Fine Art: Local artist to lead class on trail of creative thinking

George Thwaites • Apr 20, 2013 at 12:48 PM

KINGSPORT — You can’t be Patti Lawrence. But you can train your brain to look at the world more like she does.

That is the contention of the prolific Kingsport artist, who’ll be teaching a course in creativity enhancement at Star Trails Downtown in Kingsport this June.

“I’m a highly creative person. I’ve realized over the years that it’s not that I was born this way. I had ways to nurture my creativity in ways that most people don’t know how to. Or don’t give themselves time to,” said Lawrence, whose grant-winning polymer sculpture, “Birds of a Feather,” can be seen in the stairwell atrium of Kingsport’s Higher Education Center.

“I would hope that visual artists would be interested in this class. Some of the assignments will be visual problem-solving activities. But anyone should be able to expand their creativity by participating,” she said.

At first glance, catching up with Lawrence’s creativity would seem to be a pretty tall order. Her highly recognizable work can be seen in various locations in Kingsport.

Several of her sculptures and paintings are on display at the old Freels building on Broad Street as part of “Project Storefront,” which is co-sponsored by Urban Synergy and KingsportARTS! One of her larger metal sculptures — titled “Work Horse” — is currently on the front lawn of her home in Fair Acres.

“It’s made of rusty farm implements. Nobody has complained. Everybody has positive things to say. People slow down to see what it is and bring their kids to have a closer look,” said the New Jersey native, who moved to Kingsport in 1995 with her engineer husband, Eddie, and now-teenaged son, Alex.

Like most trained professional artists, Lawrence knows how to produce conventional compositions, both representational and abstract. In recent years, however, she has taken great pleasure in seeing pieces emerge as she explores the limitations — and surprising possibilities — of eclectic materials, both old and n e w.

“Birds of a Feather,” a semiabstract mobile which depicts a flock of birds in flight, was made from multicolored PET bottles. The work was intended to connote the environmental theme of recycling. At the Gallery of Local Artists, which she operated on Broad Street from 2007 to 2010, she sold a series of sculpture lamps composed of clusters of colorful, translucent plastic water pistols.

“It dawned on me how pretty the light would be, shining through them,” Lawrence said. “I really had to hunt around to find enough of them to make the lamps.”

Lawrence holds a master’s degree in art education, but she gave up full-time teaching years ago because it didn’t leave her enough time to make her own art.

She hasn’t entirely abandoned pedagogy but only practices it on her own terms. She recently gave a weekend workshop on memory jugs and trinket boxes at the Renaissance Center through the Kingsport Art Guild.

The June creativity class is one of her pet projects.

“It’s something I’ve wanted to teach for a long time, ” she said. “I want to teach people how to use their brains in a different way than is usually called for in everyday thinking. It’s for people to add more creativity to whatever kind of work they do.”

Most people are habituated to solve problems according to stepby-step logic, where one or more lines of inquiry converge upon a final “correct” (or at least, optimal) solution.

“Creative thinking isn’t linear. It’s more like a spiral. And it isn’t convergent. It’s divergent. There can be more than one answer and there is no wrong answer,” she said.

Not that some creative solutions to a given problem don’t have advantages over the others. A more flexible mind is usually able to recognize the more elegant solutions when they present themselves.

“It’s a lot of fun, but being creative is also a lot of work,” Lawrence cautioned. “Sometimes I get on a really creative roll and I’m jotting down idea after idea. I get so exhausted, I have to lie down and take a nap.”

The classes will be held every Thursday evening in June, from 6:30 through 8 p.m. Cost is $100, covering all four sessions and must be paid in full at registration. For more information, contact Star Trails Downtown or contact Lawrence at (423) 245-5422.

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