Bill Parks


Sadly, Susan and my teacher, Bill Parks passed away in his sleep on December 16, 2003 at age 81. Death is something we all will eventually have in common and is no real distinction. What sets us apart is how we choose to live, and by that standard, Mr. Parks' life was a distinguished one, indeed. You can hardly attend a prestigious show or pick up an art magazine without encountering one of his former students. Mr. Parks always emphasized that he was merely passing on what had been given him and the only repayment he expected was that you do the same with the knowledge you are now temporary steward of. 

Though Mr. Parks didn't want a funeral or memorial, any former students who would like to share a memory or tidbit of wisdom imparted to them from Bill, feel free to e-mail it to us and we'll include a few of them on this page of our website. Feel free to send in photos, printouts from his class, or just stories you'd like to share. I'm going to try and slowly add descriptions of his teaching method and instruction, though much of it will be a repeat of what you've heard me say in my demonstrations, workshops, and videos since our knowledge of painting came to a large part from Mr. Parks and on down from his teacher, his teacher's teacher, etc., stretching back from artist to artist to that first primitive man or woman who picked up a stick and made marks on some wood or stone wall. Mr. Parks continually reminded his students of this unbroken legacy and the fact that all of us are standing on the shoulders of those who preceded us. "To say that you are self-taught means you have an idiot for an instructor," was one of his numerous quotes, though I can't remember who he was quoting. Just the act of picking up a book of painting is a form of leaning from those before us. Because of this, Mr. Parks also emphasized the importance of passing on these hard-won realizations and tools to the next generation of artists.

It is hard finding the time to teach as well as paint and I have to admit that our focus is mainly on our own struggles and improving as painters and we usually only find time to do an occasional workshop or seminar each year. Susan and I  hope that by putting some of the knowledge that we've been given on our website we're at least doing a small part in sharing Mr. Parks' legacy with others. Mr. Parks' emphasis was much more tilted in the direction of sharing his knowledge than focusing solely on his own painting and promotion. He was a great painter, but few would have seen his work. Sometimes I wonder if anyone would have taken a workshop from him at one of the many workshop places around the country since so much of the success of such classes depends on the fame of the instructor, even though they might not necessarily be a great teacher. Mr. Parks was a great teacher, that was his gift. Our paintings are as much a product of him, and all the teachers we've had, as of our own.



Hello Scott and Susan,
What a wonderful find, to discover your online page remembering and honoring Mr. Parks! 
I sat on those high stools for two or more years in Bill Parks' classroom in 1978-79 -- and evolved more as an artist through his life-drawing courses than in any other classes taken during those years at the American Academy... or any since.
After noticing one time that he was eating a lunch of home-cooked carrots, I asked Mr. Parks about it (I made and brought my lunch too). The next week he brought a recipe card that he'd copied out for me, with its wonderful title: "pennies from heaven." It was just like him to have a special phrase for something as utilitarian as sliced cooked carrots, though when I made them, it was clear why: pepper flakes, honey, and orange peel additions had made them sublime.
In the same way, it was through his subtle, almost-invisible maneouverings that I came to realize that the human form was not a series of blocks and tubes, but instead was subtley muscled and certainly lyrical in all its solid and gestural expressions. 
Thirty years later, I have now taken up life drawing again in an impromptu class. It's a joy.
Bill Parks is in my thoughts weekly. That's because I really miss being able to remember the specific phrases that he repeated to us, over and over again, as he moved among us in his blue smock. At the time, I believed I'd never forget those drawing mantras, as he repeated them so ridiculously often. Short and pithy, they were his wisdoms, shared with us. He intended they should lodge in our brains forever... and I always thought they would.
What the devil were those phrases? You've said you yourself teach them in your workshops. I'd really love to hear them again. Learn them again. And, drawing each week, feel them guiding the intent of the hand and eye upon the model again.... create again the learning that he put in motion. Can you share with me what you remember him repeating?
I will be grateful for your response.
with best wishes to you.
Kim Holdsworth


