This month we are featuring one of our favorite teaching artists Johnny Villarreal. He has been so valuable to us at Art Spark Texas because he pushes our students beyond their preconceived limits and helps them reshape their artistic dreams. And he does this with a natural curiosity, genuine compassion, and a jovial grin.
Johnny has an Associate’s Degree in Animation and Film and a BFA in Painting. An all-around creative guy, he is always trying to find creative solutions to problems. One problem he noticed was that artists tend to spend a lot of time alone in their studios. He enjoyed making animations and wanted to share that enjoyment with others, so Johnny and some friends came up with The Edge of Imagination Station.
The Edge of Imagination Station is a portable stop motion animation studio. He wanted to simplify the process of computer animation and make it more accessible to the general public. The station consists of a computer or laptop attached to a camera mounted above a chalkboard surface. The chalkboard can be drawn on directly or used as a stage for clay characters or cut out drawings. Using a simple point and click system, anyone can create an animation in a few easy clicks.
I met Johnny when he was demonstrating his station at the Texas Commission on the Arts Conference. He started teaching classes with us shortly after that and we found that his technique and personality were perfect for the students that we work with in our New Media Arts classes. Johnny uses a blend of storytelling, hands-on art making, and digital tools. He has a knack for finding the creative in anyone given enough time to work with them.
Johnny enjoys working with students with disabilities in our classes because he finds they challenge him. One of his favorite stories of working with Art Spark Texas was when he worked with one young man who uses a wheelchair for mobility. The young man has limited use of his arms. The student took a photo of his arms, cut them out, and used them in his animation. Through his animation and imagination this young man was able to do anything with his arms that he wanted to do. Art gave him that freedom and excitement.
So what does the future hold for Johnny Villarreal? The Edge of Imagination Station is ten years old this year. Johnny’s future goals are to mass produce the station and get it to a point where he can sell it to teachers, community organizations, parents, anyone who wants to step over that edge and expand their freedom and excitement through art.
The immediate future for Johnny includes having him co-teach our summer class Bee a Nature Creator: June Nature, Arts and Media Camp. This inclusive class is for youth ages 12 and up. Through art, podcasts, and nature, students will experience cross-generational connections and creative explorations of the natural environment.