The Story Behind Cordovan Art School as told by owner and founder, John Howell
An Artist’s Dream
At age five, I knew I wanted to be an artist. I doodled and drew all the time, and took art classes. By the time I was in 10th grade, I had won every local and regional art competition that I entered, including an art competition hosted by Disneyland. In college, I studied Illustration and won a national art contest with the Society of Illustrators in NYC at the Illustrator Hall of Fame. At that time, my goal was to someday be an artist designing book covers, magazine articles, advertisements, etc. As college was coming to an end, I got a job offer to work for a video game company, which I turned down because I didn’t play a lot of video games. Instead, I moved to Southern California, close to where I grew up, to pursue my dream of being an illustrator. I got a few art commissions early on to do paintings for Capital One Visa, book illustrations and other jobs. However, I learned quickly that illustration was a very lonely career. Having little interaction with the outside world, I would paint and paint and paint all day long; some days I wouldn’t even talk to anyone. It wasn’t what I wanted to be doing. The First Art School and Other Creative Endeavors That is when I decided to open up an art school in Temecula, California. I loved teaching. I loved seeing the look on my students’ faces when they left the school with a beautiful drawing or painting that they were proud of. I enjoyed my little school.
Meanwhile, art was teaching me how to think “outside of the box”. It wasn’t long before I was using my creative thinking skills in other areas. The art school in California was my first taste of what being an entrepreneur felt like…and I loved it. The business skills I learned at my art school led me to become curious about other businesses. I became interested in real estate and started investing in small projects. Those small projects turned into big projects, and before I knew it, I had bought a few commercial buildings in the Austin, TX area. One thing led to another, and I started a real estate development company with three other partners in Texas. We started building small neighborhood retail centers, then we started putting together bigger retail centers with national tenants like Wells Fargo, Bed Bath & Beyond, Hometown Buffett, gas stations, and hospitals.
A Crash, A New Beginning and Another Set Back
Then 2008 came. The next 4 years were the hardest years of my life. I watched all of my successes wash away with the economic crash of 2008. My family and I lost everything. At that time, I had 4 daughters, the oldest was about 8 years old, and I was
worried about how I would take care of my family. Fortunately for me, I have been blessed with the ability to adapt and to solve problems. Even though I had completely failed, I knew it wasn’t the end. I knew that I could start over…so I did. This time, I knew more about who I was, and what makes me happy. ART makes me happy and working with people makes me happy. So I knew it was time to go back to being an artist. I opened Cordovan Art School in Round Rock, TX in 2009. I taught all of the classes and had students from ages 5-80 at the beginning. It was a lot of work, but I felt like I was doing what I was born to do. As interest grew, I hired more teachers. The appreciation for the arts was big in the area. In 2017, we opened up our 2nd location on the opposite side of town, in Cedar Park, TX. The response was amazing, and we realized that even more people wanted a place to exercise their creativity.
In 2019, we opened a 3rd art studio as we ventured into the Northwest Austin area, where we were met with the same type of enthusiasm from kids and adults alike. In February 2020, just 1 month prior to the Covid outbreak, we opened the doors of our 4th studio in Southwest Austin. We soon realized that we opened this art studio at a really bad time, not knowing that Covid-19 was coming. By April, the local governments forced us to shut the doors to all of our businesses as they grappled with what to do about Covid. It felt a lot like 2008 all over again. I was scared for my businesses and my family. Fortunately, I had already been through the economic disaster of 2008 and had learned a few lessons. We quickly adapted and made it through Covid with new creative ideas like online classes and “take-home” projects that enabled people to continue to enjoy some creativity at home during such a stressful time.
Back to What We Do Best: Create Artists
Gratefully, before too long, our art schools were back up and running, serving their communities. In 2021, on the heels of Covid, we purchased an art school in The Woodlands area of Houston. In the Spring of 2022, we opened 3 new studios in Katy, Sugar Land, and Spring, Texas, all in the Houston area. Each studio is family owned and operated. Even as we have grown, we have kept the same goals intact for each studio. The art teachers who work at Cordovan Art School are encouraging. They really
care about their students. Our motto is “We Create Artists” and our joy is seeing the smiles of students young and old, as they create, learn new techniques and skills, make friends and feel a part of the art community. It is exciting to bring the arts to communities where the interest in the arts is thriving! We sponsor the arts in local schools and helped non-profit organizations with fundraising. We have partnered with local arts councils and local city governments to bring art festivals to the communities we serve. We are very proud of our partnership with the city of Round Rock, Texas, where we helped create a chalk walk festival that has been running for over 10 years. Over 40,000 people attend each year. We love spreading the joy of creativity and the joy of art.
Professionally, I am an artist/illustrator. I have painted commissioned artwork for hospitals, universities, corporate reports, retail companies, book publishing companies, personal portraits and commissions. However, what I have found to be my TRUE passion–what really sets me apart is my ability to teach other people how to be artists. The passion I have for teaching art is what fuels my business.