Thanks for sharing your memories of Mr. Parks! I hear his oft-repeated phrases in my head every day I paint. The two most important ones were "Squint and Compare!" and "Nothing great was ever created without enthusiasm!" Anyone who takes a class from me will hear these over and over as well. When I teach, I find myself constantly saying, "Mr. Parks used to tell us..."
Happy painting and great to meet a fellow student of Mr. Parks. Weren't we fortunate to have known someone like him!
Scott (-:



Hello:  I just found your TERRIFIC! website in homage
to Bill Parks.  I studied at the American Academy way
long ago, 1969-1972 I think.  There was still a dress
code and we women had to wear dresses and climb up on
those tall drawing horses.

Mr. Parks taught me how to think for myself, how to
break down pre-conceived notions and find the truth,
for a quarter of course.  He's been in my head every
day since I was in his class.  I don't have to tell
you how great a teacher he was, well he is still

Mr. Parks and I became pretty good friends, we would
always sneek out to hall for a smoke during breaks and

For some reason in 2002 I was compelled to try and
find him and to say thanks for it all.  I did find
him, and to my surprise he remembered me and we must
have talked for two hours. Best phone call I ever
made.  Again he taught me and made me laugh.  His life
was one of the most valuable I have ever known and I
am grateful to have known him.

Bill Parks was a force of nature.  He's my hero.

Caroline Norton


     If you had Bill Parks for Life Drawing you were very fortunate because it was indeed a two-part class, if you listened, you learned how to draw, but if you really listened closely, you learned about life.

     He was Yoda, Obi Wan Kanobi and Merlin all wrapped in a blue smock (except for his Christmas party when the red smock came out along with his red beret) with a charcoal stick in one hand and a China marker in the other; a sagacious shaman with a wry smile, infectious chuckle and a twinkling smile that was the envy of department store Santas from coast to coast. 

He had wit and wisdom to spare.  He was always at the ready with a joke or his daily quotes that he posted on his classroom door.  Or his famous mnemonic notes of encouragement like 'ATTITUDE,' or 'TRY.'  Spelled vertically each letter represented another word:

Always Think That It's The Ultimate Daily Endeavor

Think Respond Yourself

     He was a cheerleader who was kind of stingy with the rah-rahs.  But that just made the times when he did give you that mental (as well as physical) pat on the back that much more savory. 

     I was lucky enough to have continued our relationship far past the classroom; mostly phone calls and letters and the occasional German chocolate cake or pot of Spanish rice that I would bring to his Saturday classes. He was a kind man.  He was my friend and I will miss him.  But his kindness and friendship will continue forever through all of us lucky enough to have had him as a teacher.  More importantly I will carry the education/gifts that he passed on to me and that I can pass on to others.  He was fond of saying that we all stand on tall shoulders.  I am proud, honored and humbled that I got to climb his.  There is a Chinese proverb that says of every three people you meet, one of them will be your teacher.  Bill Parks was that teacher, times three, to the third power.

     In retrospect what he taught was relatively simple:

 -Line drawing -length and direction; how far does a line go before it changes direction.

-Values -squint and compare; darkest dark and the lightest light.  Everything else must fall in between.

-Edges -keep them soft except for a few near the center of interest.  If you're unsure, keep them soft.

-Color  -paint what you see.

And don't complain (too much) about problems with these four issues until you've done four or five hundred paintings.         

     It's also good to know that Heaven has a pretty good Life Drawing teacher.  I can hear his voice… "…Every now and then get up off your cloud and take a look at your effort from a distance…"

John Tylk



See this soap saver, don't remove or touch the soap saver.

