(Above: Young artist Sarah Voots works on a painting during a class at Wheelhaus Arts; photos by Taylor Griggs)

By Taylor Griggs

Artist David Placencia wanted to create an art studio for kids of all ages, where he could be in charge of his own mission to help them learn and grow in their art. After working as an instructor and mentor at art centers around town — most recently, he served as the administrator of youth art works at the Emerald Art Center in Springfield — he opened his own studio and workshop space, called Wheelhaus Arts.

David Placencia teaches kids from elementary through high school at his studio, Wheelhaus Arts

It started out earlier this year in a space on Highway 99, which was a less centralized location than Placencia preferred. But recently he moved Wheelhaus Arts to a basement space in the historic Quackenbush building in downtown Eugene, on a busy block of East Broadway between Oak and Pearl streets, below J Michaels Books.

Placencia said that his main goal in opening the studio is to create a space where kids can be taken seriously and treated like adults, and their art encouraged to flourish.

“Now that it’s 100 percent my own, I can cater my lesson plans to what we want to accomplish,” Placencia said. “I want to help the kids to put their artwork in real galleries, with real options to sell art and connect with the art community at a young age.”

Placencia is a logical person to be helping to connect kids with Eugene’s art community. He graduated from the University of Oregon in 2013 with a degree in fine art and art history, and he has accumulated an impressive resume since.

He’s been involved in the creation of well-known public artworks around town — among them the Martin Luther King Jr. mural on the side of First Christian Church in downtown Eugene — and has used his skills to help instruct kids for years.

Placencia’s classroom is calm but energetic, and even in such a relaxed atmosphere, he is able to maintain a level of mutual respect between the kids and himself. It’s clear from observing the classes that he values their time and creative energy.

Eighth-grade artist Aden Nice prefers abstract paintings; instructor David Placencia has sold several of the young artist’s pieces

“I try to customize what I can do for them,” Placencia said. “The one easy way to lose a young artist is having them paint apple after apple after apple instead of engaging with their own creative mind and supporting them.”

One student that Placencia has spent a lot of time working with is 14-year-old Aden Nice, whose primary artistic interest is painting abstract pieces. Nice is quite the prolific artist, especially considering that he’s in only the eighth grade, and Placencia said that he has sold over 30 of the boy’s paintings.

“It’s fun to make abstract things. There’s no rules, exactly, it’s just fun,” Nice said.

Nice said that he really values having a space like Wheelhaus to experiment with his abstract art.

“I don’t really have a good work space at my house, so this is a good place to come,” he said. “We all share the same hobby, and it’s so nice to have someone to collaborate with. I’m working alongside tons of people that I can just ask for their input on anything at any time.”

Placencia wants to continue to make this space accessible for everyone, making it a place accepting of all mediums, ages and skill levels, as well as financially feasible.

Wheelhaus Arts even has its own studio cat, Kimbra, who helps create a warm and welcoming atmosphere for young students

“We’re super affordable — that’s something I work really hard on,” he said. According to Wheelhaus’ website, prices range from $50-$120 per student depending on age and frequency of classes, and Placencia offers reduced rates for siblings.

A lot of what makes Wheelhaus Arts work is this acceptance and communal feeling. There is a friendly banter in the room, and it’s clear that friendships can be formed in this space. Notably, there is also a cute kitten in the room, Kimbra, who makes the studio feel even more comfortable.

“They all know each other; they all are friends. They all support each other and each other’s artworks, they all know each other’s styles and weirdness,” Placencia said. “We’re all pretty familiar with each other’s weirdness by now.”

Placencia said that he loves working with kids because he gets a new perspective from them as well as the other way around.

“They come from a perspective that will always be different than what I think,” Placencia said. “Going through the undergraduate process, you’re trained to think a certain way. And when I get to see what the kids do without training, but with instruction, it’s really cool.”

Wheelhaus Arts students will exhibit their fall-term accomplishments during downtown Eugene’s Dec. 6 First Friday ArtWalk. For information about the program, go online to wheelhausarts.com

David Placencia and some of his younger students show masks they created with a Día de los Muertos theme