Outside the Lines

PHOTO BY Molly Kendrick
PHOTO BY Molly Kendrick

Nicole Brisco is an innovative and passionate educator, a devoted and creative mother and an award-winning artist! Each role is strongly connected, balancing and fortifying the other, to earn her the incredible success she has found in all three.

Brisco loves her role as an artist and believes it makes her a better educator. She has always been artistic, and at an early age, she remembers sitting at her mother’s feet drawing and coloring at the end of the school day. She began college as a pre-orthodontics major, but after taking some art classes for relaxation, she found joy in creating and turned that love into a career.

As an educator, Brisco takes her role seriously. After twenty-three years of teaching, she says the deep and meaningful relationships she has built with her students have been the best part. Watching them grow from the ages of fourteen to eighteen and become successful adults is rewarding. She enjoys seeing all of their growth and accomplishments. Brisco was honored recently to attend the wedding of a couple who met in her art class. It is stories like this which allow her to remain connected as part of her student's lives, beyond the confines of her classroom. The bonds she creates with her students are very important and she says, “they feel like part of your family… I have ‘my children,’ but then there’s ‘my kids,’ and that’s who I have here at the high school.” That type of love is the hallmark of all great educators and the hope of every parent when they drop their children off at school each morning.

Nicole, hard at work on a commissioned piece, “Beauty in the Chaos.”

Photo by Ava Gray Brisco

Brisco sees a good educator as someone who can be flexible and adapt. She says, “I look at the way I teach differently now that I am a parent and see it from that point of view.” As the world has changed and produced a barrage of imagery through media, learning styles have changed as well. She believes someone who can look at each student as an individual, figure out how they learn and adapt to those individual needs, will be more successful. She knows that, like the uniqueness of a student’s perception of the world, each artistic creation is as individual as its creator, making personalized instruction her goal for each of her students.

Brisco feels her paintings reflect what she sees around her. In every piece of art she creates, there is depth and meaning, providing insight into her view of her surroundings. For example, one special project that has become priceless in Brisco’s collection are drawings she did after her mother passed away. They related to the transition from Earth to Heaven and are very meaningful. Her personal attachment to these pieces makes them invaluable. They would not be for sale at any price. She asks her students to have a purpose in their art, and she makes sure to do the same in her own.

Brisco and her husband, Chris, wanted to travel and experience life before taking on the role of parents, so, for some time at the beginning of their marriage, it was just the two of them. Now, their children, twins Ava Gray and Christian, are the primary focus, and Brisco is determined to be very purposeful in her parenting. As a mother, art influences the way Nicole shows life to her children. As in many homes with two working parents, the Briscos take on the challenge of making the family unit their top priority, keeping boundaries between their professional lives and their lives at home. However, Chris is also creative and plays a vital role in Nicole’s career as an artist, and often builds frames with Christian’s help. Ava Gray helps with painting and can be found on the floor helping her mom work on a project, truly making it a family affair. Even though her husband is a “chemist by profession,” and she is an artist, they perfectly “blend and complement each other,” and both children feel pride in assisting in her art endeavors. “Being an artist and an art teacher has given me, to some degree, an advantage as a mother. I really don’t ever find a time in my life where I’m not using art to at least make some adventure or create something fun for the kids to do, helping them learn to be creative.”

Chris, Nicole, Christian and Ava Gray Brisco in 2019.

Brisco’s work has been featured in many art shows throughout her career. For an artist, these types of exhibitions evoke a myriad of emotions, including the exhilaration of having the world see their talent and many hours of hard work. They also bring the anxiety of feeling exposed to the world as others have the opportunity to judge or critique something that is very personal to the artist. From her senior art show, which was a requirement for the completion of her college degree, a professor from her school bought one of her paintings. She felt a lot of pride and validation from the sale of that piece since it came in the foundational stages of her quest to become a professional artist. More recently, Brisco showcased about 90 pieces in a solo exhibition at Texas A&M University-Texarkana. Even though the challenges of putting together a show on that scale, with a job and children, cannot be denied, it was really quite relaxing and fulfilling for her, and she accredits God with guiding her.

The art students at Pleasant Grove High School also have the opportunity to showcase their works in state and national competitions. The school hosts a yearly student exhibition of five to six hundred student art pieces in a one-night show. These young artists learn the business aspect of the art world and gain the experience of putting together a professional presentation. The National Art Honor Society recently selected eight students from Pleasant Grove to present their art at a show highlighting exceptional student achievement. Out of only 90 students selected nationwide, almost ten percent of this year’s honorees are Pleasant Grove students under the guidance of Brisco and her co-teacher, Melissa Manning, who is also a former student. That cannot be a coincidence. These ladies are truly extraordinary teachers.