It is there to keep the soap from sitting in the water and wasting away.
If you remove the soap saver I will be very angry and there is going to be
Into the semester  the soap saver was lost and Mr. Parks let us have it (slamming door and all).
I figured out that his anger wasn't about the soap saver but about us not working hard enough. After his talk (putting it nicely) to the class,  everyone seemed to work much harder.
And the soap saver was found.
Jerry Salinas
class of 1989


Scott and Susan,
    I was looking at your site to link it to my web @ and found out the bad news. I guess Mr. Parks did not get my Christmas card this year. I found a letter from him the other day. He sent it to me when I was in Italy in reply to a postcard I sent him from Florence a few years ago. It had his trade mark hearts and smiles drawn on it, wishing me well. I wondered how he was doing, I never met a more positive man, encouraging and honest, all of the way. His love of drawing and desire to see people get better and feel good about themselves when they were struggling most, is a major factor that inspired me to teach. He was teaching much more than drawing in his class that is for sure, he made me a better person as well as a better artist.  I think it is great that you are making a page for him, he needs to be remembered and his positive A.T.T.I.T.U.D.E (always think that its the ultimate daily endeavor) needs to be passed on. He is with us, I hear his simple logic in my mind every time I am working or teaching. I remember one time I was working on a portrait spending too much time messing around with the hair and avoiding the features (which were giving me some difficulty). He came along and asked me if I wanted to be a hair dresser or a portrait artist! I knew just what to do.  Smile at the model, smile at the drawing and smile at myself. We are special, just like he always said, and probably  more so for having him touch our lives.
Happy New Year

Here's a second story.

Some students who were switching from the American Academy to another school of representational art in Chicago were bragging about how long they worked on their cast drawings at this new school and how they wanted to grind their own pigment and other such esoteric things. I asked Mr. Parks what he thought about the value of spending 100 hours on one drawing or working on a painting for a year....... He simply said, "When you go to your refrigerator and there is nothing in it, you will wish you know how to work a whole lot faster."  I knew he did not mean that I should slop things out or only paint for money, but that I should stay my course and be confident and learn to draw as easy as it is to breath, not just copy what I see like a machine. He knew first hand the real life challenge of trying to be an artist and raise a family and wanted his students to be able to earn a living doing something they loved. Our time is limited, so make he most of it. Some of those students who went to draw those casts are probably still there.

James C. Werner


Susan and I loved hearing your story of Mr. Parks; we all have so many of them! The best part was the way Mr. Parks would get you to see the error with questions rather than just telling you what the error was straight away. Example: "Are you painting what you see, Scott?" "Oh, yes, Mr. Parks, absolutely." "And that hand; it's what you see?" After a bit of studying the model and my drawing, "Yes, I think so." "And, how many fingers do you see on the model?" "Five...." of course, halfway through this response I'd just realized that I'd added an extra finger in my drawing!

Many teachers would just tell you to darken the shadows, that the foot was too long, etc, but Mr. Park wanted you to learn how to see these errors on your own, to think critically and to truly understand why you were changing something or selecting a certain value or color, which is far more valuable a lesson since it is one you can apply even when your teacher is no longer there to tell you! Even when I'm painting now in my studio, I can hear Mr. Parks' voice in my head asking me, "Are you painting what you see, Scott?"

Susan and I love your website and artwork and are so happy to see that there are people like you carrying the torch of art forward.

Happy painting and look forward to seeing you in person sometime!

Scott Burdick (-:


Scott and Susan,

I saw on your site recently that Bill Parks passed away.  You asked for good stories about him.  Here's one that I remember about him.

One Saturday afternoon after his drawing class at the American Academy of Art, I was in one of the rooms upstairs working on one of my own pieces.  He came into the room, said hello, and took a look at what I was doing.  After complementing me, he motioned me to get up and follow him.  We both walked to the area of the Academy where they had the permanent collection on the walls (Thomas Blackshear, Haddon Sundbloom, et al.).  We went from piece to piece, and he was explaining what was good about each one.  At the end of the talk, he pointed at me and said "Now, what are you going to do?  What's inside of you?  What are you going to say to people with your work?"  He was trying to emphasize that what I was learning there were just skills, and that what I should be thinking about is how to use them well and wisely.  He valued the individual expression of beautiful work as much as the skill.  I'll always remember that.  It was a great lesson.

