The Role of Education

by John Creighton Petersen


Perhaps the most important part of attending CHA and other large trade shows for manufacturers, store owners and designers is the education. Without education, we cannot use products properly and sometimes miss the true creative possibilities that a particular product may offer. I have the unique opportunity to hold the title of “Educator” for IMAGINE Crafts, which is honestly the best dream job anyone could possibly imagine!

I have been teaching art and design classes for over 15 years and although trends and products may come and go, we’re just like the fashion industry with the “what’s old is new again” mentality when products return with a new name, color or different use. Through it all, the constant will always be the important role of the educator, whether it be working for a manufacturer, a store owner showing a new customer a technique, or watching a video on your favorite blog.


Most educators and teachers do not take on this role because we think that we will become rich and famous, but instead it’s for the love of our craft and the need to share this with others. My role as an educator is to simply give students the tools and fundamentals to create. When teaching a class, I demonstrate a variety of different ways of how to (and sometimes how not to) use a product but I always leave the creativity up to the student. At this point in my class, my role has transformed from the educator into cheerleader, coach and troubleshooter where as the students are now teaching themselves and each other.

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At the CHA Winter 2015 Show a couple of weeks ago, I had the privilege to teach an Art Board class that introduced retailers to many of our new products including Creative Medium Iridescent and Metallic. The role of the educator is to judge the skill level of the class and begin teaching from there.

Sometimes we have to remember that a quick review of the basics is always great. An example I always use to illustrate this point is assuming that everyone knows how to heat emboss with a heat tool and embossing powder, when in fact there are always at least a couple of students who have blank looks on their face and no clue as to what I’m describing,  along with those who do not properly know how to use a heat tool. I’ve often found that the quick review of the basics tends to be the place in class where the million dollar idea rears it’s head, that moment when you see something so basic that you’ve been doing wrong for years that it takes your breath away.

In my Art Board class, I quickly discovered that although I have been in the fine arts and mixed media realm for many years, the majority of students from the crafting world have never learned the basics of using tools like palette knives or the proper way to spread and apply texture pastes. After showing students how to use our tools and products, I was absolutely amazed by the spectrum of projects created in class! Each student brings their own knowledge and perspective to class and I am always humbled by the works of art that my students produce in my classes.


Partnering with manufacturers is crucial for the craft industry to continue transforming and growing. At the recent CHA Show, I had the opportunity to teach a joint class with Fran Seiford from Stampendous along with Jen Cushman from ICE Resin. Co-teaching with these amazing and inspiring educators was contagious, as I’m sure every student in class could tell you! For the craft industry to continue it’s relevance, our role as educators is continually evolving. Not only do we need to inspire our students, we must also strive to develop new techniques and applications for existing products to always give that WOW factor that our students expect. I joke with my students that you have to learn the rules to know how to break them, meaning that at some point we all need to learn “the basics” before the real fun and experimenting can begin. Most of my artist growth has always been when I asked “I wonder what would happen….”

I will be the first one to admit that no matter how many classes I teach, I always learn at least one new thing in class from a student! I would love to know what you think of the role of education in the craft industry. What inspires you? What do you think the industry is doing right? Which instructors have inspired you the most creatively? Do you learn better in a classroom setting, a retreat, or at home in front of your computer?

Remember that at some point on our artist journeys, we’re all students who eventually all become teachers and educators. It is everyone’s role to support and encourage learning whether we are the student, the educator, or somewhere in between.

15 thoughts on “The Role of Education

  1. Absolutely true! You nailed it John. Teaching is a major responsibility and a gift in itself. I love teaching to all levels and I do get something out of each experience. I love to learn too. I am always saying if I can learn just one thing from this class or this instructor, my day will be made. So important to always keep in mind that we are all at different levels of knowledge and experience. I really like seeing how the industry is coming around to merging the Art and Craft world. So many possibilities.

  2. John this is a very well written article. When teaching my book making classes they were always geared toward making sure there was a finished project at the end of the class. Sometimes this meant teaching like a general to keep the students on task. I felt that if someone was going to pay me X amount of their hard earned dollars to learn/make something that I needed to deliver the goods so to speak. I would say that 80% of my students had never made a book from scratch before… and I can hardly explain the euphoria I felt when at the end of the class when the students would look at me or fellow students and say in almost disbelief, “I actually made a book.”

    I think education is key to the success of any product. I don’t take a lot of classes, but for the few I have taken with product or techniques I’ve never used/done before, it opens a world of possibilities for me. I seldom take what I learn and continue to recreate what I did in the class. But I will use the product or technique on every other substrate application I can get away with. And of course one project inspires another…

    As for the industry… I think they do a fairly good job of keeping up with what’s trending. If I had any complaint is that new product takes too long to reach the consumer if at all in the convenient retail availability. When you have product that can only be reached by mail order or exclusive shops, it shuts the door in the face of every day artists/paper crafters who don’t “internet”.

  3. Wonderful inside, I agree it is to educate and then allow to create rather than have some one mearly copy what you have created. I get the biggest buzz from teaching and seeing that Ahh moment from students and the look of achievement in their own work. My biggest downfall is when the class ends I don’t want to stop I always want to share Moore so my classes always run over !

