in such a small space, Larsen would love to eventually expand with a bigger space for the students to master their talent, “but it’s in a perfect location with the beach, secluded area and safe community,” she explained.
Creative Artistry continues to grow while keeping its original values. Classes and workshops available to the public are constantly diversifying while reflecting what the students themselves want to express or experiment with.“As imagery changes, what’s popular in the art world changes,” Larsen said.
Ultimately, Larsen makes it a point to teach more than art. Along with the work that blossoms comes creative thinking, social and life skills for the young students to take with them into the future.
Creative Artistry now brings a unique art program to local private schools and is researching adding after-school programs.