Article by Julie Lake

Saginaw Heritage High School art teacher Bill Chaltraw is making a career out of what he loves:  teaching others to love making art.

Chaltraw was born into a family of six children and at a young age developed a love for comic books.  During summer vacations, his parents would give them paper and pencils, which Chaltraw used to try to copy the superhero wallpaper that covered his bedroom walls.  He was influenced early on by comic book artists Greg Capullo and Jim Lee.  Later, such artists as Travis Charest, Adam Hughes, Alex Ross, and Drew Struzan attracted his interest.  To Chaltraw, comic books not only contained gorgeous artwork, but also told a story—a combination that he found attractive.

Chaltraw first thought about teaching when he was in tenth-grade art class at Heritage High School.  His inspiration came when he helped a fellow student who was having some trouble with a piece of artwork. This small act of kindness made him think, "After high school, give me four years and I’ll be teaching here." Little did he know then that this thought would become a reality.

Chaltraw attended Saginaw Valley State University on a full scholarship.  One professor inspired him to create better drawings when, during a critique of student work, he looked at Chaltraw's drawing and said, "So what," and moved on to the next student.  It was at this point that Chaltraw's eyes were opened—this professor was trying to tell him that his artwork could be better. Rising to the challenge, he began listening closely during these critiques and made the appropriate changes to improve his work.

After graduating from SVSU, Chaltraw began teaching art classes at Heritage High School. Since 2003, he has continued to inspire students to love art and he enjoys making a career out of teaching what he loves.  Choosing to teach at the high-school level came easily for Chaltraw because he had already been coaching sports at that level. He particularly enjoys working with teens because he "likes the critical analysis that high school students have."  He hopes to inspire them to love art and to tell stories through their artwork.

"I want to teach that anyone can do it," says Chaltraw.  His future plans are to hold an open studio that will be a gathering place for artists in the community to receive instruction or to work on personal projects in a supportive environment.  He also wants to be able to draw his own graphic novel.

Chaltraw's advice to young, aspiring artists is to never stop exploring and to work everyday.  "It’s called artwork because it takes work.  Never stop working, and never think it's not going to happen," he says.

© Julie Lake, 2009