Karen McGowan has had a lifetime appreciation of art nourished in part by her high school art teacher.
Little did she know while sitting in that high school class it would turn into a career.
“I’ve always loved art thanks to my art teacher, Mr. Leonard, at Terrebonne High School,” said Karen McGowan. “He pushed me into being better and I really loved the way he was with the students.”
After high school, the Houma native continued her art studies at Nicholls State University then left the area to seek her fortune elsewhere. When her husband Ken was offered a job back in south Louisiana, the choice to move was an easy one.
“I wanted to come back to Houma. I missed it. It’s like you spend half your life trying to get out and see the world and then the rest of it you’re trying to get back in. There’s nowhere in the world that has the kind of culture and people that you have in Houma,” McGowan said.
Since returning to Houma, the businesswoman has been teaching pre-school art at First United Methodist Church. But for some time, she’s had the dream of opening a place where she could share her artistic knowledge with others.
With some encouragement from her husband, she decided to open Creative U April 1.
“My husband really wanted me to do this for a long time. We’ve lived in Atlanta and St. Petersburg, Fla., and both of those places just weren’t the right place to do it. When we moved back here, we thought this is it. This building became available and it all just kind of fell together,” McGowan said.
Creative U is an art studio for all ages providing classes covering a wide variety of artistic styles and medium.
McGowan teaches the basics of drawing and painting, charcoals, enamel glass painting, stained glass, print making, photography and metal work. A kiln will be installed very soon enabling those interested in pottery a place to learn and practice their craft.
“When you go into art in the college system, you have to take all types of art, so I can do all types of art. If I happen to not know how to do something, I’ll teach myself so I can teach you.”
McGowan likes to keep her class sizes small so she can offer more one-on-one time with her students.
“My point as an instructor is being able to instruct you, and if I don’t have time to sit with you because I have 14 others, that’s just not fair,” McGowan said.
Depending on what the topic is that week, Creative U has two different types of classes. First is a master’s series where the projects are inspired by famous artists.
Exploring the mediums, classes center around trying out different artists’ mediums such as charcoals, ink, watercolors, oil and acrylic paints.
“When you come to class, we sit down and go over what we’re going to do. I show you step-by-step and then I help you. After I’ve helped you with a project, you do your own,” McGowan said.
Children as young as 2 can take classes at Creative U. The Dots and Squiggles class begins awakening young minds to art through recognition of lines, shapes and colors.
Mini Masters is for the 4- to 6-year olds and focuses on introducing students to a variety of mediums on a kindergarten level.
Master Series and Exploring Art continue the lessons of Mini Masters expanding each student’s pallet of artistic knowledge.
Adult classes are for students age 15 and up and are much the same, but offered on a more sophisticated level for the older crowd.
“Our classes are one hour a week. You’d be surprised how much you can do in an hour. In fact, I’m able to get several projects done especially with the little ones because they just want to get done and go on to the next,” McGowan said.
The adult projects are a bit more detailed and if it ends up taking longer than one class to finish, McGowan will extend it to the next week. All supplies are included in the cost of tuition and students can borrow them to finish their projects at home if they prefer.
Creative U will be holding summer camp classes, which are filling up fast, and is also a party destination offering a relaxed atmosphere and fun activity.
“If it’s a private party, a birthday party or a Corks & Canvas class, they choose a picture from our samples. I bring them all to the class and explain step-by-step how to paint it. When they’re done, they go into the kitchen area and have their party. If it’s a kid’s party, Mom and Dad can leave the entire mess to us,” McGowan said.
For the adult class, students start off with a blank canvas and begin by learning how to paint a background. If they prefer, students can use stencils for the foreground.
“I have them pose it how they like, so everybody’s is different. I explain step-by-step how to do it, and as they’re finishing one part, I show them how to do the next,” McGowan explained.
The instructor’s goal is to make sure her students aren’t intimidated by art. If a student makes a mistake, she shows them how to correct it.
“A lot of people are intimidated by art and it’s not intimidating once you understand that it’s just supplies. If they break, you buy some more. It’s no big deal. And the only person who knows you might have messed up is you. The viewer doesn’t know,” McGowan said.
“Anyone who has an interest, and has wanted to try, but is scared to try, this is a setting where there’s no competition, no one is looking over your shoulder. No matter what your age, whether you’re 3, 7 or 97 years old, you can come in here and just play.”
“I don’t want it to be like school. It’s a fun place. If you want to bring music, please do. If you want to have something to drink, that’s ok. I like to say that even the greatest artists started out as amateurs and that anyone can do art if you just give it a chance.”
Karen McGowan adds the finishing touches to a painting she began in a recent class. Painting is just one of the many classes she teaches at her art center on Highway 311 in Houma. JENNIE CHILDS