BEIRUT: A knock at the door of artist Samar Itani’s studio in Verdun holds an unexpected surprise: A doorman from downstairs has come holding a post with a crooked piece of sheet metal at the top and a wheel rim at its base. He has heard Itani knows calligraphy and likes to help people.
A traffic signpost isn’t Itani’s usual medium for artwork, but she quickly decides to help him make the prettiest “No Parking” sign in the neighborhood.
Mostly a teacher of older women, Itani tries to help her students learn new skills to empower them at home and inspire their creativity.
Women come to Itani with little art experience and leave able to transform household goods into their own crafts.
A craft-maker and artist for 25 years who was trained in Italy, Itani has taken on a new challenge in teaching that she says is taking her art to new places.
“My students help me to make the idea,” Itani says, surrounded by her craftwork of plates, cups and serving trays in a small studio off a side street in Verdun.
She explains that when she teaches other people how to paint, use decoupage and make mosaics, she sees them begin to master a skill that has become ordinary to her.
Seeing that moment again lets her view the craft with fresh eyes. “Sometimes I find I have a new technique in class. Because sometimes it’s like popcorn, the ideas are coming out quickly.”
She also runs classes for women because it serves as a kind of craft therapy. She says she sees far too many women without usable skills and drawing can help reinvigorate their lives.
“All my students are ladies who are alone, they maybe have too much time and they are becoming depressed.
“At the end she can choose from her home, ‘I need this technique to change this door’ she can use drawing and decoupage,” Itani says. “She can make a difference at home.”
Itani has recently broadened her work to teaching children, for which she has used a lightweight material she created to allow kids to learn how to make mosaics.
The simple techniques Itani teaches to empower women can be seen as a strong influence in her own more sophisticated artwork.
Many of her pieces, such as traditional water jugs and coffee cups, get a block of modern color or understated illustration that makes them a fusion of old and new.
A set of drinking glasses are colored in soft pastels and accented with two inches of gold lacework at the top, but are otherwise unadorned.
The wide variety of designs on cups and mugs reveals an artist very familiar with modern experimentation, while her calligraphy work shows her study of traditional Lebanese arts.
“I put simple with traditional, I like to put new ideas with an idea from the past,” she says.
She reaches for a napkin and paint pot and demonstrates how she teaches flower design. She dots and swoops with a small paint brush, giving form to a vase of leaves and flower buds.
“I try to teach how to draw in a very simple way,” she says. “I’m always coming up with new ideas.”
Samar Itani teaches crafts classes and sells her work from her studio. She can also be found at Artisan Du Liban shows or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.