Art For Life: An Unexpected Venture Brings Artistic Lessons To Main Street

Posted By on August 17, 2016

by Joey Crandall, • 5 min read

GARDNERVILLE, Nev. — “What makes a great painting? That is the age old question …”

Alanna McDaniel glances around her studio – Art For Life – on Main Street in Gardnerville.


Alanna McDaniel in her Art For Life workshop on Main Street in Gardnerville. Photo by Eddie Sanderson,

Alanna McDaniel in her Art For Life workshop on Main Street in Gardnerville. Photo by Eddie Sanderson,

All around her are faces of former art students – recreated on canvas from portraits taken over the years and embellished into new creations: Faces that bear the essence of children she taught, but faces nonetheless that appear to have only a passing visible relation to their respective owners.

They peer out strikingly from within wooden frames, transfixed in time and space. Their gazes tell a story. A lifetime of stories, perhaps.

“What makes a good painting?” McDaniel repeats, trailing off into another thought. “It’s good for students to talk about it and analyze it. I like giving them things to look at, and ask them ‘Why do like it?’ Or ‘Why do you not like it?’ ‘What is it saying to you?’

The space on Main Street was only meant to be storage.

That was all McDaniel was looking for, at least.

Photo by Eddie Sanderson,

Photo by Eddie Sanderson,

“I moved up here from Southern California – my mother had lived here for 31 years and I’ve been coming up to see her for years,” McDaniel said. “I taught art where I was, and I saved a lot of things from my students. The parents would just leave the art. I’d announce all the time to come pick your child’s art up, but it got left and I didn’t throw it away.

“I have so much art. Art my students did, art that I am working on. It just became a matter of finding a place to put it.”
Driving down Main Street one day, McDaniel spotted a “For Rent” sign outside of what is now her studio.

Within, artwork from current and former students – anything from traditional watercolor to elephants composed of old newspaper collages – now adorns the walls.

“I’m big on recycling, recycled art,” McDaniel said with a laugh. “Newspaper, magazines, balls, leftover paper machet, old cards, egg cartons, tin cans, cardboard boxes. You can use it all for something.”

The space grew into an workshop, one that McDaniel quickly opened up to the community – a theory that she could continue to teach while exercising her own abilities – which she honed through the art department at Cal State Northridge and later working in the movie poster department with Paramount Pictures before embarking on her career in teaching.

She offers classes or private lessons for all ages and abilities, generally about two to two and a half hours long. She said she is specifically focusing on elementary and middle school students looking to explore their artistic skills.

“I teach a lot of techniques, things you wouldn’t normally think of, like painting with shaving cream or salt. Using different mediums that make paint thicker or thinner.”

She focuses on composition, color values and shades and tints.

“I do a warm up every class – an onion or a bowl of grapes,” she said. “Something they have to give at least 15 minutes toward trying to recreate. Then we start working on whatever project they have been working on. We talk about theory – the different color relationships – and shapes.

“Anybody can come, anyone that is interested in art.”

The portraits are part of a project McDaniel has been working on for Stanford Children’s Hospital.

“I have a strong feeling about reaching out to help troubled kids, kids suffering from cancer,” she said.

“They are building a whole new wing at the hospital and I started painting these kids. I started with a lot of pictures I’d taken of students from back in the day.

“I want to do 101 of them. What I wanted to do was try to capture every culture through them, the essence of every culture. I basically took the expressions of my students and embellished them. It’s something I’ve been working on for a year.”

“The thing I love about teaching is that the kids would inspire me. It’s amazing what they come up with. What they are capable of. A grade school student can absolutely just surprise you.

“When I see kids in the creative process, I think of it as a privilege, especially when they create paintings and drawings they really like. It is a great character-building alternative to TV and social media.”

McDaniel said she has been rotating about 20 students through the shop and that she can work with up to six students at a time.

“People can organize a class with friends, or we can do private lessons.,” she said. “With the kids, they’ll come home with a piece of art – something they’ve created, and they’ll have an ongoing project they can work on here.

“I like challenging them. Getting them to stretch their comfort zone, fill the whole page, try new approaches and see what they come up with.”

Through the fall, McDaniel said she will be offering after-school classes from 3:45 to 5:45. Mondays through Wednesdays will be devoted to drawing and painting. Thursdays will be a mixed-media class.
Her lease in her current location will expire in November, at which time the company who bought the building will be moving in to expand their business. McDaniel said she’ll begin looking at the relocating elsewhere in town.

For now, Art For Life is located at 1508 Highway 395 in Gardnerville. Call 775-552-5582 or e-mail for more information or for pricing. It can also be found on Facebook at this link.

She said she is also always looking for recyclable materials — magazines, egg cartions, plastic and glass containers, newspapers, tin cans, etc. — to use in her art projects. Anyone with prospective donation material can contact her.


Pictures from Art For Life’s summer workshops, courtesy of Alanna McDaniel: