Faces of Long Island celebrates the uniqueness of everyday Long Islanders. In their own words, they tell us about their life experiences, challenges and triumphs. Newsday launched this social media journey into the human experience to shine a light on the diverse people of this wonderful place we call home.

‘This past year has been a gift for me and my students – giving us a place to come together and create.’

Jan Guarino, Northport

“I never planned on becoming a teacher let alone teach watercolors. For my entire professional life, I had my own marketing and advertising agency. I had longed to be creative so I designed my own line of greeting cards and thought ‘wouldn’t it be cool to use my own art?’ So, I picked up my paints and brushes and searched for watercolor classes. I didn’t feel I was learning much. I was attracted to a particular class because the description said, ‘you get a demonstration.’ I learned how important it was to watch every brushstroke because that’s how I grew as an artist and eventually into a teacher.

“About 10 years ago, the programming director of the Art League of Long Island (ALLI) noticed my work and asked me to do demos for them. After watching me demo to their students, she said I was a natural teacher. I really didn’t think I was, as I had no formal training. A short time later, one of ALLI’s teachers retired and that same lady offered his class spots to me. It was serendipitous. I didn’t see the ability in myself but, as I began to teach, I realized she was right. I decided to build my classes on what I needed as a student and didn’t get.

“I retired from my business literally the week before we went into quarantine – not knowing we would be on lockdown for over a year – to focus on my art and teaching. I took all my cancelled in-person classes online via Zoom. It turned out to be nothing short of amazing. This past year has been a gift for me and my students – giving us a place to come together and create. It offered them hope and time to focus on their own art. It’s so rewarding to see them flourish. They needed these classes and I needed to be there for them.

I didn’t see the ability in myself but, as I began to teach, I realized she was right. I decided to build my classes on what I needed as a student and didn’t get.

“Part of the virtual classroom experience is that we gain inspiration from an image, a place we’ve been to, animals, flowers, just about anything! After we’ve painted for 2 hours, the students show me their work so I can offer a constructive critique to each of them. Now, I have hundreds of paintings that need a good home. I am currently looking to align with a not-for-profit to use some paintings as a fundraiser. If I can benefit a worthy cause, it would mean so much to give back and pay it forward.”