The Joy of Teaching Art: A Profile of Yang Zhao and His MorningSun Art School

A portrait of this family-owned business that has been offering art and design classes to children and teenagers for the past thirteen years. Their focus is to assist high school students in creating impressive portfolios.


Yu Wang

Yu Wang drew this as a gift for her dad on Father’s Day. She made this painting out of gouache.

Amidst the bustling streets of Flushing, Queens, a single art studio emerges as a radiant sanctuary, where countless aspiring artists find their voices and pursue their artistic dreams. Led by a passionate founder, the school inspires many to explore their interests and further their hobbies. From traditional brushstrokes to avant-garde techniques, the MorningSun Art School became the catalyst that ignited many students’ creative spirits and propels them towards a world of undefined possibilities waiting to be explored.

The genesis of the MorningSun Art School traces back to Yang Zhao’s search for an art school for his sons, Harrison and Oliver Zhao, in order for them to explore their potentials. However, he was unimpressed by many of the rigid teaching methods offered by other art studios and resolved to create a school that would foster such an environment for his own children. Thus, in 2006, the MorningSun Art School was born.

The school started in Mr. Zhao’s basement. His initial students were children from his circle of friends. For example, Xinyue Tang ’23 said, “I’ve attended MorningSun Art since I was in kindergarten. This place is a second home for me. I got to explore my passions in arts as well as bond with teachers and peers, so the lessons were very enjoyable. The place provided me with great help during my college application process too. The teachers supported me mentally and motivated me to discover greater potential within me for my art portfolio. It’s a place that I am thankful for, and I will definitely return to visit.” Through the camaraderie it fostered, the school’s reputation began to flourish through word of mouth and overwhelmingly positive recommendations from the original group of students. With each passing day, the school slowly expanded, and Mr. Zhao was able to eventually rent his own studio. Years later, he purchased a permanent studio in the Shangri-La tower.

Driven by a mission to provide personalized instruction for children and teenagers alike, MorningSun Art School offers small classes that focus primarily on individualized instruction. Inexperienced students, such as kids in elementary and middle school, receive more personal attention due to the fact that they have just begun. These kids usually learn the fundamentals and techniques of art such as color theory, negative space, and perspective, which lay a strong foundation for the student. Then Mr. Zhao would start to prepare a student’s art portfolio for high school and high school students would prepare their portfolio for colleges. Each student creates a unique portfolio which showcases their individual style, technical abilities, and artistic achievements. 

Students that started late are still able to finish an art portfolio for college. Calvin Chan ’23 started in ninth grade and received acceptance to the Carnegie Mellon University School of Architecture. He reflected,  “I attend MorningSun Art when it’s in the morning, and the sun is outside. Mr. Zhao is absolutely amazing to be around. It’s an absolute joy for the Bronx Science students in his school. Everyone that Mr. Zhao introduced me to from Bronx Science I became friends with.”

The first drawing for all incoming students would always be a toucan. Each student would be given the reference and drawing utensils to start. This allows the teacher to see the students’ current abilities. Mr. Zhao would then teach them ways to improve along with his way of drawing it. After this lesson, the prospective student has the ability to decide whether or not they would like to continue drawing in his studio or look elsewhere.

Mini Tutorial:

To begin the drawing, take a sheet of paper and sketch a large circle as the foundation. Next, draw a line in the middle of the circle. On the left side of the circle, draw a curvaceous outline for the beak. Now, turn your attention to the right half of the circle. Create an eye by drawing three smaller circles. Then, add a rectangular shape beneath the circle to form sturdy branches for the toucan to perch upon. Finally, draw elegant ovals to depict the bird’s feet. Once your sketch is complete, color the toucan with whatever materials you want to color with. 

To cultivate creativity and individuality, Mr. Zhao encourages his students to experiment with different materials and references. Students can create unique images by collaging multiple references, allowing them to express their ideas and enhance their technical skills. He also encourages students to incorporate 3-D objects that hold personal significance, such as fake flowers, old newspapers, stickers, or wires to bring their drawings to life.

Justin Yi Cheng ’23 added, “Mr. Zhao has always encouraged me to push my artistic boundaries. It started as learning to sketch from his own collection of photographed images but later evolved into my own exploration into drawing New York City landscapes. He always made sure my efforts were always appreciated.” 

Justin Yi Cheng ’23 drew this piece for his art portfolio. He combined a lot of his everyday experiences into this piece. He drew a subway station and his laptop screen. (Justin Yi Cheng)

During the Coronavirus pandemic, the school created an online student portal to teach class online. Later, the school started to leverage this technology for students who live further away. Due to this, students gained a choice of going to the studio or learning from home. This option helped many students, as some live far away from the studio in communities in Long Island and Staten Island, among others. The portal enables students to communicate with teachers in an organized manner, ensuring every student has an opportunity to engage in meaningful discussions. Additionally, students are encouraged to utilize digital tools and online resources to augment their artistic creations. Here, students can upload their current progress, request the teacher for advice, and look for references. 

For the founder, the most rewarding aspect of being an art teacher lies in witnessing their students’ successes and the realization of their hard work. The joy and pride that come from seeing students’ artistic growth make the journey truly fulfilling. One memorable success story involves a returning student who faced uncertainty in her college application process. 

Mr. Zhao said, “This year, a former student of ours who had not drawn since pre-COVID returned late summer to create a last-second portfolio. Although she was from one of the top specialized high schools in New York City, she believed her grades were mediocre and lost in what field she may want to enter. This is a bad mix of elements that usually confuses students when applying to college, resulting in a weaker application. We convinced her to continue her art portfolio to help her stand out and at least offer her an opportunity in a design field. After restless weekends working, this student was able to surprisingly pump out a full portfolio within a few months. Even more miraculously, she was not only accepted to Duke University, but also the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), which is one of the top ranked art and design schools in the world. We were extremely proud of her, and her hard work paid off. The funniest part of this story is now she is torn between Duke and RISD, unsure of whether to pursue a degree at university or a degree in art/design.”

Here is a drawing of a school girl under a sakura blossom in color pencil. For the sakuras, Yu Wang used fake flowers and glued it around the girl’s head. (Yu Wang)

MorningSun Art School firmly believes in the potential of art and design careers. They ensure that students have the opportunity to enter top art and design schools. Even for those who pursue non-art-related degrees, the art skills acquired provide a valuable asset for their future endeavors. 

Mr. Zhao believes, “Although some people may laugh at the idea of going to art school, the reality is art and design offers a variety of stable careers in the future. These careers include a variety of design jobs that may relate to tech, fashion, architecture, and product. We guarantee our students a chance to enter many of the top art and design schools through our rigorous portfolio preparation. Although many of our students may enter a high ranked university to pursue a non-art related degree, they will always have a hard skill in art they can ultimately rely on.”

MorningSun Art School, inspired by a desire to provide exceptional art education, has flourished under the guidance of a dedicated founder with a rich artistic background. Through their teaching style, emphasis on creativity, incorporation of technology, and unwavering support for aspiring artists, the school’s faculty have nurtured countless talents and celebrated numerous achievements. With its humble beginnings and strong community, MorningSun Art School continues to be a beacon of artistic exploration and excellence.

To learn more about the MorningSun Art School, click HERE.

“I attend MorningSun Art when it’s in the morning, and the sun is outside. Mr. Zhao is absolutely amazing to be around. It’s an absolute joy for the Bronx Science students in his school. Everyone that Mr. Zhao introduced me to from Bronx Science I became friends with,” said Calvin Chan ’23.