Featured Artist, Cassie Stephens
Elementary Art Teacher
Franklin, Tennessee, USA
Interview with Cassie
Who is Cassie Stephens?
After spending entirely too long at Indiana University getting her degree in both painting and art education, Cassie Stephens did her student teaching in the magical land of Ireland. While she was away, her parents, fully aware of her slacker ways, sent out 52 art teacherin’ job applications to such far away places as Alaska. One such place that called her for an interview was Nashville, Tennessee. On a whim, she loaded up her jean-jumpers, resume and chain-smoking grandma to make the trip to Nashville where she landed her first teaching gig.
Fast forward nearly 15 years and Cassie had settled down with her husband and their three cats. Sadly, she’d fallen into an art teacherin’ slump rehashing stale art lessons, still wearing those sad jean jumpers and doing little creating of her own. It was then that she decided to create a blog that might help snap her out of her funk. She’ll be sharing more about that here in a moment.
Zip forward once more to the present. These days, you can find Cassie teaching in Franklin, Tennessee, just south of Nashville. She’s written two books filled with sewing and clay crafts for kids and art teachers alike. You can also take a listen to her podcast where she shares all things life and art teacherin’.
Where did your art story begin?
I began creating, mostly drawing, as a kid. I didn’t have art in elementary school so I was usually doodling on homework or illustrating my point on reading and math work that I often found difficult. My dad is an artist so I would spend time creating with him. But what moved me most was probably my summers in Indiana with my Grandma Rosie. She loved all things fiber arts and shared that passion with me. She taught me to cross stitch, embroider and sew.
When I neglected my creative side for the first 10 years of my teaching career and knew that I had to get back to it, I had no idea where to start. What was I even interested in? I went back to those happy memories with my grandma and decided to start there. I picked up embroidery again. I taught myself how to sew by machine and create my own clothing…something I had always wanted to do but convinced myself it was ‘too late to learn’. It’s never too late to learn. It’s never too late to reinvent yourself, pursue your interests, listen to your heart and go where only listening to your heart can take you.
I create because…
It’s like taking vitamins for me. As creatives, if we aren’t creating, we feel funky, grouchy, unsettled, anxious and beyond. Why? Because I think we are experiencing a creative deficiency that only creating can fill. Regardless of what your outlet is, creatives have to be creating. So carving out time to do that is necessary to my well-being.
How would you like your students to feel and/or experience when they are in your classroom?
Above all else, I want them to feel loved. I want them to know they all possess the ability to create. I want them to know that we all make mistakes but it’s what we make of them that matters. We say as much at the start of each class:
I make messes!
I make mistakes
But deep inside
I got what it takes.
I am an artist!
How has your teaching style evolved throughout your teaching career?
It just gets sillier and sillier. I believe that silly sticks. If I can entertain them (and myself) it’s a lot more fun and we learn when we are having fun!
Describe your sewing room/art studio at your home. What does it look like and what vibe or
feeling does it give you?
I have a sewing room and a craft space. Both have changed a lot! My sewing room used to be filled with ‘inspiration’ but at one point it just became clutter! I couldn’t focus! Now I aim for a more streamlined look for both spaces. I try to have all of my fabric hung up and easy to find. I like to have all of my tools visible so I utilize a lotta pegboard to so I can see what I’ve got. I try to keep my work space clear and clean so it’s inviting me to create. I hate to walk by my sewing room and see a mess…it makes me just want to close the door and walk away! So, despite my messy ways, I try to keep those spaces tidy. That’s inspiring for me.
How do your ideas and plans formulate before you begin to physically create a new dress or
outfit for yourself?
It almost always starts with the fabric! I see a fabric I like, I wanna make a dress. It’s really that easy! I also think of lessons I want to teach and those usually inspire me to create something to wear. I love to dress for whatever it is we are learning about!
What are some standout points or people in your life that guided you to where you are now in
your artistic life?
My grandma, of course. The encouragement from my parents and my husband. But, probably most of all, the feedback from my students. They love coming to art. They love creating. They comment on my room, what we’re learning, what I’m wearing…and it’s positive. This inspires me to keep pushing to do more for them because it makes me so happy.
What new personal projects or lessons for school are you working on?
I’m wrapping up an art teacherin’ book! And illustrating another that I have in mind. It’s been fun to push myself toward goals that I used to think were unattainable!
After a long day/week/year (ha!), how do you unwind, recharge and as you say, “fill your bank
I love to listen to a good murder podcast and just sew in my sewing room!
What is your favorite song to dance to?
September by Earth Wind and Fire!
Posted March 2021