No Limitations: Art Class Inspires David to Discover His Gifts

David Johnson loves bowling and has trophies to prove it. He loves the Arkansas Razorbacks. And now, thanks to his work in art classes at CALS, a caring family, and a dedicated health care professional, David also has a passion for art.

David is 35 and has Down Syndrome, which presents him with a different set of abilities and challenges than most people. David also has an infectious smile, which comes out when he poses for a picture with his finished works of art.

CALS art classes bring growth through the challenges of Down Syndrome

In early 2019, David started taking art classes at the CALS Fletcher Library with CALS programmer Susie Sward. His mother, Sharon, also helps him with art activities, and she praised David’s experience with the CALS art program. “Susie’s so great and he just meshes with her class. Susie explains it, but then everybody does what they want.”

Sharon added that the freedom of Sward’s art classes allows David to progress at his own pace without frustration, and to use his imagination to create his own unique pieces that bring together skills as he learns them.

David has the help of a Direct Support Professional, Kerri, who also appreciates the way Sward’s teaching has helped David grow through his artistic experiences.

“Susie encourages you to use your own style. She gives good background information and takes it step by step,” Kerri said.

Starting with simple, solid colors leads to new skills and complex imaginative work

David has come a long way since he began his art work. At first, in a rock-painting activity, he would simply paint the rocks all one color. But as he became more engaged in the creative process, he started to add polka dots on his rocks. From there, he progressed quickly—the next thing Kerri and Sharon knew, he was mixing colors. Then he used premade letters to spell his name on his art. He made a “Go Hogs!” sign to honor his beloved Razorbacks. And best of all, he started to independently use his new skills to envision new types of art. In one of Sward’s classes, he combined his new skills to create paintings featuring appealing patterns of dots, rectangles, and hearts. “He created that completely out of his own imagination while we were in class together,” his mother said.

David’s love for art is clear. When asked for his favorite color, he responded “Black,” but then added, “Orange. Green. Red.”

Sharon chuckled. “He likes them all!”

“I like it!” David said. He especially likes using the brushes. He is proud of his work and hangs his paintings on his wall in his bedroom. He said that the paintings make him feel happy. “I like to take pictures on my phone,” he said, describing the pleasure of showing his works to friends through his phonecam.

Kerri is delighted by what David has gained from his art classes. “David gains so much confidence with his painting and crafting.  He has learned to get out of his comfort zones, accepting that he can “color outside the lines,” being ok with getting messy, not being so regimented, and just the pride of being able to show people his talent.”

Unlocking the gift of creativity

The gift of creative freedom is the most precious part of the class, Kerri pointed out, and that is a gift that art class brings to everyone, no matter what their abilities. “From the first rock David painted,” Kerri said, “he knew that he himself could design and create whatever HE wanted to make- with no boundaries or limitations.”

CALS art and crafting classes are offered at the 14 branch libraries across the Central Arkansas Library system. For class times, see the events calendar at For information on the art classes at the CALS Fletcher Library branch, contact Susie Sward, Assistant Branch Manager at (501) 663-5457.