By Kristin Schultz
Perhaps the saying should go: Those who can, teach.
Niskayuna resident Amy Friedman is both artist and instructor, sharing her craft with a broad audience to bring happiness and healing.
Friedman came to art later in life. It proved to be a relaxing and healthy way to express herself during an unsettling time in her late 20s. She first picked up a set of watercolors and from there explored oil pastels, chalk pastels and acrylic painting.
She later studied art therapy and today spends her time teaching art classes at community centers across the region. Friedman especially enjoys working with seniors.
“I like to hear about their life experiences,” Friedman said. “I like their honesty and their stories.”
She hears about those experiences and those stories in the classes she teaches, many of which are held at the Schenectady Jewish Community Center in Niskayuna. Throughout the month, she instructs classes in beginning and intermediate drawing, watercolor and more.
Friedman encourages participants to try new things and not give up when they feel that their art is not good enough.
“It’s rewarding to help people try new things and gain confidence,” Friedman said. “Especially when I teach in the memory care facilities. They’ve lost so much.”
Friedman leads classes at the JCC, at Schalmont High School’s adult education program and at an assisted living facility in Loudonville.
“It’s a misconception that you have to be born with talent,” she said. “You can learn skills at any age. Some people are naturally gifted, but skills are teachable, too.”
Friedman said she did not consider herself a naturally gifted artist, but instead turned to art at a time in her life that she needed a way to express herself and reflect on her circumstances. She said she just dove in. She sat on the floor and just started to paint.
Friedman describes her personal style as modern. She likes to use bold color and geometric shapes, putting her own take on traditional still life subjects like flowers or items she finds at the Salvation Army thrift store.
“I start with pencil,” Friedman said. “There’s lots of drawing and erasing. Then I move to color. Some pieces come together naturally and others don’t work out well.”
When those pieces don’t work out as well as Friedman would like, she said she uses that challenge as a learning opportunity rather than becoming upset.
“It’s enjoyable to have those learning pieces and then pick up or practice a new skill,” she said.
Friedman also likes to show the process by which a work came together. To that end, she does not erase the sketched outline of a subject.
“The pencil lines are the foundation of pastel and watercolor,” she said. “There’s joy in the process; it’s almost meditative.”
Friedman said she finds inspiration easy to come by.
“It’s everywhere,” she said. “It’s in beautiful flowers, tea pots and cups, coffee pots and cups. It’s in the object of the everyday.”
Friedman said she is grateful to nationally acclaimed artists like Janet Fish for elevating the still life objects of the everyday back to a respected art form. She also admires the raw emotion of 20th century Mexican painter, Frida Kahlo.
Friedman also draws her inspiration from her dog, Marty, who passed away three years ago at age 12.
“Painting him has helped me deal with the loss,” she said.
Watercolor paintings of Marty hang on her living room wall as small, simple tributes of her white and brown puppy.
In contrast are her paintings of flowers including yellow daffodils, purple iris, blue and green teapots and a coffee cup with hearts.
Whether she’s teaching or just painting for herself, Friedman feels a healing that comes with creating works of art. She wants to instill that same sense in her students.
“Art is a tool for healing,” Friedman said. “It’s about finding your unique voice and style and then nourishing that unique voice and style.”
Friedman teaches group classes as well as private lessons. For more information on classes at the JCC, visit its website, schenectadyjcc.org and for information on lessons, contact Friedman at email@example.com.