Even if he didn’t have a word for it, as a toddler, Paul Richmond knew himself as an artist. So did his parents. It was they who identified a mentor for their child in Linda Regula, an artist in their Ohio neighborhood, who typically taught adults. Seeing something in his drawings, Regula took on the 4-year-old and worked with him weekly until he went off to Columbus College of Art and Design. Imagine.

In college, Richmond was expressive, outgoing, and full of ideas. Classmate Melissa Forman was quieter, more restrained, reflective. Yet both understood how to paint emotion. She was the overachiever in class. He admired that. They started painting murals together in the community and quickly built it into a business on behalf of schools, art galleries, community venues and private homes.

The two commenced from college in 2002, both with a bachelor of fine arts degree. Today, each has established a formidable fine art career. Forman, still living in Ohio, balances her painting with being the art director at American Greetings. Through painting and teaching, Richmond, who has lived on the Monterey Peninsula since 2016, has been devoted to giving a visual voice to pressing issues and to promoting the potential of the next generation of artists in Monterey County and beyond.

Paul Richmond and Melissa Forman have established “Art Makes Us,” a mentorship network for aspiring artists of any age. (Courtesy photo) 

Twenty years after they graduated and parted ways, Forman and Richmond remain close friends, who have established “Art Makes Us,” a mentorship network for aspiring artists of any age. And they’re teaching, mentoring, and running the business together from more than 2,500 miles apart.

Ironically, perhaps, they have the pandemic to thank for this, for the emerging technology, training, and shifts in perspective and practices enabling Forman and Richmond to work with students from all over the world, via Zoom. In fact, they often teach classes together, as if they were in the same room. As if everyone were.

While technology is making this possible, it is the late Linda Regula who taught them how to teach.

“When Linda passed away in 2020,” said Richmond, “Melissa and I started making plans to keep her legacy alive. I received tons of messages from people who had taken classes from Linda, most of whom talked about how she’d helped them artistically and emotionally. She had a way of finding the people who needed help as a whole person.”

Rising Above It

“Art Makes Us” is the outgrowth of “You Will Rise Project,” a program Paul Richmond and Linda Regula cultivated in 2011. The genesis of the project was the relentless bullying Richmond endured as a kid, its effects mitigated by his art training with Regula. Thus, the purpose of the project is to lift anyone who has ever been bullied, up and out of the experience, through artistic expression.

Working with Regula’s vision and a team of volunteers, Richmond provides in-person and virtual workshops via Zoom, so people can participate from anywhere in the country, and beyond.

“We want to use art to empower people who’ve been bullied to stand in their true sense of self,” said Richmond. “We’ve held workshops and exhibits in local schools, such as Marina Vista Elementary, Martin Luther King, Jr. School for the Arts in Seaside, and other locations.”

It’s unbelievable, he says, what young people create and have to say. Bullying happens everywhere, and the artwork that comes out of this project is incredibly moving.

Launched in March, “Art Makes Us” is a multicultural arts organization based in Seaside, whose mission is to educate, inspire, and transform the community through art. Paul Richmond and Melissa Forman, accompanied by a complement of other fine artists who participate from around the world, are striving to create a vibrant and inclusive multicultural arts center, offering low and no-cost classes, workshops, and events for the community.

No experience is necessary.

Filling the Void

Forman can’t remember a time when she wasn’t making something, wasn’t drawing or painting, wasn’t driven by a creative spirit.  After working as an illustrator at American Greetings for 11 years, she became the art director of the illustration department. Her shift from creating art to helping other artists refine their work brought with it a whole new set of challenges, as well as the opportunity to mentor a diversity of styles.

As a fine-art painter, Forman works in realism, perhaps slightly idealized, to create evocative portraits in a context both haunting and somewhat surreal. And yet, her subject’s gaze looks directly at the viewer, suggesting a kind of knowing that leaves us feeling both seen and exposed.

She has shown her work in galleries all over the country, and Germany and the United Kingdom.

“Melissa is one of the finest painters I have ever known,” Richmond said. “She paints Victorian figures in an edgier, more contemporary way. It’s fun because her style is so different from mine. I’m very expressive; she’s very meticulous, and we work very well together. There is definitely more than one way to make art.”

Ever since Forman and Richmond completed their collaborative mural projects, the two had been looking for another way to work together.

“We were trying to figure out a way to continue Linda Regula’s legacy,” said Forman, “to build it into something bigger that might fill the void in her absence. So many people are grieving and feeling so separate these days. We wanted to find a way to bring ourselves and others together. Art has always been the thing to do that.”

While “Art Makes Us” has been important during the pandemic, says Richmond, it’s valuable at any time to help people of all ages get in touch with their creative side.

“Everyone is an artist,” said Forman, “but not everyone realizes that, or they judge themselves if not as experienced as others. Artmaking can be really inspiring, really freeing, really fun.”

Ella Hubbard, a 13-year-old living in Bermuda, has proven to be an excellent art student for Paul Richmond. “I had taught forever yet never via Zoom,” he said. “But Ella and I clicked and created such an amazing bond. … Ella helped me understand that what I love to do as a teacher could be accomplished online.” (Courtesy photo) 

Two years ago, when Richmond was asked to teach art via Zoom, to Ella Hubbard, a 13-year-old living in Bermuda, he noticed she was really good at painting purple dragons. He also remembered that Linda Regula had a penchant for purple −− and for painting dragons. He took it as an assignment from Regula.

“I had taught forever yet never via Zoom,” he said. “But Ella and I clicked and created such an amazing bond. We had incredible conversations at a level I’d have with a fellow adult artist. Ella helped me understand that what I love to do as a teacher could be accomplished online. And so, we are.”

Linda Regula, he says, must be so proud. Surely she has a hand in this, even still.

Both paid and free opportunities for art instruction and exploration are available. To learn more about current programming, visitartmakesus.com. And remember, you are an artist.

Creating art featuring purple dragons is a special skill of Ella Hubbard, a 13-year-old living in Bermuda, and one of Paul Richmond’s students. (Courtesy photo)