Originally Brett Colon never intended to pursue art — however, after her portfolio was accepted into the University of Connecticut’s arts program, she never looked back. She recalls how one professor in particular instilled the faith in herself that she needed, giving her the resources, strategies, and time to help her succeed. Ms. Colon aspires to be a mentor in the very same way for her Franklin students as Head of our Visual Arts Program.
Ms. Colon’s passion for implementing an innovative curriculum with a focus on creative problem-solving skills is at the core of who she is. We sat down with Ms. Colon to hear about her engagement with different art forms, including music, and what she hopes to share with Franklin students.
Please tell us a bit about your background.
I knew from an early age that I wanted to teach and that a master’s degree would enable be to do that. After attending private school from Kindergarten through grade 12, I went to the University of Connecticut, where I ended up studying illustration and animation for my bachelor’s degree. From there, I received my master of fine arts degree in illustration from Western Connecticut State University. While wanting to teach visual arts, during graduate school, I was offered this really cool opportunity to teach music at New Windsor Academy in New York State, while earning my degree. I taught piano and guitar there for three and a half years in addition to taking classes and undertaking my graduate teaching assistantship. For the last two years, I taught visual arts at Watkinson School, a private school in Hartford, CT.
What drew you to Franklin?
I was attracted to learn more about Franklin when I learned about the School’s unique emphasis on incorporating innovation and technology into the curriculum. At Watkinson School, I was able to create four different courses and revamp the visual arts program from scratch, so I look forward to tapping into my experience to support Franklin students through innovation in the classroom, which includes the integration of technology in exciting ways. Additionally, cross-curricular development is something that I’m especially interested in, so I’m excited to collaborate with my Franklin colleagues in other departments.
Why are you passionate about teaching visual arts?
To me, visual arts are about creative problem solving, which is the foundation for everything that I do. I really enjoy teaching students how to actively problem solve in the classroom in real-life situations.
Each medium offers the freedom to create, but also has its own constraints and nuance. I enjoy being able to work up to, and then overcome, those challenges. I’m someone who likes to experiment with different media because it keeps me on my toes. It also allows me to see my students’ perspectives when they’re trying a new medium. Inventing, experimenting, and creatively problem solving with different media to see what happens are crucial elements for students to practice.
How can technology and art combine for students interested in starting their own business?
The first key, of course, is having equal access to those media. We live in a digital world where the components of graphic design and illustration are seen and present everywhere. Having access to platforms like Adobe Suite to create your own advertising for your business, for example, is now an important consideration for students interested in entrepreneurship or marketing. Additionally, having the vocabulary to talk about design and branding with others who are professionals is important to inform your choices, so it’s helpful for students to become familiar with these if they want to work in marketing or hire experts for their own enterprises. Ultimately, the relationship between technology and art will continue to evolve, as it becomes more crucial to the demands of the workplace.
When you teach photography, what are some of the things you emphasize?
Photography was one of the courses that I helped to redesign at Watkinson, and part of the course focused on trying to help students understand why, when, and where we use DSLR cameras when we have cell phone cameras. We also wanted to make sure that students understand that if they’re using a cell phone camera, they can do things on a regular basis like adjusting the aperture to make them more conscious of their choices. I’ve noticed when students use DSLR cameras, they’re more conscious of their compositions, even though they’re digital; students tend to think that a photo taken by a professional camera is more “precious.” The same principles, however, can be put in place for taking photos with a cell phone: the rule of thirds, focal point, blurring, depth of field, etc. If you take the time to understand and go through the steps, you can create a quality photo with either camera.
Which medium do you prefer when creating your own art?
Watercolor and ink are the media I’m most passionate about and the most familiar with. With oil, you can always correct your mistakes, but watercolor is a medium where it's harder to do that, so every move you make is very intentional and requires you to really be present in the moment; it’s something that centers me as I think the process through. Additionally, if you do make a mistake, how can you fix it? The limitations and challenges of watercolor and ink actually really draw me to them from a creative problem-solving perspective.
You are also passionate about music. Please tell us about that.
Growing up, my grandfather owned a Steinway piano and I remember his playing vividly. He offered to teach me but I didn’t become serious about it until age 13 — I don’t know what clicked, but playing piano became a safe, calming activity for me. Music is freeing because you can read and play what’s on the page, but there’s still room to improvise and make it your own. Being able to share that with music students at New Windsor Academy was an unbelievable experience. One of my students ended up attending Berklee College of Music in Boston! Seeing my passion pass onto the next generation was so exciting and rewarding.
What are you most excited about when Franklin opens this fall?
The limitless opportunities with the curriculum, having the opportunity to experiment and create, and finally being a part of this exciting new community!
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