Rhode Island School of Design

Continuing Education

SucCEss Story

Michelle Cummings Sees Art, and Herself, with Fresh Eyes after RISD|CE's Drawing + Painting Studies Certificate Program

Michelle Cummings, a RISD Store staff member for 20 years, has been a painter even longer. Starting with ceramics work as a young girl, she took up oil painting as a teen. Mainly a self-taught painter, she had some difficulty seeing herself as an artist. She yearned for some painting instruction, and was delighted when RISD|CE began the Drawing + Painting Studies certificate program.

"I waited for years, hoping they would have a certificate program for painting," says Michelle. "When CE came out with that program, I was thrilled." Michelle, who paints out of a studio in her basement, saw results almost immediately: "I was painting almost every single day. You develop so quickly. I noticed I developed a very keen eye through the program."

Since childhood, Michelle has had a love of sheep and lambs, yet she had never even drawn one. She credits the program’s Drawing I course with teaching her to draw. There came a moment in her Final Projects Studio class when students were asked to challenge themselves. "I was petrified," she recalls, "but I drew these sheep and it was eye-opening to see I could do it—I could show the weight of their wool!"

Michelle remembers learning to more fully see in the Painting I course. In the Final Projects Studio, she learned to paint expressively: "My final studio instructor Michael Peery gave me a whole new perspective on how to see and feel a painting—how to really express it." It was then that it all came together for Michelle: "Some artists don’t really feel we are artists, but when I got to that point, I had so much confidence. I really believed I was an artist."

After completing the certificate program in 2011, Michelle was motivated to push herself even further. She decided to take the Final Projects Studio a second time. “I’ve also taken some weekend workshops since then. If I take a class, I know that’s going to push me.”

With aspirations to be a gallery artist, Michelle continues making traditional style paintings of the subjects she loves. Not wanting to limit herself, she has chosen to "zone in" on each of her favorite subjects individually for a period of time: "I love landscape, the countryside. I love animals. Right now I'm working on still lifes . . . I pick something meaningful to me, like antiques. If the antiques are from my family, even better. That connection makes it better."

To those considering CE's Drawing + Painting Studies certificate program, Michelle offers some advice: "I think some people may feel intimidated by their inexperience or knowledge. I know I was. I thought, 'Oh my gosh, I'm not good enough to take classes here.' Don’t be intimidated. The instructors are wonderful, very informed, knowledgeable and giving. They want you to succeed. Enjoy the experience!"

Images: Michelle H. Cummings, Blue Pitcher (oil on canvas, 11x14") and Grazing (charcoal on paper, 18x24")

Article by Paula Ogier