Mrs. Garret’s advice for artists


Natalia Stanibula, Creative Corner Section Editor

Lisa Garret is currently an art teacher at Argo Community High School. She has worked at Argo for 7 years and teaches classes such as photography and Art I. Previously, she’s worked at several other schools such as one in the Homewood Flossmoor area. She’s painted murals and even created a sculpture signed by the Blackhawks.  

Garret shares her experiences and provides advice for students interested in art as a career path. She went from an English major to becoming an art teacher. She shares the pros and cons of being an artist.  

The following has been edited and condensed. 

Did you go to college for art? 

I did, but not really. I went undergrad to Boston college. I always was a very good writer, so I was an English major, but I continued to take art classes. My family wasn’t artistic and didn’t really see art as a career path.  

I was looking at advertising because I liked art and writing so it was a good combo, but I was sort of lost and I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I traveled and moved to California and lived on the beach for a while. I applied for a couple of advertising jobs, but nothing really came through. While I was looking at that I realized starting salary wasn’t that good—and I wanted to pay my bills, so I moved back to Boston, and I got a job in finance: Which was nothing that I intended on doing. I was doing million-dollar trades, but something was missing, so I started to go to art school. I’d work all day and then I’d get on the train with my big portfolio, and I would go to class at night.  

I loved it.  

I thought that I’d become a children’s book illustrator. I really pursued that and wrote a couple of manuscripts that I had sent to a couple of publishers, but it was a very hard thing to break into. While I was doing this, I met my husband, got married, had a kid, so it really put everything on hold.  

I quit my job.  

I was a stay-at-home mom for a while, and I started volunteering at my kid’s preschool. I did a lesson once for kindergarteners. At the end of the lesson, this little boy came up to me and I can still picture it. He had spikey hair and was covered in blue paint. He looked at me and said, “This was the best day of my life.” He was so sincere and so happy. It was my “aha moment.” It made me feel so good. Better than any job I had before.  

Was it just the joy that brought you to art? 

For me, seeing the joy on that kid’s face changed me. He was floored and so was I, but I still didn’t do art right away. I continued to do it on the side, which was great, but I needed to do something else. That’s when I went back to school to get a teaching certificate in art. When I went back to school, I was older with a ton of young kids. I took classes until I achieved a master’s degree. After that, when I started searching for a teaching job, they were very hard to come by.  

Do you think students should switch their majors in college or even double major in art? 

I do. I think it makes parents more comfortable, too. Double majoring isn’t that hard if you’re an organized, academic person. If you love art, then it’s work that is driven by love. I would always recommend that, but I also hate telling kids to go to art schools if they’re not one hundred percent sure. 

Creativity is the number one skill that modern employers are looking for. You can have an art background and still be hired and valued. Making art on the side is also good. If you have a dream to be a sculptor, then that’s great, but your creativity can make you a valued employee in any industry. They know you can do stuff that other people can’t. For example, I had a girl who was trying to go to Northwestern. She took a lot of hard classes; she was in a band and did all these things. She came to me and started taking my class. She said, “I need to make an art portfolio for photography.” I asked her why, and she said, “I look like every other smart kid. I’ve done all the same classes, I’m in National Honor Society, and we do all the same things–I need something that makes me stand out.”  

What do you recommend beginner artists to take? 

It really depends on the area you want to go into. Pursue art if that’s your dream, but you also have to find out how to make yourself marketable. Skills like photoshopping, illustrating, and graphic design are nice things to have on the side. Taking business classes and art history classes are also good to take. 

Anything else?  

Get yourself out there. The internet is a huge tool to use to market yourself. You can create a presence on the internet and sell your work without ever having to be “discovered.” Obviously, that’s the dream, but it’s not a reality for a lot of people.  

Keep making art. Never stop making art. I think if you find your way making art—good for you: mentally and spiritually. I love coming to my job every day and I still get up in the morning and I’m excited. I still get kids that come up to me and say, “You’re the reason I come to school.” There’s nothing that anyone could give me that would be more meaningful than that.