Visual Art Center (VAC) Demo Day – Punta Gorda, Florida

Having the opportunity to travel around Southwest Florida, I get to meet some awesome folks. There are so many creative people out there, creating in so many different mediums, it’s really amazing. Recently, at the Visual Art Center (VAC) in Punta Gorda, Florida, they had a teacher demo day. This is a great way to see what the center has to offer as well as meet with fellow instructors to see what they are up to. The VAC is a special place to me as this is where I got my “out of corporate” teaching start. I was referred by one of my friends in town. He told me I should go over and meet with the executive director and see if I would be an asset to their curriculum. That was about six years ago. Teaching that was one of the facets of my business, took center stage over time. As of this writing, I’m currently teaching at 15 different venues. Either I’m dedicated, or someone needs to fit me for a straight jacket! I really enjoy meeting new folks who are hungry to extend their knowledge for photography and image editing. As an instructor, there isn’t a better feeling as watching someone work through an exercise and accomplish what they are trying to do.

I was supposed to demo some Photoshop and photography stuff while I was there. However, I took the camera “just in case”. As luck would have it, when I arrived the place was full of people. When I got to the computer lab, the other Photoshop instructor had arrived and was going to take the first leg of the demos. I unpacked my camera and decided that I would take a few photos for the center in case they could use them on their site. I made my way out into one of galleries and I was greeted with some old friends and students. Of course, we had to catch up to see what everyone was doing. Needless to say, time was flying by at a rapid pace. From an instructor’s point of view, I see some of these folks on a weekly basis, however I really don’t know what they do or how they do it. I’m so busy keeping my own class together that I loose track of all the other cool stuff that is happening around me. These demo days gives even instructors a chance to see what other instructors are doing.

Before I left the house, I knew this place would be dark to the camera and has high ceilings in the galleries. I armed myself with a couple of lenses, my 18mm-200mm and 50mm f/1.4. I also packed a couple of flashes. When I arrived, the place was packed so I wanted what was going to work for the least amount of hassle. This was going to be a fluid situation and there wasn’t going to be a lot of time to be tinkering around with settings. I choose the 18mm-200mm for the versatility of the zoom. Granted, this wasn’t going to be as good as the 50mm, but sometimes you have to use what is going to make your life easier. I also attached my Nikon Speedlight to the camera’s hot shoe. This is what was going to be my saving grace. I had a pocket full of bullets (camera cards) and I was off.

 Rosalie Mack draws from an image on her iPhone at the visual art center in Punta Gorda, Florida. Photographed by Spencer Pullen.Rosalie Mack – Spencer Pullen © 2013 All Rights Reserved

I had the honor to meet Rosalie a couple of months ago. She taught an art history class as well as a drawing class. I need to take this from her, as I can’t run a pencil or brush to save my life. She was working on a piece that was on her phone. I thought what a great idea, isn’t technology great…when it works? As for the camera settings, I choose ISO 400, f/5.6 at 1/60. The reason for these settings is that I didn’t want the flash to work too hard and stress the batteries. I choose ISO 400, this will allow me to use a lower flash power. The aperture was set to f/5.6, this is the widest setting that I can use on this particular lens when it’s zoomed out to 200mm. This way, I don’t have to worry about my exposure changing since I’m zooming and my aperture is closing down. This is why constant aperture lenses are so much better, but really expensive. The sync speed on my camera is 1/250, I tried this and it looked terrible. The result was about as good as a photo taken at the DMV, not something that I would want to stick my name on. In this case, I slowed down the shutter speed to allow some of the ambient light to mix in and light the background of the scene. I changed the shutter speed to 1/60 of a second. This gave a more realistic look without it screaming FLASH!

 Pat Bacon shows a student how to start in watercolor at the visual art center in Punta Gorda, Florida. Photographed by Spencer Pullen.Pat Bacon – Spencer Pullen © 2013 All Rights Reserved

Pat Bacon was showing some prospective students how she creates with watercolor. I’ve known Pat for a while and she is a very talented artist. While I was photographing in this space, I took the flash and bounced it off the ceiling to soften the light. I set the flash to ¼ power and we were off to the races. This illuminated the scene with nice even soft light.

 Dianne Brooks demos how she prepares metal for working on the anvil at the visual art center in Punta Gorda, Florida. Photographed by Spencer Pullen.Dianne Brooks – Spencer Pullen © 2013 All Rights Reserved

Dianne and I have classes next to each other. Every time I walk by, she is working with some kind of power tool. She works with metal and makes some amazing art with it. In the above photo, she is showing how she trims the material and gets it ready for shaping on the anvil.

