Long-time Livermore artist and teacher Thomasin Dewhurst moved from table to table during her recent space-themed party, gently offering students creative nudges — perhaps a few more stars in the sky or maybe a pale yellow highlight on the astronaut’s visor. The Aug. 9 event at the downtown Bothwell Arts Center was packed with her art and piano students and their families.
Now, another group of Dewhurst’s students are creating a large, hanging mural to share at the Livermore ArtWalk next month. The Bothwell Arts Center plans to display it again at its annual New Orleans Bash fundraiser in March.
During Dewhurst’s party last month, artistic naturals and nervous newbies alike took her suggestions. She has a rare talent found in few teachers. She challenges students to think critically while also praising their accomplishments.
During a teaching career that has spanned 20 years, Dewhurst has developed a following of students in the area. She instructs ages 3 and older, offering weekly lessons and seasonal camps. There’s often a waitlist to get in. She also teaches art history to many local homeschool students.
An Esteemed Educator
Dewhurst’s experience and education help her guide students in art and music technique. She earned her master’s degree in art and art history from the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa. She also studied music theory and piano at Trinity College London in the United Kingdom.
While she’s an accomplished and award-winning artist in her own right, it’s largely her commitment and compassion that garner so many student referrals.
Dewhurst encourages students to enter county fair art competitions, perform at recitals twice a year and record musical pieces to send off for international recognition. Their artworks, including some prize winners, were showcased at the Livermore Civic Center Library in August. The display included her 101-year-old student’s painting of a landscape with trees and a house.
Growing up in England, Dewhurst developed her artistry by looking at her mother’s drawings and reading children’s picture books. She grew to understand a deep connection between illustration and story.
Her mother taught her that art is meant to be original and interpretive—not tied to any one standard. She also learned that sensitivity when viewing the world is imperative to creating art.
Dewhurst later became enamored with music by listening to her cousins play piano and going to concerts with her family.
Facing Fear as an Artist
Although she isn’t shy, Dewhurst said there’s an inherent nervousness that comes with performing and exhibiting creative works.
This past summer, she played piano with a local JazzLabb group. Performing with a larger band made her anxious at first, but soon she grew comfortable alongside young, talented musicians.
She finds rehearsing pieces in front of and with her students brings her a sense of calm. It shows them the first time they strike a note doesn’t have to be perfect.
Although she’s already an accomplished pianist, Dewhurst continues to sharpen her skills. She recently took her California Certificate of Merit advanced piano theory and performance exam and received a state honors award. She continues to master more complex pieces.
“My students are inspiring and energizing,” she said. “And teaching makes me want to play more.”
Although her own art is constantly evolving, previously Dewhurst has focused on vibrantly-hued still lifes as well as figurative oil paintings, drawings, and sculptures. But when her students exhibited their art at the library last month, she decided to compose some pen-and-ink drawings of trees to showcase alongside their works.
“It’s not that I set out to create trees, but that my drawing style lends itself to that subject,” Dewhurst said.
She begins with strong lines then adds more strokes. Eventually, she finds a hidden object, and a small woodland creature or a hunched figure will reveal itself to her. She teaches students that exploring the heart of an artwork brings the most pleasure.
“Every line is just a possibility,” she said. “And everything doesn’t have to look like a photograph.”
Refining What’s Real
When students get stuck, she sometimes gives them a line or a simple sketch of an idea to get them going. They’re often able to run with it and produce something wonderful. Any artist, no matter their medium, should “hone to the essence of the subject,” Dewhurst said.
“There is a particular point of reality for each person,” she explained. “Kids need to learn less about how to make things look or sound perfect and more about how to destroy something and bring it back until it has real meaning for the creator.”
Dewhurst plans to host an art and wine party at the Bothwell Arts Center around the holidays this year. She’s offering art camps during the school break and is organizing a winter music recital. For more information, visit thomasindewhurst.com and bothwell.lvpac.org. Dewhurst also provides art and music video tutorials at childrensartclassesprojects.blogspot.com.