Practicing what he teaches

Pine River art teacher encourages students through own art

LEROY — Scott Buckmaster believes to effectively teach, one must “practice what you preach.” So when the Pine River High School and Middle School art teacher saw an opportunity to enter the world’s largest art competition, he showed his students what it takes to pursue an artistic dream. Competing for over a half a million dollars in cash prizes, Buckmaster created “Jokers,” three 80-inch portraits composed of 2,307 playing cards arranged to create human faces. He submitted the piece ArtPrize, a competition held from Sept. 19 to Oct. 7 in downtown Grand Rapids. The artwork, which created somewhat of an optical illusion, was best viewed through a camera, by squinting or by standing far away from the artwork. “It was hilarious. So many people were right in front of it and didn’t understand it,” Buckmaster said. “Then there would be a wave of understanding and they would run and get their friends and drag them to come look at it.” Pine River School District superintendent Jim Ganger made the trip to Grand Rapids to view Buckmaster’s art and said he was amazed at the teacher’s creativity. “It was fascinating —the fact that you had to use a cell phone to put it into focus. How do you think of this stuff?” Ganger said. The idea for “Jokers” came when Buckmaster’s wife, Kelly, who serves as the principal of LeRoy Elementary, had extra materials from an elementary family night. “We had a bunch of extra cards left over so I said, ‘Can you do anything with these?’” Kelly said. Her husband took the challenge. “I took one of the decks out and I just started shuffling it, when I realized there was a value scale,” Scott said. “Once I realized that, I wanted to figure out how I could control that.” He soon realized that overlapping the rectangular cards formed a square, which could be used as a pixel, or dot, to make up a large piece of art, similar to the way pixels of various scales make up photographs. “If I just put the pixels in the right order, I can create anything,” Scott said. Before he decided to pursue the card project, he researched past ArtPrize submissions to make sure his idea was unique. “I knew that if I was going to enter ArtPrize, I wanted to do something that no one had ever done before,” Scott said. Using reference photos of himself and two of his friends, he divided the photographs with a grid pattern and assigned each space values, which corresponded with the value of the cards. The first piece took him nearly three months to complete, and he worked on the piece in his classroom. “One of the fortunate things of being an art teacher is I can involve my students in my life outside of school in an artistic way,” he said. “Whenever they’re working on something, I’m working on something too. As a teacher, I find great value in doing that because my students see me practicing what I preach.” After working all day at the school, Scott would drive to Grand Rapids to showcase his art to ArtPrize viewers, who had the chance to vote for his art by texting, online or by using a smartphone app. Though he doesn’t know how many votes his art collected, he handed out more than 5,000 cards to remind viewers of his voting number. “I came in every day and my students would want an update,” Scott said. “It was neat being able to share that with them.” Along with his ArtPrize entry, working on art outside of class is not unusual for the teacher. He spends his summers as a guest artist at the St. Ignace Car Show drawing cars and has many pieces of art around his house. Some items include more peculiar pieces, such as a chair in a tree and an orange door on the shore of a nearby body of water. Kelly, who serves as Scott’s “only honest critic,” said art has been a big part of his life since she first met him. “I think his art is awesome, and I know he’s honored to get to teach something he’s so passionate about,” Kelly said. “He’ll finish a watercolor (painting) and people will say, ‘Wow, that’s amazing,’ and he’ll say, ‘Oh, it’s just an example for class.’” Along with motivating students with his work, Ganger said the art teacher inspires other staff members as well. “I think Scott does a great job opening up our minds,” Ganger said. “Scott is an engineer with an art degree. He can do anything. When I look at something, I see an orange or a cell phone, but he sees so much more.” Scott’s Pine River fans are not the only ones who admire his talent. After the ArtPrize competition, Ripley’s Believe It Or Not purchased the playing card piece for display in a museum in Florida. He plans to enter the competition again with another card project to carry on the success. “Scott is a very gifted individual who realizes that there is more to art than just drawing,” Ganger said. “He instills in our students the (realization) that art is all around us. He’s a great role model for them.” Those interested in viewing more of Scott’s art can visit