AMA with Eric Lyons: Photographer & Art Teacher

The DSN+DEV+OKC edition of Ask Me Anything features some of OKC’s most talented members of the creative community who share with us their advice, best practices, and things they’ve learned along the way.

This week, we’ve invited Eric Lyons to answer our questions. He’s a full time high school art teacher, but has a ton of extracurricular creative projects. He’s head of photography at Half Design, a startup studio, does regular work with Blue 7, and sells merch on the side.

We hope by now you’ve been following along in our #ama series on our Slack channel. If not, here’s what you need to know: AMA or Ask Me Anything is a popular Reddit format, where an expert who’s got something figured out, or took on a successful project, introduce themselves and what they’ve been working on and openly answers questions for an hour. We’ve taken this idea and formatted it to our Slack community.

Read on for our conversation with Eric on topics such as his favorite projects, how he teaches creativity, his new startup studio, and work-life balance.

 

 

Intro:

 

 

Eric Lyons

Hey everyone! I’m Eric Lyons, wearer of many hats. Husband, Father, Artist, Teacher, Coach, Photographer, co-founder of Half.design, and Master of the Universe (okay, I made up that last part).

Before you think I have super powers and some how fit 25 hours in a day, the Majorty of my time is spent being Husband and Father. After that my love is teaching and the rest all kid of fall in line with each other. I’m an Artist who teaches Art, so that goes hand in hand. I also teach photography which encompasses my love of photography as well as my roll as Director of Photography for our recent startup Half.Design. I know, by now you may be confused with my spiderweb of activities. Probably the most unusual aspect of my day is coaching cross country and track but we can cover that through questions if you are curious.

I’ve lived in Oklahoma my entire life and currently reside in Edmond, OK. I graduated from Southwestern Oklahoma State University in 2005 with a degree in Art Education. I’ve taught at Dove Science Academy, Western Oaks Middle School, Putnam City West and currently Deer Creek High School. Even with a side project started, teaching will never leave me. It will always be a role in my career.

Things I can talk about:

  • teaching in Oklahoma, struggles, fears, and successes.
  • balancing a career with a side gig?
  • building relationships and why they are key in schools and in business?
  • adoption

 

 

Q&A:

 

 

Cara Bell:

What’s the most challenging aspect teaching art to high school students?

Eric Lyons:

I always struggle with this one. I know the reality of my classroom is not everyone is going to be an artist. But I do know when they leave, my hope is that each of them have a appreciation for it.

Maybe the biggest challenge is that students expect results immediately. Maybe google just ruined them, I don’t know. Some days I just want to pull my hair out because they don’t understand why they can’t make a self portrait in 5 minutes…. i mean the internet does it right?

 

 

Hannah Schmitt:

Why did you decide to start Half.design?

Eric Lyons:

Nate and Katrina spearheaded the idea and one day I was like “hey, I know a photographer if you need one” They responded with “Funny thing, we are here today to talk to you about being a part of it.”

Eric Lyons:

I think we all basically were ready to put a name to what we already did.

 

 

Stephen Bell:

How does teaching art influence the way that you do design?

Eric Lyons:

I think that they both fall into place pretty easily. Brainstorming and coming up with ideas is one of my favorite things. We’ve all been there and gone through the process. With teaching I have to do that every hour, with 30+ minds. We have a general idea of where we want to go (lesson), but we all have our different processes. My job as teacher is helping each student find that direction. Just like in design, we write it out, find mood boards, look for emotions, ways to make the work provoke the viewer, but also to provoke the emotion of the artist/designer. Our best works have our best emotions behind it.

Eric Lyons:

Secrets out though…designing is all done by my partners Nate and Katrina. I had a professor in college that burned me in my first ever design class and I swore it off. I guess thats just because I’m stubborn. I do always say I want to learn it, but I’d have to have a teacher for that. Any non-college classes out there?

Eric Lyons:

Nate and Katrina are the perfect duo. I can throw an idea or vision out there and they can always make it happen.

Robbie Knight:

I randomly met Nate and Katrina in a book store last year. Great couple of people.

Eric Lyons:

@robbietherobot Nate is my former student I taught him 6th grade through 11th. He’s still teaching me every day.

