Eric Velasquez: The art teacher who believed in me

Award-winning author and illustrator Eric Velasquez remembers an art teacher who gave him opportunities to express his creativity and the moment when she met his mother. You can see the full interview with Eric in our Meet the Author section.


Similar to comic books, my love of drawing and the fact that I drew so much was kind of like a secret, because back then you couldn't really bring comics to school. You could actually be sent down to the principal's office and disciplined. When we moved to Harlem, I went to another school, PS 1 45 on the upper west side of Manhattan. So there I went from group C to the Reading ES class because my reading levels in increased. And so I would now spend a lot of time in school paying attention and writing my notes. So I didn't do as much doodling.

So when I got into my art classes with Ms. Motivan and she realized that I could draw, she was amazed, but then would asked me if I wanted to do the class assignment or if I wanted to do my own thing. And I was shocked. “What do you mean ‘my own thing’?” “I can give you a little space right here. So every time you come into this classroom, you can just go into this little space all by yourself, and you can draw whatever you want. If you want to paint, you can paint. If you want to use the clay and sculpt.” And she really made a point of making me feel special. Now, I will say that sometimes I would want to do the class assignments, but then there were other days where she would allow me to just draw whatever I wanted to draw, and I would use the crayons and the poster paint.

And it was, I remember one summer day I was walking with my mom and we ran into Ms. Motivan, and she told my mom, she said, “Oh my God, your son is so gifted. Please do me a favor to keep him well-supplied with art supplies.” And my mom, who was a very proud woman, said, “There's never been a day when my son has not had art supplies.” They hugged each other right there on the street. It's like, and so basically she said, “Keep up the good work,” and my mom thanked her for the attention that she had paid me. But I think after that, in my mind, I knew I was an artist and that I would want to pursue a career as an artist. So that really was, I think, the turning point, especially hearing her explain to my mom how special I was.