Carol Zika has a teaching style as unique as each of her students. With gentle encouragement, she uses her wealth of professional knowledge and experience to guide students in unlocking their creative potential.
Zika, who lives in Randallstown, teaches classes through Columbia Art Center and Howard County Department Recreation and Parks. She also teaches at the Community College of Baltimore County, Zika Studios and Ghost Ranch, a retreat and educational center in New Mexico.
Frank Brusca, 81, of Columbia credits Zika with discovering his talent. When he took his first class from Zika in 1992, "Right-Brain Drawing," he said he doubted that anyone could teach him to draw.
"In 1992, I met Carol in the senior center in Randallstown," Brusca said. "I asked her what she was doing there, and she replied, 'Teaching students how to draw from the right side of the brain.' I answered with, 'I doubt, at 70 years of age, you can teach me how to draw.' "
In "Right Brain Drawing," students learn to draw what they see. Zika said that as children, people develop symbols for what they see and attach words to them. For example, say "tree" to a person, and he or she will conjure a picture of a tree. People tend to draw the symbol in their mind's eye, not what they see before them.
In Zika's class, which is based on the principles of the book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards, students do art exercises that retrain their eye so they can break away from drawing learned symbols. One exercise is to draw a picture upside down. Zika said that when students turn the drawing around, they are astounded to find nearly perfect pictures.
For Brusca, learning to draw was an experience that opened a world of creativity. Later, Zika encouraged him to try watercolors, which is now his "most-loved medium," he said.
Unlike many traditional art classes, in Zika's "You Can Draw and Paint," students use any medium they prefer. Some work with oils and acrylics, while others choose pastels, pen and ink, or colored pencils.
Columbia resident Betty Myers, 55, a watercolorist and mask maker, uses a computer as her medium in Zika's class. With Zika's guidance, Myers said, she was able to create the perfect logo for a church program's Web site.
"Carol can assist you to think about what good design is regardless of the medium," Myers said. "What I like is her gentleness and her ability to zero in quickly on where your [error] is without making a big deal about the [error]. Then she will highlight what you can do as an alternative."
Jackie Schiffer of Columbia, who works mainly in watercolors and pastels, agreed. "When Carol tells you to do something with your painting and you follow through, you'll find out it was usually the thing to do."
Zika said the desire to create is something many students have always had. "But people need a teacher to connect with and a place to go. If they don't, they will not do the art," she said.
That was the experience of Eileen Zuckman of Columbia, who found that Zika's classes gave her inspiration, guidance and a designated time to paint. "Carol is a great teacher," Zuckman said. "She knows a lot about material, applications, techniques and media."
Zika credits her broad knowledge of art media to a master's degree in art education from the University of Illinois and her experience as a watercolorist, jewelry designer and craftswoman.
Sometimes a talent lies dormant for many years. For one of Zika's students, it was for 90.
Because the student had limitations, Zika gave her pictures of elaborate stained-glass windows and an array of markers. She thought coloring would be challenging enough. However, this visionary artist-in-waiting set the coloring book aside and reproduced by freehand the intricate pictures, using color combinations and detail.
This 90-year-old created beautiful art for many more years, Zika said.
Her youth classes, "Teen Time Drawing" (for ages 13 to 17) and "Drawing for Youth" (for ages 9 to 12), are designed with students' developmental needs in mind.
Zika said many 9-year-olds are still "drawing from their heads, but some are starting to cross over into realism." Children can become frustrated if they do not get the right instruction for their developmental level. Zika says this is where their artistic development often halts.
"I loved to draw as a child," Zika said. "I want to enable children to learn to open their vision and perceptual power so they, too, can draw what they see."
At Ghost Ranch, a 21,000-acre retreat center in Abiquiu, N.M., Zika has taught summer workshops for four years. Here her courses incorporate the inspiration of the Southwestern landscape.
In one class, students meet outdoors and quietly focus on the scenes around them. Then Zika challenges them to paint for 10 minutes using only pure color.
"The results are magnificent," Zika said.
Information on classes taught by Carol Zika: Columbia Art Center in Long Reach, 410-730-0075; Howard County Recreation and Parks, 410-313- 7279, or www.co.ho.md.us; Zika Studios in Randallstown, 410-922-3628; the Community College of Baltimore County/Continuing Education, 410- 869-0296, or www.ccbcmd.edu; Ghost Ranch, Abiquiu, N.M., 877-804-4678 or www.ghost ranch.org.