Arts and Fashion Institute marries talents of Pamela Ptak and Scott Hanna [The Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.)]
(Morning Call (Allentown, PA) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) March 09--A colorfully decorated storefront along the Delaware River may not look big from the outside, but a lot is going on inside.
On a recent Saturday, the space was filled with a diverse crowd -- women who wanted to learn tricks of draping fabric and a teenager eager to draw superheroes.
At the Arts and Fashion Institute in Riegelsville, couture and cartooning share the same space.
The school draws on the strengths of husband and wife team Scott Hanna and Pamela Ptak. It's the brainchild of Ptak, who decided last summer to use the couple's diverse talents to start a unique school.
As Ptak showed her couture students how to drape a swath of blue cloth on a mannequin, Hanna demonstrated how to form cartoon faces.
Ptak envisioned a school that would fill holes in the standard art curriculum.
"We don't want to be an all-purpose arts school," she says. "We already have good schools. But two hot areas for classes are fashion and sequential arts. There is a demand for our specialties."
Both artists boast impressive resumes.
Ptak was a contestant on season 7 of Lifetime's "Project Runway" in 2010. She studied at the Maison Sapho School of Dressmaking & Design in Paris and the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. She also sewed and embellished on collections for noted fashion house Chado Ralph Rucci in New York. And she has taught fashion classes at Baum School of Art in Allentown and Drexel University in Philadelphia.
Hanna is a celebrated comic artist who has drawn Iron Man, Spider-Man, the Avengers, the X-Men and the Hulk at Marvel Comics, and Superman, Justice League and Batman at DC Comics. His work has been showcased at the Smithsonian Institution and the Museum of Comic & Cartoon Art in New York. And he has won multiple Inkwell Awards and an Eisner Award for his work on Spider-Man.
Ptak says she started to think about starting a school when she realized that few taught the haute couture techniques she had learned in France, which include draping, pattern making, hand sewing, hand beading and embroidery. She started offering advanced sewing lessons through private lessons she dubbed Camp Couture, and discovered people would fly in from Texas and drive from New York to learn her old-style French methods.
"I realized no one else really teaches this," she says. "There is something wholesome about doing all those steps, and that's what gave me my edge. It's rare stuff."
Hanna, who works full time doing comic art for Marvel and DC, agreed to teach art classes three days a week.
Hanna says those interested in pursuing cartoon work, animation or video game design need to learn sequential art, or how to tell a story with pictures.
"In art school, they teach you to draw but they don't teach you how to tell a story," says Hanna, who has also worked on video games. "I teach my students how to work with a script."
He also teaches classes in artistic animation, cartooning, artistic anatomy and figure drawing. He recently added a superhero class at the request of students.
"It's what I do best," he says.
He says that in the cartooning field, training is what's important and an artist doesn't need an advanced degree.
"Employers ask for your portfolio," he says. "It's about your skills."
In addition to her trademark radical free draping class, Ptak teaches pattern-making, corseted gowns, fashion design and a Sewkids! class for ages 8 to 12. She says a Tuesday drop-in sewing class that is open to all levels of sewers has been popular. Students can work on one of Ptak's five sewing machines or bring their own and get advice on projects for $10 an hour.
Sewing, she says, is seeing a resurgence in popularity. She thinks the Lehigh Valley is particularly strong in hand arts, noting its past influence in fashion during the heyday of Hess's Department Store in Allentown. She notes there also are active organized sewing groups in Emmaus and Easton and that many schools continue to teach basic sewing.
Debbie Inhoff of Fogelsville has been taking sewing courses from Ptak for years.
"At 21, I was given a sewing machine with five lessons, and from there I was hooked," Inhoff says.
She says she has never met a more dedicated teacher than Ptak, who she says also is "a very sweet and caring person who really wants to keep the sewing profession alive."
"If you don't understand something she will personally give you her attention or have you come in extra to help you," Inhoff says. "She is not afraid to share her knowledge, including the little tricks of the trade in sewing."
The school, which launched in the fall, almost didn't happen.
Three days after the first class, Hurricane Sandy ripped off the school's roof, causing thousands of dollars in damage and leaving the building soaked and without electricity.
Classes were relocated to the couple's Durham Township home and the social hall of nearby St. John's United Church of Christ in Riegelsville.
"I was doing pattern-making in the dining room and draping in the kitchen," Ptak says. "I was cutting fabric on the living room floor."
The spring semester, which kicked off at the end of February in the repaired building, is a fresh beginning, they say.
"It's a lot of hard work," admits Hanna. The couple work 80-hour weeks, Ptak says.
Ptak still keeps in touch with many of the designers she met on "Project Runway," and uses her celebrity to draw attention to the school. She plans to periodically bring in guest celebrities for workshops. Veronique de Groot, winner of Food Network's "Sugar Dome," gave a workshop on cookie decorating and will return for another workshop this month. Other guest celebrities teaching workshops will include Alexis Kovacs, a finalist on Oxygen's "Best Ink," and Philadelphia designer Jason Osborne.
"I prefer to be on my knees on the floor sewing and working with students, but I also get to see Heidi Klum at 'Project Runway' reunions," she says. "It's pretty fun and cool."
They are held at the Arts and Fashion Institute, 720 Easton Road, Riegelsville. Info: 610-346-6071, artsandfashioninstitute.com
-- Custom Painted Leather Accessories
-- What: Jason Osborne, a Philadelphia designer who creates embellished accessories, will show how to customize a leather bag, wallet, shoes or other accessory.
-- When: 2-5 p.m. Sunday, March 10
-- What else: Osborne's shoes will be featured in "Shoe.I.Cide," a show at Arts and Fashion Institute opening Sunday, March 10 with a reception 6-8 p.m.
How much: $35
-- Very Unique Easter Cookies
-- What: Veronique de Groot, winner of Food Network's "Sugar Dome," will show how to decorate cookies to look like Ukrainian Easter eggs, flowers and other spring items.
-- When: 7:30-9:30 p.m. March 29
How much: $35
-- Designing Tattoos
-- What: Alexis Kovacs, owner of Electric Cheetah in Bethlehem and a finalist on Oxygen's "Best Ink," gives a workshop on the art behind tattoo design.
-- When: 7-9 p.m. April 15
-- What else: Kovacs' designs will be featured in "The Art of Tattoo," an exhibit opening April 12 at Arts and Fashion Institute, with an opening 7-9 p.m.
-- How much: $35
-- Pysanky Egg Decorating
-- What: Ptak will teach the traditional art of making Pysanky Easter eggs, using the wax-resist method.
-- When: 6-9 p.m. March 25 or 28
-- How much: $25
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