The Joyce of teaching

While she doesn’t sport a beard or host a public television series, visual art teacher Joyce Chen shares Bob Ross’s joy for teaching others to paint. In fact, Chen has been keeping her online students engaged — and entertained — during the spring term with instructional painting videos, even going so far as to impersonate the legendary frizzy-haired artist and television host. 

So why would a high school art teacher dress up as an 80’s pop culture icon? Chen remembers watching Ross on television as a child and when she found herself in the position to deliver video art lessons, it just seemed like a no-brainer. “One of my friends said, ‘You should be Bob Ross, Joyce!’ ”

But Chen takes her work very seriously, creating numerous video lessons in a range of artistic media from painting still life to time-lapse drawing demonstrations to collage. She says that for many of her students, making art is an important escape during these challenging times. 

While Chen acknowledges the difficulties of teaching a hands-on subject in a very hands-off world, her colleagues have been impressed by her ability to forge ahead. “She's found ways to adapt previous projects to our strange circumstances so that she can approximate the experience that a Peddie student typically has in the classroom,” said Director of Visual Arts Cathy Watkins.  

In some ways, the video lessons create added value that couldn’t be achieved in a traditional learning environment. Chen says that pre-recorded video is useful because students can go back and watch a demonstration multiple times to master a technique. She has also used effects like time-lapse to speed up the lengthy process of a fully rendered drawing and music to add a sense of momentum to the experience.

Art Department Chair Alan Michaels admires that Chen is “looking forward not back, effortlessly clearing current hurdles, and engaging students in creative and innovative ways.” He goes on to say that Chen makes it look easy by working extremely hard. “Through her video shorts, Joyce demonstrates a terrific sense of humor, extreme competence as a teacher, an understanding of how to maximize her students’ time in the virtual arts studio, and frankly, has raised the bar for every other teacher,” he said. 

At a time when many are struggling to find ways to connect, Peddie’s Joyce Chen has proven that it’s not only possible, but that it can be done masterfully and with joy.