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The People Teaching People Podcast Episode 30: A Palette of Art, Learning, and Growth

030: A Palette of Art, Learning, and Growth with Nancy Macdonald

In this episode, Nancy Macdonald joins me to talk about art, and the connection and impact between the art we make and our learning experiences. 

“When one teaches, two learn”. This quote by Robert Heinlein so beautifully highlights a key takeaway from my conversation with Nancy. Being open to learning and remaining curious, as a teacher and as a learner, can lead to so many beautiful experiences and opportunities to grow. I love how Nancy describes her art studio as a lab for life and how she shares her story of evolving and pivoting her business – which started over 20 years ago around her kitchen table. 

Nancy Macdonald traffics in hope and joy. She is a bestselling author, public speaker and owner of Art Studio For Children where she has had the great privilege, joy and mess of serving over 7000 artists of all ages. Her love of the unexpected, coincidence, hidden meaning and humor are thrown onto every canvas. The art school is an opportunity to love, nurture and empower others and give Nancy the most joyful work she could imagine.


Listen in as we talk about:

[2:30] Nancy’s story of becoming an artist and establishing an art studio for children

[5:00] Art and non-art skills learned in the studio

[13:10] The reciprocity of teaching and learning in the world of art

[18:10] Learning and growing over 20 years in business

[27:00] Some challenges in teaching art and overcoming these

[34:25] The evolution of art with technology

[39:30] Making a learning space magical 

[44:45] What Nancy is most proud of

[46:50] Nancy answers some rapid fire questions


Nancy Macdonald is the owner of Art Studio for Children

“Gratitude makes us happy. Happiness doesn’t make us grateful. It’s really the act of being grateful that gives us a sense of happiness, not the other way around.”

Nancy shares that there are art and non-art skills learned from her studio experience, including fostering a deep sense of agency and gratitude, respecting studio space, and practicing gratitude through the “eight great” exercise. This exercise involves expressing gratitude for eight things starting with a chosen letter, cultivating happiness through appreciation. Nancy encourages taking breaks to elevate work from good to great, sharing this approach with students of all ages. Inclusivity is a core value, promoting respect, listening, and enjoying both invigorating and quiet studio times.

Art skills encompass various techniques such as perspective, composition, color, and texture. Nancy emphasizes the significance of understanding art words like impastos, sgraffito, and layering, building a toolkit not only for artistic endeavors but also for life. The studio focuses on merging art and life skills to enhance the overall learning experience.

Nancy Macdonald is the owner of Art Studio for Children

“We are here to learn, not to get it right.”

Nancy talks about how, as a teacher, you can be prepared and good at what you do but there is always room for improvement. There’s room for surprise. There’s room for every student in the room, no matter their age, to teach you something or to remind you that this is a journey. None of us know everything. 

Nancy talks about how she is constantly raised up by the artists that she works with. This includes their creative ideas, sense of fun and pure love for the moment, They have a mutual admiration for each other. It creates an opportunity for authentic connection between teacher and students. Nancy says that when our hands are busy, our hearts and spirits are more free to share what’s troubling us, what we are struggling with, what is difficult, and what is joyful. 


Nancy envisions the future of art in the context of technology and digital art, acknowledging the essential role it played during the pandemic and in her online design lab, Here, she transforms her abstract paintings into wearable art and customizable items, bridging the gap between traditional art and technology for both herself and her clients. 

However, she believes that, despite technology’s benefits, art will continue to serve as a respite from the digital world—a space where hands-on creativity fosters a deeper connection, offering a retreat from screens and a celebration of human abilities within her studio.


Nancy Macdonald is the owner of Art Studio for Children


In the realm of teaching art, Nancy identifies a common challenge related to the onboarding of new students, particularly children, where the art of listening seems to require improvement. This issue may be exacerbated post-pandemic, though certainty eludes her. The fast-paced nature of art projects designed to stretch and challenge students becomes hindered by interruptions, emphasizing the importance of civility and manners. Nancy addresses this by incorporating a meditation and breathing exercise at the start of each class to help students shake off the day’s stimuli and create a focused learning environment.

Another challenge Nancy encounters is managing expectations, especially when clients desire an open studio experience. She emphasizes the importance of setting clear expectations, conveying that her approach focuses on teaching students to build their toolkit, follow structured steps, and create transformative artwork. By steering away from a free-for-all environment, Nancy aims to instill confidence in her students through a guided, prescriptive, and classroom-like experience, fostering an appreciation for art and encouraging a unique artistic perspective over time.



One of Nancy’s most memorable and impactful teachers was a relatively famous potter, by the name of Ingrid Levine, who lived in her neighborhood. After school, she would walk to Ingrid’s house for pottery lessons in the basement. The basement would not be considered glamorous and beautiful. It was an old fashioned unfinished basement. However, for Nancy, who was about 9 years old at the time, it was a beautiful place to be. It felt like a space filled with warmth and creativity.

Another teacher that stands out for Nancy, is her grade 5 teacher who she describes as “spectacular”. This teacher’s joy for teaching was embedded in everything that she did. Nancy was devastated when, midway through the school year, this teacher left to go on maternity leave. 

These teachers both left a lasting mark on Nancy. They showed her that a classroom, studio, or any learning space can be whatever you make it. You can make it magical, hopeful, joyful, and colourful. 


  • What is something that you would love to learn about or something that you would love to learn how to do? Metal work
  • What is a place that is at the top of your travel bucket list? Spain, Japan, and San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

  • What is a book, podcast, or TV show that you have enjoyed recently

    • Book: Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver

    • Podcast: Huberman Lab Podcast

  • If you could sit down and have a conversation with someone that you would love to learn from, who would it be? Sara Blakely


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