 Annette Combs demonistrates how to basket weave at the visual art center in Punta Gorda, Florida. Photographed by Spencer Pullen.Annette Combs – Spencer Pullen © 2013 All Rights Reserved

I looked into this room and at the end of the table; I saw some really detailed baskets. Annette was working on creating another basket for her demo. I had never seen how these baskets were put together, I was impressed how she was able to take some raw materials and create something that would be functional.

 Belinda Duclos solders stained glass at the visual art center in Punta Gorda, Florida. Photographed by Spencer Pullen.Belinda Duclos – Spencer Pullen © 2013 All Rights Reserved

Belinda also has classes across the hallway from me and she gets to play with fire. Again, I think this is a class every guy should take. I mean, who doesn’t like to work with a blowtorch every now and again? In this photo, she is showing a student how she solders pieces of glass together to make a stained glass piece. It was neat to see her score the glass, shape it and solder it together, pretty amazing stuff.

 Howard Hartke shows students how to stamp a piece of clay at the visual art center in Punta Gorda, Florida. Photographed by Spencer Pullen.Howard Hartke – Spencer Pullen © 2013 All Rights Reserved

Howard is one of the pottery instructors. I’m usually on the other side of the building so I don’t get a chance to see what the pottery folks are doing. Here, Howard is showing how he stamped a piece of clay and was enhancing it with some tools.

 Jack Vartanian starts to spin a piece of clay at the visual art center in Punta Gorda, Florida. Photographed by Spencer Pullen.Jack Vartanian – Spencer Pullen © 2013 All Rights Reserved

Jack was one of the original instructors that I met when I first got started at the VAC. He is always fun to talk with, and has an upbeat attitude. I hate to say it, but until this demo day, I never saw Jack spin a piece of clay. This was really an amazing experience seeing a hunk of clay staring to take shape.

 Jack Vartanian finishes a piece of pottery at the visual art center in Punta Gorda, Florida. Photographed by Spencer Pullen.Jack Vartanian – Finished Bowl – Spencer Pullen © 2013 All Rights Reserved

In a matter of minutes, Jack created this beautiful bowl. I was expecting the sides to wobble around, but not this one. He had the sides and top absolutely perfect. I guess this is what years of experience gets you. This looks easy, but Jack is a skilled artist and I’m sure he’s spent many hours at the wheel perfecting his technique.

 Rosemary Rizzo shows how to create mosaic art at the visual art center in Punta Gorda, Florida. Photographed by Spencer Pullen.Rosemary Rizzo – Spencer Pullen © 2013 All Rights Reserved

This was my first time meeting Rosemary. Like all the other instructors at the VAC, she is very talented. Her specialty is mosaics. As you can see from the photo, she is showing an onlooker some of the options that she has to decorate her flower pot. It has always fascinated me to see how a bunch of shapes come together to make a new visual piece of art.

 Don Melander explains how he paints from his sketches at the visual art center in Punta Gorda, Florida. Photographed by Spencer Pullen.Don Melander – Spencer Pullen © 2013 All Rights Reserved

Don took one of my classes awhile back and he is multi talented. He’s showing a prospective student how he works from his sketch to a painting. I also had the pleasure to see one of Don’s pieces that he drew in pencil. I couldn’t believe all the detail that he was able to achieve in his drawing.

It was a great event. I didn’t get a chance to visit with all the instructors that were putting on demos, so I’ll have to do that next time around. It was nice to see some old friends and make some new ones. Visit your local art center and see what classes are being offered. There is usually something for everyone, no matter what your level of skill is. These classes are also a great way to support your community and make new friends.

Until next time…

Keep Your Glass Clean


  1. I like this as I never have been to a Demo day. Great shots as always. Thanks for sharing.

  2. It does look like it was a great event. Thank you, as always, for your commentary and photography tips!

  3. Nice job, Spencer. It really looked like a great day and interesting to see all the talent the Art Center has available to teach in the community.
    Also enjoyed you explaining the technique used with each flash shot. Thanks.

  4. Hi Spenser,
    Thanks for photographing us on Teacher Demo Day, you captured all of us doing what we love – sharing our art with others and encouraging them to give it a try.
    Patt Bacon

  5. Great pics as always.

    Signed up for your HDR class in Englewood at the Art Center. Very sorry to hear it was canceled. Hopefully I can catch the next one. Was looking forward to working with you again.

  6. Spencer

    There are some amazing folks who work with the Visual Art Center. If you live in the area, stop by and see what they are up to.

    If you have to photograph indoors, just remember to point your flash at the ceiling. This will help light the space without any harsh highlights on your subject.



  7. Thanks for putting this together. It is good to learn more photography skills from you and also good to see VAC instructors doing what they love to do. Agree there are many amazing and talented people out there. Had the pleasure of meeting Dianne Brooks when I first visited FL. She is a super lady with lots of talent and a joy to be around.
    Wish I had time to take classes from all these instructors.
    Thanks for the post!

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