  4. I never saw myself as a teacher until people started asking me how something was made.

    As my designing is chaotic, my teaching is as well. But no matter if I am paid or just honored for my educating, the most precious moments are the ones, when I can see that spark in a students eye, when his very own and unique idea is born and rises. These moments are what makes a devoted educator keep going. Not only to teach the propper handling of tools, but also to teach to go beyond.
    I agree with you about everything, and your brief insight in your teaching made my heart sing.


  5. A fabulous write up on a very important role. I am not a teacher, but I always enjoyed showing my granddaughter how to use crafting items and I hope she continues to do so. The thrill of using any product and finding new ways to use them has always been my greatest pleasure. I can get lost for hours in the oooh ah moment!

  6. Well said John!! I always feel as an instructor, its important to tell my students what their products are made of. I feel if they know what it’s made feom, it begins to make sense why that product works the way it does, and what other product might work with it. Again- learning the rules will help you imagine ways to break them! Keep on fighting the good fight my friend- you, and your work are much appreciated!

  7. Oh John I so totally agree with you! I feel fortunate to be able to help people explore and find the artist that hides within us all… That light bulb moment – when their face lights up and they realize they CAN do it is more precious than any amount of money or fame that could be offered.

    Thanks for this post!

  8. I am grateful for all off the fantastic educators who post on their blogs and facebook pages. I am unable to get out due to health issues so I learn best from sitting in front of my computer. Videos and blog posts are so informative and inspirational. I have learned so much from so many talented designers that I never would have if it wasn’t for the www. Imagine Crafts is one of my absolute favorites because you are always coming up with such innovative products and you teach us how to use them. THANK YOU!

  9. Well said John. I love teaching mixed media and scrapbooking, but I love being taught just as much. I believe even as a teacher I need to be educated regularly both formally and informally and so I attend classes with industry experts as often as I can. Education inspires my creativity and helps me to grow as an artist. I was privileged to be in your mixed media art board class at CHA and it was brilliant. Enough instruction so I knew the steps but enough freedom to be able to create a project that was mine. (btw thanks for featuring my art board in your post). my favourite part of teaching a class is that although every student starts with the same “kit” and gets the same instruction, I can end up with 12 different projects with 12 students. It’s important to cover the basics as we often assume knowledge but it’s equally important to allow your students creative freedom. I’ve been in classes where the “teacher” gets upset if you put something in the “wrong” place and it’s awful. As a side note that art board class was one of the best I’ve taken, I love your products and have to say a huge thankyou to Imagine Crafts for their incredible generosity. I hope to get the chance to take another class with you one day
    cheers H

  10. Nicely put, John! I’m a college professor and a teacher of crafty goodness at the LSS. Although I do the former for a living, it’s the latter that I find the most rewarding. Teaching my students a new trick or technique, showing them how to use a product properly so they can get the most out of it, or just watching them play and discover their own cleverness is rewarding beyond belief. And then there are those times when they teach ME something – MAJOR BONUS!!!

    To respond to your question about the role of education in the craft industry, I think the need for same has reached an all-time high. There are so many more innovative products and tools than there were just ten years ago, and with the economy still not fully recovered, the crafter’s dollar is more dear than ever. Trying to choose between 10 different brands of ink systems, for instance, can be stressful – lol! And once you’ve committed to a system… well, with tightened budgets it becomes ever more important for crafters to feel confident in not just the products they’ve purchased but in their own ability to utilize them to their maximum potential. From a purely creative standpoint, few things are as frustrating and upsetting as failing to achieve anticipated results from a product or tool; it can really curb your enthusiasm. So the educators are needed more than ever; you nailed it when you called yourself a cheerleader. It’s not just about showing students how to use a product anymore. There are so many options and yet-to-be-seen potential results from all the new product recipes, etc. you have to encourage the student to play and take risks and EXPLORE. It’s a brave new world out there, and we need all the Magellans we can get!

  11. Pingback: The Role of Education in the Craft Industry | Art New Wave

  12. I am housebound so am unable to attend any events held at brick and mortar locations but am an avid blog follower and have my few favorites that I watch on youtube. I am thankful for this avenue of crafting education because it enables me and others like me who cannot get out to keep on top of the newest techniques and also to get a refresher course in old techniques that I have forgotten about over the years! Imagine Crafts, Stampendous & Fran Sieford, Spellbinders, Sizzix and a few others are my top favorites and I have learned so much from the blog and video posts on the blog and youtube! Please don’t ever stop doing them because they are a godsend to me! They help keep me sane on days that my pain is overwhelming and many days are my only real contact with the outside world. My day is not complete without a stop by my top 5 favorite blogs and I have been known to email them if they don’t post that day to make sure all is well with them!
    Thank you for being such an amazing educator and being apart of my day!

  13. Great article! You are correct about trends and revisiting them with a twist. As a crafter and experimenter for many years, I agree that the basics are still critical. Many people have an innate desire to create and come into my store feeling uncertain and timid. Once they receive guidance and encouragement from me they are relieved and filled with confidence to move forward. The popularity of YouTube and the advent of Pinterest have served to widen the playing field. DIY blogs and artists in general need to meet the interest with genuine assistance and sincerity and they will undoubtedly see their own business grow as a result. The world is hard enough and more and more people are reaching for creativity as an outlet to an over-stimulated, over-commercialized society.

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