Erica Beyea is the founder of Toronto’s Fine Oak Art School. She attended OCAD & NSCAD for fine art and Humber College for public relations. She’s worked as a curator, gallery assistant and teacher across Canada.
Opening my own little art school seemed like a total dream. I thought it was something I’d have to do after I made a lot of money. After studying fine arts, I did a PR program to get a job to make some money. Six months after graduating, I went into the Ontario Self-Employment Benefit program with money my brother lent me. I basically winged it and everything fell beautifully into place.
It all worked together. At first, I thought I’d have to get a live/work loft space or somehow do it out of my apartment. Then I started working at the Liberty Village Kids Art Centre right in the middle of the application process for OSEB and the owner Cheryl Johnston said, ‘Well, we’re not using the space in the evenings or on weekends so let’s share it.’ She’s very open-minded and helpful. We talked about putting in a darkroom. I’d like a kiln to do ceramics but that’s crazy because I’d have to build a vent and get the electrical separate.
Painting is what I do. It’s what I’m best at teaching. I can do drawing classes but I prefer to have someone else teach at least part of it. Jess Riva Cooper did a drawing class for me in January and right now Stewart Jones teaches. I also book special event artist talks and workshops.
It’s been a lot of word of mouth. I have flyers around and do one-on-one sales at drinking establishments. I’ll be at Communist’s Daughter or something and talking to people who are interested. They meet me and they’re like, ‘Ok, I can do this.’
I do some of my own drawing in here because I like the space. I don’t use oil paints in here because there’s kids around. I have a studio in my apartment sunroom for that. It’s also good can’t-sleep-gotta-paint which happens to me a lot–more so since I started Fine Oak Art School. Anxiety runs pretty high when you start your own business.
The school definitely takes away from my painting time but it ultimately pays off. When you explain everything you know about colour or whatever, you’re forced to think about it more so teaching informs my personal practise in a really great way. The hours I’m dedicating are less but I feel like it’s higher quality time. However, I’m spending no time on trying to show. That’s something that’s completely fallen off but I figure in a few years, when hopefully this place is really going, I can focus a lot more time on my painting.
I love teaching. I think there’s something so special about that moment where you get turned on to art. I remember myself in high school waking up early just so I could go to the art room–so excited about it. I still am, but it becomes more serious as you progress as an artist. I like being surrounded by that first excitement and helping people find it. It’s the more pure, less business side of art.
–Erica Beyea, as told to Studio Beat
Photos by D.A. Cooper
Visit Erica Beyea’s website for the Fine Oak Art School here.