TRAVERSE CITY — Adam VanHouten teaches his students that art is a practice in persistence, in perseverance, not perfection.
The West Middle School art teacher sees himself in many of those students — mostly the ones who strive for perfection but struggle to call their work finished.
“I think part of my work is accepting the fact that things aren’t perfect,” he said. “It’s just a piece of paper. In middle school I was a perfectionist. I think my parents will attest to this, too.”
The art teacher by day and father of three made a commitment three years ago to dedicate time to his art. It is a dedication that paid off this spring when VanHouten’s entry, “Cherries Two,” won the National Cherry Festival’s annual poster contest.
“Life is hectic,” VanHouten said. “It’s kind of like meditation.”
VanHouten is a Traverse City native who took art classes throughout his schooling at Traverse City Area Public Schools before going to college. And his wife’s family owns the historic orchard on Old Mission Peninsula where he found the inspiration for his winning painting.
One of VanHouten’s paintings, “Cherry Splash” took third place in the contest last year.
He tries to dedicate some time each week to painting, often after his three young children are in bed for the night. VanHouten, who earned a double-major bachelor’s degree from Western Michigan University one in art education and the other in painting, didn’t begin painting in watercolor until recent years.
The oft-uncontrollable nature of water-driven pigment across paper forced the experienced artist to let go, to accept imperfection.
“I picked up watercolor, and something just really clicked,” he said. You have to “release some control over it.”
VanHouten’s boldly-colored painting of a pair of cherries hanging from a branch was chosen by a panel of judges from a pool of 16 adult artists’ work to represent the National Cherry Festival this year, said Mandy DePuy, ticketing and events manager for the annual festival.