 

 

Cara Bell:

Your photog style is very moody compared to most commercial styles – what drew you to your style, and is having a unique style good for business?

Eric Lyons:

Moody. I like it. I know I break the rules. I want my work to provoke the viewer. If it’s a wedding shoot, family shoot, business, whatever, I want people to be there in their images. I like to hear my clients respond with, ” I remember you taking that one picture” Creating a moment with them is more important to me then the image itself. Without the moment, its just a picture.

Cara Bell:

How do you create moments as the person behind the camera?

Eric Lyons:

Developing a relationship with my client in the time frame that I have. Listening to them. Instigating stories. Learning who they are and creating my creative energy off of it.

Eric Lyons:

Missed part of your question. I think the unique style is good. You ultimately want people to seek you out for what you do best.

 

 

Will Phillips:

How do you keep a healthy balance between so many different areas of focus? (or do you?)

Eric Lyons:

It’s a delicate balance. But honestly, teaching allows me to do that. My Job as a teacher isn’t to just harbor creativity in the classroom. Im constantly working around my students. Showing them how I’m editing a photoshoot. Sharing the process with them. Kids are sponges but often times they aren’t going to ask questions. Asking questions is intimidating. You’ve been to the doctor, right? But they will always watch and they will soak it up. Like the adage says, “Practice what you preach.” Its important for me to show them what Art is like outside the walls of the classroom. They are only mine for 4 years tops (that’s not true, I’m always there for them afterwards) but theoretically speaking, I have 4 years to leave an impression with Art that will hopefully in turn lead them toward a career.

Eric Lyons:

Balance is important though. Best thing I ever did was deleted work email from my phone. Work is for work. Home is for home.

 

 

Alicia Northern:

How do you stay inspired?

Eric Lyons:

I’m human, I go through ups and downs with this too. Ive learned that surrounding yourself with people that believe in you, plays a big part in staying inspired. Social media is given to people that inspire. Social media is probably our biggest connection to the creative world. People posting to IG, Twitter, Facebook, whatever it might be. And i make sure that I have variety in those feeds. Designers, Photographers, Painters, Sculptors, Writers, Musicians, Educators, Comedians… the list can go on forever. But the point is, you never know where inspiration is going to come from, I think the key is pursuing it when the thought pops into your mind.

Eric Lyons:

not sure If i was clear when I said ” social media is given to people that inspire” Meaning: thats the type of people that I follow. My Students goal in life is for me to follow them in IG (Lofty goals i know) and my response to them is, graduate first and then make sure you are taking photos that are going to inspire me.

 

 

Natalie Kent:

If you had to summarize yourself in one sentence, what would it be?

Eric Lyons:

Can this be a run-on sentence?

Eric Lyons:

I had a professor sum this up once.

Natalie Kent:

Sure!

Eric Lyons:

Just a renaissance artist, trying to bridge the gaps by trying do everything from drawing to photography.

Eric Lyons:

I think that holds pretty true. I have 145 students a day. You’ve gotta stay sharp across the board in order to guide them and make sure it’s interesting.

 

 

Cara Bell:

For those wanting to “do it all” where should they start? (Sry I realize this is after 3)

Eric Lyons:

Ha! I wish I could do it all. Behind the curtains thats why there is three of us at Half. We each have our strengths and develop off of each other.

as far as a teaching, I teach with 4 other Art teachers ( I know, thats rare five Art teachers in one school) and we all help with each others rolls. I can’t be a teacher of just my classroom, I have to be a teacher of the school.

Eric Lyons:

Find your strengths and make those “your all” but don’t forget the other things. stay fresh in your craft across the board. Hopefully you are always developing and growing.

 

 

Eric Lyons:

Thanks for the questions everyone! Hopefully this will be a start to networks for all of us. If you need anything or have any other questions let me know.

 

Next time:

If you want to listen in to find out when the next AMA is scheduled, or ask your own questions, get your slack invite here: dsndevokc.com/join-our-slack

Who would you like featured in our next AMA?

 

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Cara helps consumer brands connect with their customers through ecommerce and digital content strategy. She's owner at steedokc.com and also founder here @dsndevokc.

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