“It seems that everything lines up for me to step away from the classroom and I am pleased about that,” said Peter Tiner, a three-decade long educator who discovered his career calling while teaching transcendental meditation.
The popular 61-year-old Tiner will retire when the school year ends June 23 after 21 years teaching art to roughly 3,675 of Laguna Beach High School students. While he emphasized traditional training in drawing and painting, his own special gift was preparing students to eliminate their visual boundaries. “Students are losing touch with classical methods in a digital age that is fast and furious, so I start with basic skill building that is time consuming but necessary for every aspect of creativity,” he said.
“I have a lot to credit Peter for,” said former four-year student Erin Fusco. “He was always encouraging and patient. I had been drawing all my life but he really made me look at my own work; he was a great guide.”
Fusco, 25, attended Laguna College of Art and Design and now lives in San Francisco working as a freelance game designer and animator whose work straddles cartooning, animation and illustration. “Lately I have been looking at my old high school work and I see now how he was always trying to push us into the right direction,” she recalled.
Tiner first arrived in Laguna Beach in 1961 as a fifth-grader and thrived in the town’s freewheeling, artsy atmosphere. He graduated from LBHS in 1968 and enrolled in the California College of Art in Oakland, close to his birthplace in Palo Alto.
His 20s included travel abroad and six-months study of transcendental meditation in Spain with Beatles’ guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. After returning to Laguna, he taught meditation and discovered that he had a knack for instructing. “I got three teaching credentials from UC Irvine and a master’s degree in painting from Cal State Fullerton. I spent nine years in college altogether, so one could say that I dug education,” he said.
In 1990, he returned to teach art at LBHS where he developed the Advanced Placement art studio program and a digital art curriculum. “I can say that I did everything I could in the classroom,” he said.
From the start, Tiner sought to engage the whole student through art. “Arts programs get the imagination going and help to visualize abstract ideas, and I always tried to make the kids aware why they were in class,” he said. Working on his own, he discovered the Notan Theory, a Japanese art concept that breaks visual fields into shapes of light and shadow and, subsequently, color. “I applied and taught the method in photography, painting and design,” he said. Student work can be seen at www.notandrawing.com
In 1982, Tiner married Eleanor, who worked at the high school then and is now a swim teacher and special education aide at Thurston Middle School. Their 29 years of marriage was marked by tragedy, however. Their younger son, Mark, a 17-year-old LBHS student, died in a 2003 car crash with another student, Max Sadler. A scholarship in Mark’s name is awarded yearly in perpetuity. Their older son, Sean, 27, graduated from Brown University and is pursuing graduate studies at USC.
After his son’s death, and during a ’97 fire when Tiner’s parents lost their Skyline Drive home, “Laguna never let us forget what a close community this is,” he said.
While he was recently on leave to undergo surgery, Jennifer Pruitt, a former student and now a credentialed teacher, substituted for him in the classroom. “Peter opened all the doors to art for me and steered me toward my teaching career as well,” she said. “He inspired all of us to reach beyond our limits to fully develop creativity,” said Pruitt, 34, a native of Laguna Beach, who intends to apply for Tiner’s post.
“I have observed his classes and molded my teaching technique on his. I would not be where I am today, had he not been my mentor,” she added.
Even though it would seem a natural progression, few of Tiner’s students have gone on to the Laguna College of Art & Design, a private arts school. “A lot of the kids that grew up here don’t want to go to college here, too. They want to explore the world outside,” he said.
Case in point, former student Sarah Elliott, a professional photographer, is currently on assignment in South Sudan.
In the near future, Tiner, too, wants to travel, devote energy to his own art and perhaps return later to teaching adults. “I have enjoyed so much success teaching lately that I can’t see making things as good next year as they were in the years before,” he said.