A local art company, celebrating its fifth anniversary, is working to teach students the power of art and how it can serve as a reflection of who they are and what they have learned throughout life.
Reflect Visual Arts (RVA) is a venture that was started by artist Abby Little. According to its website, “RVA is an arts education and commissioned artwork enterprise — encouraging growth in students and offering beautiful and masterful works for homes and workplaces across the country.”
“Oftentimes I have to look at the company in two, separate ways: the identity of teaching classes and the identity of me producing artwork,” said Little, who has been making art in some form since the age of 4 and has more than 14 years of classical art training. “I love teaching classes, but I still just have a love for sitting down and creating, myself.”
One aspect of Little’s work at RVA is her outreach to local students. When she started the company in 2010, Little accepted a vacant art teacher position at Hope Christian School. As the years have progressed, her number of classes at Hope Christian increased and she has expanded her teaching to other schools.
She now has a studio space in Adamsville and teaches 10 classes at Hope Christian, two at Knollwood Christian School in Sylacauga, and two at Cornerstone Cooperative. She also has offered art instruction to Girl Scouts troops, churches and classical groups. She has even introduced online lessons, where she works with students via Skype, Google Hangouts or Apple FaceTime.
Aside from group and online sessions, Little does private training for 12 to 15 students at various locations around town. “My studio is my creative home,” she said. “But I couldn’t just sit in this room and draw inspiration from it. I have a great relationship with Seeds Coffee. I give a lot of private lessons there. And I love sitting in that coffee shop, meeting new people and talking with the staff.”
One of Little’s hopes for her students is that they will take more time with their work and not focus so much on instant gratification. “The concept of sitting and working on something that takes a long time to produce [a] good reward is just not one children have,” she said.
Another of her goals for her students is that they will continue to reflect on what they have learned. “Until I was about 17 or 18, I was a very good mimicker,” Little said. “And that’s how I teach my students. I teach them to go out and find artists and styles that you like and want to learn about, and mimic, mimic, mimic. Then follow the family tree of where [their artistic influences] get their ideas from.
“Now, you know where he got his inspiration from; now, go find where she got her inspiration from,” Little continued. “And by doing that, you will find your own style. You’re going to make a lot of bad stuff, though. It’s just going to happen.”
Even though Little’s initial focus with RVA was teaching, after one experience in particular, she began to expand her offerings. “Within the first couple of years, I didn’t do a lot of personal work, because I was just trying to develop systems and get my hand into what I was teaching,” she said.
“But the third year, I had a gallery contact me and say, ‘Hey, we have a little sample of your work, and would you be interested in doing a gallery of 25 paintings?” She accepted the offer, and ever since then has been working on other custom orders to go along with her teaching.
Little also has been willing to work on branding for local small businesses on occasion, as well as creating paper goods such as cards and calendars. Last year, she worked on a Birmingham-themed calendar that became a very popular seller with people living in and around the downtown area. In addition, she offers wedding packages, in which she will paint a bridal bouquet, groom boutonnière, or any special moment that is associated with the occasion.
Little uses a variety of media, such as oil, acrylic, calligraphy, water color, mixed media and drawing. “I work with a variety of different acrylic paints,” she said. “I love the professional grade paints, but sometimes they’re a little costly. I love watercolors. They are one of my favorites. I enjoy drawing, and I do a lot of it with my students. But I don’t love it. It’s fun, I’ll do it, and hopefully somebody will think I do it well. But it’s not my favorite. I like to paint more,” she said.
“I tend to be a little seasonal with how I paint,” Little said. When it’s possible, she uses thicker mediums, such as oil and acrylic, in the fall and winter months, while opting for lighter colors in the spring and summer.
In describing how she came up with the name for her company, Little said, “We are reflections reflecting on reflections.” She believes that creativity is largely predicated on a constant bouncing off of ideas from person to person; what once was learned is then taught, and the cycle continues. Her aim is to help others to reflect their own, unique visions to the world.
“There was a song that I loved [at the time of RVA’s inception] that was about how we are the moon, and God’s the sun, and we are a reflection of his light,” Little said. “The moon is just this cold, dark stone, lest we have a reflection there. I thought about how I was just a reflection of what I had read, what I had been taught, and it made me a unique reflection of whatever I had been taught.”
Faith is a cornerstone to Little’s work, whether it is associated with RVA or in a more personal capacity. She feels that it teaches her patience and makes her very considerate to the situations of others. “I love the scripture that says, ‘My teaching is not my own. It comes from him who sent me.’ I know that I’m being used as a means of healing, a lot of times, in my students’ lives,” she said. “The art is very healing to them.
“The culmination of a supportive family, and them finding me a support system — putting me in art classes, finding me great tutors — really brought me to where I am today,” Little said.