Henderson County art teacher enjoys rewards both tangible and tangential
Making art may often be a solitary pursuit, but as Flat Rock artist Courtney Hoelscher discovered nearly two decades ago, sharing the process brings its own rewards. After working as a technical artist for a publishing company and embarking in her spare time on an eclectic exploration of mediums, Hoelscher returned to her first love — teaching art to others.
The publishing job came along after she left behind the elementary-school classrooms of her student teaching days. “I realized I couldn’t sit in front of a computer all day and in a cubicle for the rest of my life,” she remembers. Teaching at the middle- and high-school levels proved much more fulfilling: She’s now marking her 17th year teaching high school in Henderson County. “I find teenagers fascinating and easy to relate to,” she says. “I also find them equally inspiring as artists.”
Drawing with crayons and markers had been a childhood pursuit and was the beginning of a lifelong acquaintance with a variety of tools and materials — an exploration still very much in progress that’s made her familiar with everything from pottery to collage, acrylics, watercolor, and oils. “I think the wide variety of artmaking methods has just come from a pursuit of finding the one art material that will be my lifelong love,” Hoelscher says. “I come across a medium. I learn it. I try it. I get to a level of comfort where I feel like I can create something I want with it. But then, inevitably, I get bored with the medium and find something new that I want to try. It’s sort of a frustrating cycle, to be honest.”
But the result is a wide-ranging survey of the artistic landscape by an intrepid explorer eager to discover new perspectives, and to share her findings in a series of handmade visual journals, producing one for each year since 2004. “I attended a workshop at an art-education convention by two teachers from Virginia who call themselves The Journal Fodder Junkies,” Hoelscher relates. “Their techniques and approach to the ‘visual daily brain dump’ were really inspiring to me. It was a sort of daily diary for the visual thinker.” Hoelscher uses the journals, publicly available on her website and her YouTube channel, to record her investigations into everything from world religions to quantum physics, manifested in collaged pages that can contain anything from photographs to advertising slogans to pencil drawings. “I know that sounds really random, but my artist brain goes in strange places sometimes,” she says. “But the journal is a great place to process those thoughts in a visual way that makes sense to me. I finished this year’s journal on the last week of school.”
Her encounters with other mediums include a series of acrylic pour paintings that occupied her for more than a year and became so popular with buyers that the stress eventually led her to step away from the genre. “I started to feel I couldn’t experiment for fear of losing my audience,” she says. “I really got burned out on it.” Alcohol ink, as a relatively accessible and easy creative method, drew her attention for a time. “I think people that have always wanted to do art would find this as a pretty forgiving material to play around with,” she notes of the technique, which is used on non-porous surfaces like glass or plastic. Basic isopropyl alcohol from the store is blended with the ink, and as it evaporates from the surface, the pigment from the ink is left behind. “It works similarly to watercolor, but using alcohol in place of the water,” she explains.
Hoelscher’s latest discovery is a traditional Japanese textile-dyeing technique using indigo. “It only works on natural fibers,” she says, “and won’t bind to synthetics like polyester or nylon. It’s a physical bond versus a chemical one. I’m not sure if this will bring me back to painting, but right now I’m just enjoying the exploration of a new medium. Where it will take me, I don’t know.”
Most of all, Hoelscher — who won the “Best in Show” award as part of Henderson County Arts Council’s most recent Bring Us Your Best juried art competition — enjoys sharing the adventure with her students. “I try pass along the idea that they need to let go of the pressure to make a piece of art that’s worthy of being hung in a museum,” she says. “I try to make them focus on how they feel when they are making art.
“I learned a long time ago that the process of making art is where I find respite from my turmoil. It’s a meditation for me.”
Courtney Hoelscher, Flat Rock. The artist’s paintings can be viewed online at choelscherart.com and are on display at Atomic Furnishing & Design (124 Swannanoa River Road, Asheville, atomicfurnishings.com). Her Shibori Indigo fabrics and clothing are sold daily via her Instagram page: @choelscherart.