Artist Dawn Rossbach

The Dancer, by Dawn Rossbach

Paint-by-numbers oil painting kits bought for her by her mom, and making little books of drawings from free reams of paper from Lampert Lumber brought home by her dad, helped Dawn Rossbach develop a strong interest in art as a kid. Although she took art classes in high school, she had put the idea of being an artist on hold “for a long time. It was a nice little hobby,” she says.

But her thinking changed, at age 34, when she went back to school, first to Itasca Community College in Grand Rapids and then transferring to Bemidji State University. Planning to be an English teacher, she decided to take a drawing class. “This is my only chance,” she recalls feeling.

It was a turning point for her. Her professor suggested she try for a BFA. “I had no idea what this was, but I jumped through the hoops, not realizing that out of the 10 [art students applying] only two of us got accepted.”

The BFA program put her on the road to becoming an art teacher. She later earned her Master’s in Education at Hamline University. Today she teaches art classes to students in grades 7 through 12 in Menahga, Minn.

Teaching as a springboard

“When I started teaching, my personal art exploration took off,” Rossbach says. She covers a wide range of techniques in her classroom – from printmaking to ceramics to mixed media to “whatever that flavor of the day is.”

Her own artwork reflects that diversity. “I couldn’t possibly narrow it down. I don’t stick to one thing,” she says, when asked to describe her work. “It stretches all over the place. You might not recognize it as being done by the same artist.”

Considering herself a teacher first, Rossbach believes that art instructors need to be active artists themselves. She exhibits her work in galleries a few times a year. She feels that being in exhibits benefits her teaching, and teaching students benefits her own artwork. “You learn from the kids and they learn from you. It’s a nice balance,” Rossbach says.

Inspiration from anywhere

“The Dancer” on this month’s cover emerged from a series Rossbach has been painting of people with a similar, big body shape and narrowly defined legs. This “Naked Waiter” series of paintings tends to be humorous. “It was a ‘let’s play today’ day – that’s how I often work. Ideas sit in my head and kind of percolate,” she says. “When I go to paint, what’s in my head and what comes out on the canvas are two different things. I have learned to embrace that and go with the flow.”

“The Dancer” suggests to Rossbach a time of “silly, little freedom and enjoying life” – a time of dancing with abandon with her then-young daughter to the song “What I Am” by Edie Brickell. “There was no intent with the painting, it wasn’t planned. It happened in the spur of the moment” – likedancing with her daughter. “You grab what life is offering you and take it.”

A conversation or music can get the visual ideas spinning for Rossbach. “I can draw inspiration from just about anything if it intrigues me enough.” An idea that’s been sitting in her head for about 25 years comes from the line “pink houses for you and me,” from a song by John Mellencamp. A series of images is in the works that incorporates pink houses. She loves the process of figuring out composition possibilities and exploring a variety of art mediums.

“I work on something until I’m satisfied – that’s true for a lot of artists. Sometimes, it’s not what I expected. Then I have to walk away from it,” she says.

As a teacher, Rossbach encourages her sometimes reluctant, over-thinking students to just get started. “Something will develop,” she says. “Deep down, the art is going to emerge in some way. If you can tap into that, instead of trying to control it, you can let the art speak back to you,” she says. “It’s a lifetime journey.

If you embrace it early enough, you can create some fabulous stuff.”

FFI: dawnrossbach.com

Check it out! Dawn Rossbach is the illustrator of “The Cookie Garden,” by Linda Henry. To cultivate kids’ and parents’ imaginations, a do-it-yourself cookie-seed packet and instructions on growing your own cookie garden are included. thecookiegarden.com