There’s no quitting in art. “We don’t crumple up our paper; we’re going to solve our problems,” says Tori Webb Pendergrass, an artist and Preston Hollow neighbor.
When Pendergrass is teaching her students at either of her two art schools, it’s not just about creating technically correct pieces. Long-term lessons like problem-solving and learning to enjoy the experience are integrated in sessions at Pigment School of the Arts and Kid Art.
“When you break it down, it’s simply problem solving,” she says.
Pendergrass has been solving problems for a while. She was diagnosed with dyslexia as a student at The Hockaday School. Her mother, a Neiman Marcus model, and her father, a lawyer, created a support system for her and her artistic endeavors. Pendergrass went to the Art Institute of Chicago but realized the environment wasn’t for her. She needed a smaller, calmer space. After finishing her Bachelor of Arts at the Kansas City Art Institute, she moved back to Dallas and became a teacher.
“In college, a teacher was so awful, and I wanted to be a teacher to right his wrong,” she says. “I aim to be helpful wherever they need me.”
In addition to teaching, she also worked and learned with well-known Dallas artist Jane Athey for three years, painting murals in private homes of prominent residents.
“It was really the best of both worlds,” she says. “It was inspiring in a totally different way.”
A self-proclaimed “paper hoarder,” Pendergrass often collages. Her corona diary entries comprise a series of collaged portraits of “monsters” that capture vignettes of her life, from an upset boyfriend to motherhood.
“That’s the tricky thing about art. Is it a means of expression? Or is it storytelling?” she says.
While she was in school, she attempted to create her “monsters” using the baroque-style found in religious and medieval art. It wasn’t working.
She had a lightbulb moment and pivoted to a tactile approach to art. Rather than using often-toxic oil paint, she uses everything from paper to wood and paint brushes to sticks to create art.
“You need to find your natural hand,” she says. In her classes at both schools, she applies the same principles with her students. She encourages students to lean into using the colors and shapes they naturally gravitate toward. Teaching children and adults are very different experiences.
“There’s a lot of fear in adults. ‘I can’t draw a stick figure,’” she says. “Well, not many artists draw stick figures, let alone a straight line.”
Wins look like children’s excitement over creating art with a found stick or a student remembering motifs in a famous artist’s work.
“Artwork is really often filled with tiny things,” Pendergrass says.
She opened her studio and school, Pigment School of the Arts, in 2003. In 2015, she acquired Kid Art, originally founded in 1984, which came with the previous owner’s pet birds, in Snider Plaza. She’s spent the last year teaching classes over Zoom and on the porch of her home in the Disney Streets.
Kid Art moved into a bigger space in Snider Plaza and reopened in June 2021. The Instagrammable mural door will stay at 3407 Milton.
The school attracts students of all ages. Its expansion to the new building provides more space for classes and events for adults. Pendergrass has expanded to teaching pop-up classes at baby showers or helping customers to create special bonding moments for milestone events like graduation.
She recently taught a Zoom class on how to create collages after a mom saw one of her diary pieces. Everyone in the class made something different. Pendergrass has sold a few of her monsters.
“Sometimes you have to say ‘goodbye’ to a painting, but that’s okay,” she says. “Something else good will come.”
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