We chatted with Waldorf teacher, Brian Wolfe (you can find his materials on our website HERE and HERE) and asked him some questions about his life as a Waldorf teacher and his amazing chalk board drawings.
Your chalk drawings have become popular on Youtube with amost 40,000 views. So a lot of people know you as “that guy who does the cool chalk drawings”. But what do your friends and family know you as?
While I love chalk art, I’d have to say that a lot of people know me as a guy who loves to be at home with his family- cooking, playing the guitar, and shooting baskets at the park. My family sees more of the artistic side of me with music and chalk drawing, etc, and my friends see the sports side of me as a Waldorf games/Movement teacher and high school varsity basketball coach.
Being a Waldorf Teacher we know that chalk drawing comes with the territory but not every teacher is as passionate about it as you may be. What drives your passion for creating with chalk?
When I was first exposed to Waldorf, I fell in love with chalk drawing right away. I love the temporary nature of chalk art. It can move and change. You can overlap and quickly erase. You can fill large spaces with color and you can make intricate geometric drawings. It’s fits so well with the Waldorf curriculum. For me, the process of doing a chalk drawing is a lot like telling a story… with pictures.
When you were a child did you play with chalk in the driveway? Did you like art as a child? Was there any indication that this is one thing you would be doing when you “grew up”?
My father is an architect, a painter , and owns his own community theater. I’ve always felt like I grew up in an art school. My love for chalk art is directly related to growing up in a theater/performing arts family. As a child, I wanted to contribute at the theater but my shyness kept me off of the stage. I began working backstage as a backdrop painter, painting scenes like the snowy village for “A Christmas Carol” and the country landscape in “The Sound of Music.” This is also where I got used to the temporary nature of my artwork. Backdrops must be painted over again and again, much like chalkboards must be erased.
What is one tip you would give new parents or teachers trying out chalk drawing for the first time? I know that downloading and watching your videos was very helpful to me and many of my members. But after a person learns a little bit sometimes they get scared to try another one or try one on their own.
One tip for new chalk artists is to think of it more like painting than drawing. Focus on shading and color more than lines and form at first. I like to tell my students “Let’s get the color and the basic shapes on the board first. We’ll bring it all into focus (with gestures/lines) later.”
We see a lot of amazing chalk drawings you have done. I think that scares a lot of parents and teachers. They assume that if they don’t have that level of expertise that their chalk drawings are not “good enough”. Can you explain to those people what actually makes a chalk drawing “good enough” for the class? Is it the artistic quality alone or are there other factors? (like the material presented, way it is presented, medium of chalk in general, etc…)
I’ve always felt like everyone is an artist and every artist still has a lot to learn. I hope that takes the pressure off a little bit because I feel like I still have so much to learn about chalk art. I think there are two important qualities that make a chalk drawing successful: 1) The image is living inside the teacher and the students, meaning the class has heard stories, looked at pictures, studied a particular subject, etc. 2) The students see the teacher or parent striving to become better as he/she teaches/draws. I think a love of creating beautiful images for the children and a willingness to strive for improvement is the best anyone can do.
What is one tip you would give parents and teachers to help them practice chalk drawing for their own classes?
Include a foreground, middle ground, and background in your drawings. Start in the background and work your way to the foreground by overlapping the chalk. Also, think color first, then form.
There is always a lot of discussion in the community about what kind of chalk is the best to use. What are your thoughts on this subject?
I feel most confident using Mercurius chalk (12 stick pack of assorted colors) but I’d like to start experimenting with different brands. I prefer the chalk to be fairly dry. There are some good options for chalk pastels that work on the chalkboard. I also enjoy single sticks of cheap, white chalkboard chalk. Black and white chalk drawing (in the style of Frederick Whitney) can be very powerful in a classroom or at home. I always keep a few extra sticks of black around.
We created a blackboard at home using blackboard paint. It functions as a chalkboard but does not give the results a real chalkboard gives. Why is that?
I’ve struggled with that myself. I think the smoothest surface possible is best for a homemade chalkboard. I’ve also found that blending the colors with my fingers helps my drawings look better on a rough chalkboard. “Priming” a new chalk surface (spreading white chalk all over the surface, rubbing it in a bit with your fingers, and then wiping it clean) also helps a great deal by filling in the dips and microscopic holes in the chalk surface, thus making it a smoother surface to work on.
What are your favorite hobbies when you are not teaching?
I love to play the guitar. I currently play in a blues band made up of Waldorf teachers and parents. I also love coaching basketball. I coach varsity girls basketball at a Waldorf high school in California.
What did you dream of being when you were growing up? Was it a teacher? Or something else?
I always hoped to do something with art or sports. I definitely never thought I would be a teacher. As a child, I think it was more along the lines of rock star or professional athlete!
Who is one person in your life that has inspired your path and why?
My Dad is a military man who reinvented himself as an artist. He taught be to appreciate art and he always told me that I could be really good at whatever I decided to do as long as I worked hard.
And now some fun questions…
What is your favorite breakfast?
Sunny side up eggs (from our chickens at home!) with lots of tabasco sauce and bacon
What is your favorite animal?
The playful, aloof house cat…we have two.
What is your favorite song, book or movie?
Song: “Little Wing” by Jimi Hendrix
Name the most embarrassing thing that has happened to you in all your years of teaching.
10 years ago, I had a group of four first grade boys start peeing in the bushes in the middle of Games class…. on my second day EVER as a teacher!
If you could go back 20 years and tell your old self something what would it be?
When the Universe is trying to tell you something, listen!
Have you ever traveled outside the United States? If so, where. If not, where would you go?
I am married to a beautiful Canadian woman. Every summer we take an epic trip with the kids from California to New Brunswick, Canada to visit her family.
What is one unusual talent you have that a lot of people don’t know about (break dancing, saying the alphabet backwards, touching your tongue to your nose, etc…)?
I can draw with both hands.