BY JESS CLAWSON
Most of us would agree that we’re living in stressful times. Between student loans, national and international political tensions, and what can seem like a never-ending stream of bad news, we all could use more opportunities to connect with ourselves in quiet, creative ways.
Joanne Y. Pierce understands how life can feel impossible, and she wants to use art to help contribute to the solution. Joanne has a decades-long career in teaching and creating fine art. She now wants to share her craft with the world through her new video series, Pierce the HeArt Lessons.
“The first thing I ever drew was a horse,” Joanne laughed. She grew up on Long Island where she drove her parents crazy trying to persuade them that they could keep a horse in their small backyard. At 40, she gave herself the gift of riding lessons and for the past 22 years has stayed involved in the horse world as a spectator, pleasure rider, philanthropist, and artist.
While her family background isn’t horsey, it’s very artistic. Growing up, her family encouraged her to pursue arts. She earned a degree in arts education from SUNY New Paltz. Even with talent and training, she felt intimidated about entering the New York art scene until her sister, Mary, snuck behind her back. Mary put Joanne’s work in front of a gallery in Woods Hole, who then displayed and sold her art. This gave Joanne the confidence to approach the intimidating 1980s Manhattan art scene.
Life has not always been kind to Joanne, but she has worked to be a force for good in living an ethical life as well as raising her two children. She sees what she calls a “creative and therapeutic void” in our current society. “People don’t make things the way they used to, out of necessity, so now we have to seek out opportunities to be creative,” she explained. “Often, art lessons are expensive and hard to find time for, and arts funding is being cut in schools. But we need that opportunity to create. It’s fulfilling, and it’s therapeutic.”
Joanne’s medium is pencil and oils. “I like how oil paints give you time to work, and colored pencil is convenient and helps with fine details.” She will often use acrylic wash for the first phase of a piece and then go over it with colored pencils for additional detail. “Colored pencils are great for things like the detail of horses’ hair,” she explained. She’s also an illustrator, having illustrated Mint’s Christmas Message, which her sister wrote.
Making art, no matter what the medium, is important for clearing the mind and finding moments of peace. It’s an antidote to the constant noise and action that most of us experience in our day to day existence. Joanne has seen people with developmental disabilities, trauma, dementia, and other challenges find a way to communicate or express themselves with art.
“Over the 40 years I’ve been teaching, I’ve seen the art be very therapeutic for children with special needs. They’re often very talented, but if they’re cognitively delayed in school their self esteem goes down because they’re comparing themselves to other students,” she said. “When they’re super in art class, it raises their self esteem. I’ve seen it be very therapeutic with some issues at home. They’ll draw and talk about it.”
Her Pierce the HeArt Lessons are Joanne’s way of bringing art to people who might not have access or know where to get started. Her son and manager, Tom, helped orchestrate a successful Kickstarter campaign and co-created the first series of lessons. He describes Joanne as being “on a map between Bob Ross’s Happy Trees, Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, and Martha Stewart’s empire.” Tom’s admiration for his mother shines through his every word about her.
Joanne and Tom appreciate the work of Bob Ross, whose popular television series where viewers painted along with him was a place of respite for many. His shows are still available online, and Tom has observed people watching them on the New York City subway. “People just want to hear a calm voice and watch someone paint some nature,” he said.
The first series of the Pierce the HeArt Lessons features a 90 minute-long art class broken down into six short episodes. The idea is that people can watch the videos in short bursts that they have time for. Or, if they have a free hour or so, they can watch the entire series all the way through to complete a graphite drawing of a horse alongside Joanne. Future projects will include trips to beautiful locations, including Joanne’s favorite Long Island horse farms, to focus on landscape paintings. “If people don’t have the opportunity to go outside, at least they’ll be able to look at and create beautiful outdoor scenes,” she said.
Joanne wants to ensure that her art education can reach anyone who wants access. Splitting episodes into short sessions and making them available on mobile technology ensures that busy people can not only fit them into their schedules, but take them out into nature. “We want to encourage students to go outside, whether it’s their backyard or their favorite park or beach, to experience making art in nature,” Joanne said.
They also want to build community amongst the people enjoying the lessons. To help foster that, they are hosting a social media challenge to encourage people to name the horse they draw and post it on social media for Pierce the HeArt Lessons to share.
Anyone interested in art, or in taking a break to enjoy a soothing presence, can benefit from Pierce the HeArt Lessons. They are currently on YouTube, and as the project expands the videos may grow into a streaming platform. Joanne’s mission is to help people find a feeling of well-being, to create, and reconnect with themselves through art. People interested in learning how to draw horses or who just want the meditative effects of watching someone paint should check out Pierce the HeArt Lessons, now available at http://www.jypfineart.com/piercetheheartlessons.