A Digital Artist With a Teacher’s Heart

October 6, 2016
Fracture Blog

James Conway is a digital artist and passionate teacher from California who shares his incredible art through Fracture. This week, we interviewed Conway on his life and career. Check it out.

1. Tell us a little about yourself. 

I have been drawing and painting since I was eleven years old, and I am about to turn 64. My father painted and drew as a hobby for most of his life. I was fascinated by his work and started drawing and painting when we moved to California in 1967. I was 15 years old.

My career as a serious artist began in 1970 as a freshman at San Jose State University. I enrolled with the intention of becoming a high school art teacher, but jobs were scarce for teachers at that time. I pursued a Bachelor’s in art with a painting concentration instead. I was disappointed with most of my drawing and painting teachers because they were not really interested in teaching skills to their students.

That disappointment changed when I took Life Drawing 55A with Maynard Dixon Stewart. Mr. Stewart studied at the Art Student’s League in New York with Frank Vincent DuMond – the teacher of some well-known students like Georgia O’Keefe and Norman Rockwell. Mr. Stewart became my mentor for the next 10 years of my life.

I took all of his classes as many times as I could. I cannot begin to explain the profound effect Mr. Stewart’s instruction had on my life. 37 years later, I still hear his words in my head while I am drawing or painting.

I graduated with my B.A. in Art in 1975, and my M.A. in Art in 1980.


2. What about post-graduation?

After graduation, I pursued a career in art by entering my work into galleries and competitions. In 1985, my wife and I started a family. My decision to become a teacher was influenced by the birth of my son. I went back to SJSU and earned a credential to teach kindergarten through 12th grade. I was hired as a fourth grade teacher in 1989 in San Jose. In 2011, I was named the Teacher of the Year for our school district in San Jose, CA.

My passion for art was reignited when I was given the opportunity to become the art teacher at a new and innovative middle school called Bulldog Tech.


3. What is Bulldog Tech?

Bulldog Tech is a public school that teaches its students very differently. Project Based Learning (PBL), the method we used to get teachers to integrate technology into the classroom curriculum, allows students to create meaningful and engaging work through collaboration. The students become skilled at communicating through presentations and exhibitions. The projects demand that the students effectively use critical thinking and creativity. 

We teach all of our classes in three large instructional blocks of time during the first part of the student’s day. The blocks are 74 minutes long so that the students have enough time to work in each class. During the last part of the day, half of the students go to PE and the other half attend a class called Connections. The Connections class gives the students an opportunity to do community service, work with community partners, take workshops and electives on various topics, and design their own projects.

Two highly-qualified teachers facilitate each class. Bulldog Tech is the first New Tech Network school in Silicon Valley.

Our school provides a technology rich environment – each student has an iPad and there are 20 Macbook Air laptops in each classroom. Our curriculum engages students and models real-life.


4. How did you get involved with Bulldog Tech?

Back in 2011, site director Randy Hollenkamp became part of a plan to reinvigorate middle school education. His plan was for our district to join New Tech Network and creating a small school that used PBL as our mode of learning. He asked me if I was interested in becoming part of the team. I decided to leave my comfort zone of sixth grade teaching and move into this brand new experience. It is the best decision I ever made.

There are 160 schools in America and Australia that are part of this network. Our three seventh grade classes are World Enrichment (language arts and history), The Art of Science (art and science), and Math. Our school has a coach from New Tech Network to help ensure our success. Our unique school has drawn visitors from NBC’s Today Show, Adobe, Apple Computers, Samsung, and global educators.


5. How did you start with digital art?

I bought my first Mac in 1989 and became pretty good at using MacPaint and SuperPaint with a mouse as my drawing tool. I did not use digital again until last year when Apple came out with the iPad Pro and the Apple Pencil. The Apple technology paired with a fantastic app called Procreate are so intuitive that all of my traditional drawing background transferred immediately to this new medium. Digital art is the same skill set as non-digital, but with more tools and colors.

My only problem was that they were stuck on my iPad. I could share them with the world through Instagram (@jconway) and Twitter (@jim_conway), but I could not hang them in my house. That was true until I tried Fracture.

I use Fracture to make my digital art into a real, tangible thing.


6. Do you have any Bulldog Tech success stories? 

One of our yearly projects in “The Art of Science” has been a 6-8 week investigation into cancer. We research its cause and effects on lives. The students had to find out the risk factors, symptoms, and mortality rates for the particular cancer they were studying. The students had to understand the science of cells and how cancer causes cells to grow out of control. The students used art and design skills to create information brochures and display boards to educate and inform. At the Cancer Awareness Exhibition Night, the students knew there was a chance that their presentation might influence someone to get a checkup. They might save someone’s life.


7. What’s the most satisfying part of teaching?

I love sharing my passion for art and learning with my students, and I have realized that everyone can learn to love learning. Students can grow from failure and achieve greater success from it.

I love that I am working with a diverse group of students who come from low income families. We are making an impact on this neglected community.


8. How did you find out about Fracture?

I love listening to technology podcasts, and Fracture brilliantly advertises on some of my favorite. I found out about Fracture from the ads on Accidental Tech Podcast and The Talk Show with John Gruber.


9. How can readers support Bulldog Tech?

We need help keeping our school going. To help, contact our Site Director at rhollenkamp@eesd.org. We actively seek meaningful partnerships with education, industry, and our community that align with our instructional goals.

Thank you for asking about our school and how we are trying to change the world. It is the best job.

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