By Joseph Robertia
Art in elementary school is about more than bringing home things for mom or dad to hang on the refrigerator. Art develops creativity, teaches divergent ways of thinking and using the brain, builds motor skills and, for some students, sows the seeds for what eventually could become a career.
The latter is exactly what happened for Steven Buben, 27, a recent graduate of the Art Institute of Salt Lake City. His love of art began when he was just a kid attending Sterling Elementary School, and he continued to feed his interest during his time at Soldotna Middle and Skyview High schools.
He now is employed in Utah as a professional animator and 3-D generalist, making special effects for Hollywood movies, including the upcoming film “Zombie Hunters,” as well as music videos and video games.
”I grew up drawing, and people would tell me my drawings looked amazing, so I just kept going with it,” he said.
Buben has not forgotten his roots. Despite living in the Lower 48, he has spent the last two years with students in the third-grade classroom of his mother, Gayle Buben, at Soldotna Elementary via live video chats. During these sessions he’s been teaching the kids some of the fundamentals of drawing, particularly things he remembers finding interesting at their age.
“Art was still part of the curriculum when I was in school, but it was a lot of glitter and macaroni art. Which, no offense to those things, but I was way more interested in drawing things like Sonic the Hedgehog and Raphael from the ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,’” he said.
Keeping that in mind, he’s tried to teach the basics, but in a way in which kids will enjoy.
“I’ve tried to show them the basic building blocks. In the past I’ve had them create their own superheroes, and they’ve drawn all kinds of things — a guy with a scar on his face, an earring and a mohawk,” he said.
On May 20, Buben came home for a visit and stopped by the school to see in person the kids he’s spent so much time with via the Internet. He tried to make the event as interactive as possible.
“I’ve taught them perspective drawing already, and superheroes, which was basically profiles, heads, chests, etc. So today I’d like to be real hands-on and tie these two things together,” he said.
Having been away from the Kenai Peninsula for a while, he got out and hiked before coming to the school. As an introduction with the kids he drew the hammer-swinging hero from the “Avengers” comics, and joked that he drew it because his legs were so “Thor,” which brought lots of laughs.
Next he took requests from the class and taught how to draw the muscle-bound Hulk. Even the teachers in attendance took a turn at trying to draw the comic character.
“They are learning art techniques as well as watching the adults around them trying the new techniques themselves,” Gayle Buben said. “My kids — seeing someone from their own community, their own teacher’s son, who graduated from Skyview High in 2005, go through the Art Institute and graduate, then get a job immediately — has to be encouraging to them for their own future.”
Her son said that it makes him happy to help his mom out when he comes back home, but that it’s also great to inspire students with what he’s showing them. Perhaps they’ll grow up to pursue art careers themselves.
“There wasn’t this kind of thing when I was growing up, drawing superheroes and having fun with it,” he said. “I really like doing it and interacting with the kids. I could see doing more teaching in the future, but in the present I’d like to keep going with my own art and see how far I can go.”