I only took his class one time.  It was the quarter that he retired from the Academy after his wife passed on.  But he was great and I can see why he had such a positive effect on people and why they liked him so much.  He lived a long and full life and, in my opinion at least, was a great success.  He wasn't rich or famous, but he got to do and share what he loved for most of his life.  If we could all be so lucky!

Best wishes to you both for your continued success,

Brian Minder


Scott and Susan,

I was deeply moved to read of the passing of my beloved teacher Mr.

Without exaggeration I can say he was and continues to be one of the
most influential people of my life.

I was a very lucky young man when I walked into his classroom and
parked my self on a bench 25 years ago. Mr. Parks gave me inspiration,
direction, and practical instruction I could USE. His words ring in my
ear to this day -- in his voice!

Fortunately I was inspired a few years ago to write and thank him for
all he had done for me. If I am a very lucky man again, I would be
happy to teach and so continue his legacy.  After all what he really
guided me towards was finding the joy in life and myself. A wonderful
gift to give.

Paul Schmid
AAA student from 1979 to 1982


"It's the long brake time, ten whoooooole minutes of fun, frolick and fooling around.  Anybody got a birthday?"

It's goofy I know, but there is only a few people I am aware of, who might find that as funny as I do

Take care,
Brian Busch

Dear Susan & Scott,
  I was visiting the American Academy Web site and read that their gallery at the school was the Bill Parks Gallery.  I did a search for him and found your nice tribute to him, what a great man and a extraordinary teacher. I hadn't heard of his passing, a lot of memories now filling my mind.
  I had the great fortune to have been in his Life Drawing class and a summer Oil Painting class.  He took us all painting to Grant Park, our first on location experience.  He gave us all the confidence to paint in public by telling us, "Remember, you know more now about painting than the people walking through the park will ever know."  We had more fun that summer, and I met my best friend in his class over 30 years ago..
    I remember most his wink and his hand out for a quarter from students who would wander into his class during breaks. He lives on in the hearts of all his students. His picture still hangs in my studio.  I'm sending a copy of it.  It was taken probably in 1973 or 1974. 
  Your paintings are beautiful.  Continued success to you both!
Best wishes,
DraSan' Nitti

Just writing to thank you for the wonderful website on Bill Parks. I studied under him in my years at the academy, the early 80's. You're probably not searching for more feedback on Mr. Parks, but I'll lend my two cents if you'll indulge me. Bill was (to me) a man who wanted to seem larger than life, and by-and-large, succeeded. He was a character and BY FAR the best teacher I've ever had in any pursuit, and I've known some good ones, in my estimation; including a few others I studied under at the academy. I think the fact that he incessantly repeated himself drilled home to me truths I had to be mindful of, and the realization that man learns pretty much the same as a dog does, by repetition. I could tell some stories of our interactions but prefer to just thank you for the photo that tops your site concerning him. It provokes a lot of fond memories. Thanks,
                                                          the artist du four
Just writing to thank you for the wonderful website on Bill Parks. I studied under him in my years at the academy, the early 80's. You're probably not searching for more feedback on Mr. Parks, but I'll lend my two cents if you'll indulge me. Bill was (to me) a man who wanted to seem larger than life, and by-and-large, succeeded. He was a character and BY FAR the best teacher I've ever had in any pursuit, and I've known some good ones, in my estimation; including a few others I studied under at the academy. I think the fact that he incessantly repeated himself drilled home to me truths I had to be mindful of, and the realization that man learns pretty much the same as a dog does, by repetition. I could tell some stories of our interactions but prefer to just thank you for the photo that tops your site concerning him. It provokes a lot of fond memories. Thanks,
                                                          the artist du four

Here's one of the printouts that I saved from Mr. Parks' classes.







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