Another major contribution Brisco has made to education has been the writing of a published classroom curriculum. After years of teaching, traveling, and seeing other classroom procedures, she has learned the tools that work. She has authored a curriculum that is now part of textbooks used across the nation that spotlight Pleasant Grove High School’s art program.  

Brisco’s creative genius has earned her a multitude of well-deserved awards. Among those was the National Secondary Art Educator of the Year which she was awarded in 2018. Another of her most prized accomplishments was winning the Texas Humanities Art Educator of the Year. This award is given each year to an Art, English or History teacher, and included as part of the competition is a written essay. Brisco considers this award a special honor and says, “In high school, I never considered myself a writer, and I was up against English teachers who were grammar experts. I believe my creative side allowed me to be a more confident storyteller. I was very honored to have been chosen out of hundreds of entries. Receiving recognition for an accomplishment that was outside what I naturally do, which is to draw pictures, I was incredibly proud of that award.”

Every person is made up of unique talents, goals and personality traits. One cannot be separated from the other because they all are necessary for building the individual. In Nicole Brisco’s case, the artist provided the foundation for the educator and according to her, the educator prepared the way for parenthood. “God placed me as an educator before a mom because He’s revealed so much to me in the classroom about things I want in my children… so a lot of those things are reflected in me as a parent.” Instructions she has given her twins every day since kindergarten are, “Be good, be kind and be helpful.” These are values she admires in many of her students. “There are so many things that my kids teach me at the high school, and I think, ‘I want my children to be like that little girl or that little boy’ because they really have such a head on their shoulders and are so kind, polite and hard-working.” As we grow as individuals, we would be wise to do as Brisco does, allowing every individual facet of our lives to add to the whole and develop us into something better. Texarkana is a better place because of Nicole Brisco. Respect the educator, love the mother and appreciate the artist, but most of all, recognize her beautiful soul and all the blessings she brings to our great community. 

Nicole Brisco’s Professional Awards, Honors and Publications

Best of Texas, State Educator Award of Excellence—Ford Corporation—2019
National Secondary Art Educator of the Year- NAEA Seattle—2018
Texas Humanities Educator of the Year—National Endowment for the Arts—2017
Scholastic Art and Writing Educator Honoree—New York City—2015
State Course Writer: Art and Media Communication—Austin, Texas 2010-2012
TEA Center for Education Development CADRE Honoree—2009
University of Texas $1,000,000 Grant for UT Art Ed Program for Art and Media Communication Course
Scholastic Art and Writing Juror—Columbus College of Art and Design—2009
Young Talent of Oklahoma State Juror, Oklahoma Art Education Association—Oklahoma City Oklahoma—January 2007
Finalist: 2007 National Secondary Art Educator of the Year, Western Division National Art Education Association
Texas Secondary Art Educator of the Year 2006—Texas Art Education Association
Teacher Institute in Contemporary Art Awardee– School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the National Endowment of the Arts
Discovering Painting Textbook—Student Samples—Davis Publications—May 2010
Discovering Printmaking Textbook—Student Samples—Davis Publications—May 2006
Discovering Drawing Textbook—Ready-Made Still-life—Davis Publications—May 2006
Discovering Drawing Textbook—7 Student Benchmark Works Selected—Davis Publications
Published in School Arts Magazine—Contributing Editor 2008- Present, 22 articles published.
School Arts Magazine—Clip Card Writer—August 2005-Present
Published in TAEA Star -Creative Risk-Taking, Big Dreams, Big Money and Secondary Updates
Selected: Advanced Placement Consultant Training—The College Board, Princeton New Jersey
Published in Advanced Placement Studio Art Teachers Guide—The College Board, Page 154 April 2004
Published in Westminster Schools Advanced Placement Guide—Atlanta, Georgia/ Maggie Davis—March 2003
SFA: Texas Art Educator of the Year—October 2002 -Stephen F. Austin University
Published in National College Board AP Booklet—March 2003
Pleasant Grove High School Teacher of the Year—April 2002—Rotary Club

Nicole explains the process for creating her self portrait on the March 2021 cover…

“I created this self portrait as a homage to working mothers. I chose to represent a more contemplative pose where my head turns in one direction but I look back the other. Reflected in my face are my twins Ava Gray and Christian as they are each a part of me. The portrait begins with a blue undertone wash and later is washed with soft pastels and peach tones. Small dots freckle the page interconnected across my visual sky as a reminder of the God that holds me together with a strong bold feather that in native cultures represents strength and balance which is the definition of mom who is given the strength to do both.”


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