The living room walls of Megan Gleason's Reston condominium are lime green. Instead of buying a rug, she decorated a heavy canvas in shades of pink, purple and blue, painting checks and diamonds and even green olives stuffed with red pimentos.
She painted her bedroom walls hot pink and her bathroom a slightly lighter pink. And when Gleason, an art teacher at Waples Mill Elementary School in Oakton, finished the spaces in her condo, she began painting pictures of whimsical rooms instead of decorating the real things.
Gleason, 36, said part of the inspiration for her artwork comes from the children who bound into her classroom to fashion three-dimensional crickets from paper or paint abstract images of trees and plants or turn lumps of clay into gargoyles.
"My love of painting really came from making pleasurable spaces, making a space where I want to be," Gleason said. "It's really happy and really bright, and that's been influenced by the kids."
Gleason's cheery designs also appealed to a team of judges who selected one of her works -- a painting titled "Lemonade and Gerber Daisies" -- to be featured in "Best of Virginia Artists and Artisans 2005," a book set to be published later this year.
Gleason is among four Fairfax County teachers, and about 80 artists statewide, whose work will appear in the book.
A graceful vase crafted by George Juliano, a teacher at Robinson Secondary School in Fairfax, was a winner in the ceramics category. Paintings by Nancy Hannans, who teaches computer graphics and art at Hayfield Secondary School in the Alexandria area, and Dolores Wimberly, an art teacher at Longfellow Middle School in the Falls Church area, also were chosen.
"Best of Virginia Artists and Artisans 2005" is the brainchild of Renee Kennedy, a painter who runs Kennedy Promotions, a company based in Williamsburg that helps artists find ways to show off their talent. Works for the book were chosen by three judges, Kennedy included, from about 300 entries from artists across the state.
"We always thought artists were underexposed and under-appreciated," Kennedy said.
She said the company is working to produce similar books in New York, North Carolina and Pennsylvania and hopes to continue expanding the project. The Virginia book, which will cost about $20 or $25, will be sold by Barnes & Noble, on Amazon.com and in some locally owned bookstores, she said.
In a time when there is an increasing emphasis on standardized tests and the federal No Child Left Behind law in classrooms, all four teachers said the personal recognition draws attention to school art programs that encourage creativity and provide a break from the stress of the day. Each teacher incorporates culture, math and history into lessons. But all say art class is about stretching your imagination and trying new things.
Wimberly, a Fairfax County teacher for 16 years, has a license plate that says "Arteezt." She said she requires her students to sketch in pen "just so they get comfortable making mistakes."
"They are really afraid to take risks," she said. "I want them to come up with their own ways of solving a problem."
After a little practice, Wimberly said, the students become more confident and their sketches more powerful. "When they have to do self-portraits, they just seem to capture themselves better," she said.
That ability to adapt and create will translate to any discipline, said Juliano, known to most of his students as Mr. J.
"Most of my kids will not be artists, but they will think like artists," he said. "They will be able to sell their product because they will be thinking in creative ways. Or they will be able to cure cancer because they will study the failures of other scientists and they will be able to think outside the box. It's not about ceramics, it's more about a philosophy."
During a recent afternoon in Juliano's Ceramics I class, rock music played on the radio, but the students were mostly quiet as they hovered around boxes they had formed of clay.
Some students were fashioning drawers to fit in the boxes, while others carved intricate designs in the clay.
Susan Jung, 16, called across the room. "Mr. J., can you come here, please?"
Juliano, wearing his trademark overalls, walked over and inspected Jung's box, decorated with clay seashells and a starfish that rested on the top.
"It looks just like a beach," Juliano said as he sat down and turned the box in his hands. "Look how that starfish leg goes up. That's very original."
Juliano, who has been teaching in Fairfax schools since 1972, showed Jung how to put tiny holes in the seashells to help ensure they stay affixed to the box when it is fired in the kiln, because any trapped air will be able to escape. Then he noticed that one decoration, a raised strip of clay waves attached along the bottom of one side, created an uneven edge on an adjoining side.
Juliano picked up a pencil and carved a line in the clay, highlighting the uneven edge.
"I'd rather emphasize it than hide it," he said.
Jung, who took Juliano's class because her older sister had raved about it, said she looks forward to ceramics class after a day of math, science and English.
"Mr. J.'s very funny. He's not like my other teachers," she said. "He's very open-minded and free-thinking. He makes our class fun."
During these "fun" classes, Juliano and his colleagues are fitting in lessons on history, art history and even social science. For instance, Juliano's students learn about a Japanese ceramic technique known as raku.
Gleason's elementary students paint abstract pictures of the plants and trees they study in science class. And Wimberly's middle school students have illustrated storybooks that are sent to orphans in Mexico.
"It's about thinking beyond this area, which is so affluent," Wimberly said. "Just to be thinking beyond our borders."
This year, Wimberly's students will make collages that express their views on a social issue, perhaps their ideas about bullying or even about the war in Iraq. They also will learn about the plight of refugee children in Uganda and make books to send to them.
In Nancy Hannans's classes, students are encouraged to examine their own history and experiences when they make art. For one assignment, students will research the origin and meaning of common textile patterns from their own cultural heritage and create a banner incorporating the design. Students also make a memory collages based on a special moment in their lives.
"I try to get them to convey something personal, so they can really express themselves," Hannans said. "Art is about communication."
One recent morning in Hannans's class, Zanaba Hudson, 16, a senior, used a glue gun to add grains of sand to her memory collage, a poster decorated with shells, sand and family photos taken years ago at Coney Island.
"We'd go to Coney Island to get away from the hot apartment," Hudson recalled. "I remember the waves were always so nice."
Hudson said Hannans helped her translate that special memory into a three-dimensional collage, giving her a tiny jar of sand and a pair of girl's pink plastic sunglasses to add to the poster.
"She has a good sense of art, of how to place everything," Hudson said.
Hannans, who has illustrated children's books, including one titled "Morning, Noon and Nighttime, Too," worked as a graphic designer for years. But she returned to teaching in 1999 because she was searching for something "more meaningful," she said.
Although she didn't quite expect it, teaching has also contributed to her growth as an artist.
"Teaching has helped me to ask myself questions I would ask students," Hannans said. "How would you make this work better? What are some things you could change?"
To find out more about "Best of Virginia Artists and Artisans 2005," go to www.bestofartists.com/index.html.