Pittston native Billy Brandenburg is a man of many traits. In 2019, he entered his 19th year as a teacher at the Alternative Learning Center – Luzerne Intermediate Unit 18, plays guitar and in his down time as a teacher, can be found doing pen-and-ink drawings and vending at music festivals. If that doesn’t keep him busy enough, he spends his time being dad to teens Sheila and Julia. He is a graduate of Pittston Area High School and Wilkes University, where he studied educational technology. He and his wife Sharon live in Wilkes-Barre with their daughters.
Meet Billy Brandenburg…
Tell me about your teaching position at the LIU.
I teach science (for) seventh through 12th grades at the Alternative Learning Center. I’ve done a little bit of everything — social studies, special education — through the years. It’s a great bunch of people who I work with. It’s a job that you see people come and go once in a while, but we’ve had about 15 solid people there for as long as I’ve been there. You go in, you’re not worried about the other people, and everyone is going to do their best. They’re really good people and lifelong friends.
Did you always see yourself going into teaching in an alternative-learning type of setting?
I have an interest in music, art, history and the sciences came along later. I just like doing things that are out and about. If I have a chance to go somewhere, I will. The opportunity to teach came at a good time. It was 2001. My first child, Sheila, came along, and I was working a job in Wilkes-Barre. I had been there about nine years. I knew that I needed some extra money, and I heard about the Alternative Learning Center. I knew it would be a different population. I went for the interview and a few people were leaving; I sort of lucked out. The first few years for difficult for me to acclimate myself to the population, and every year it gets a little better.
What are some of the challenges you had in that position?
It’s just verbal; you’re not used to kids the way they talk to people. They’re used to conversing at home or on the streets, and they bring it into the classroom. Sometimes they have a lack of care for subject material in a conventional way. The kids are moved out of a certain school district for a reason, maybe it’s behavior-wise or maybe they don’t fit into what they want to do at the school. A lot of the kids are hands-on kids, and they’re in a classroom where its just pencil and paper, sometimes that doesn’t jive. I really need to open up different avenues for them. If you don’t try different things, you’ll never know if they’ll work. For science, I’m a rock and mineral guy, but the kids are stealing the rocks and throwing them and taking them to other classes; that didn’t go too well. You have to be able to try things with the kids and give it a go.
What is your background in art, and what made you want to pursue your artistic side?
I started doing art again about eight years ago. I had the pen going, and I had a couple classrooms where I’d do something called scientific design. We’d do an anatomical sketch of an animal and design them with colored pencils. That led to me doing some more sketches, and then I did some art walks. I used to do a lot of photography. Before that, I painted. I took a few classes at (Luzerne County Community College) for photography, and that really helped me get a good eye for composition. I was an art, music and gym guy when I was in school. I had really good art teachers at Pittston Area. I think doing art calms me a bit, too, with the job I have.
Describe your style as an artist.
I start with a pencil sketch, then I get some pen and ink and color added in, then I put some doodads in with the collage work, and sometimes I use a pastel pencil or gel pen, then frame it up and put it in my display suitcases I use and hit the road (to vend). I stick to a lot of animals and plants. My moniker is the “Inspired Slacker.” It’s like I’m inspired by the work, but sometimes when I go to shows I’ll forget my business cards, or I don’t bring bags to put things in. I’m inspired to do this; I’m going to forget some things.
What subjects or other artists inspire you?
I have a lot of local guys. For photography, my buddy Curtis Salonick has a really nice surrealistic take about him. He’s been around. His work is really good and very interesting. Another artist who is a watercolor guy and does so well is John Clark. They’re a little older than me, but they’re like peers. They’re friends who I see at the shows. There are a lot of very talented people around here.
What is something you regularly look forward to in your art routine?
Having the camaraderie, meeting the collectors and making a new sale or connection with somebody. I like meeting people, knowing their faces and knowing them for the next show. It’s always nice to make an impression, and I like to get with my good buddy Tony Traglia; we do a lot of shows together. We bring our guitars. We’re both guitar players, so if the show is going slow, we’re practicing our guitars. We’re always having a good time.
What other hobbies and interests do you have or organizations are you part of?
I play music with my buddies, Boris and Stu. Stu sings but doesn’t play guitar; and I play guitar but I can’t sing. We’re like peanut butter and jelly; we need to be together. Music was my first deal. I had an old guitar when I was 12, and I took lessons with a bunch of neighborhood kids who played. We used to have jam sessions at my house out of the garage, and so many musicians came. That’s something I’ve always kept with me. I played in a band during college and after college. I used to play a lot of basketball and ice hockey. I had a little knee problem, so I haven’t been playing the last couple of years, but I still enjoy watching and seeing my friends play. I like to play tennis with my kids, and I’m into coaching soccer with them too. Julia started playing tennis, and my wife used to play, too. I’ve always been a sports guy. I’ve had the same teams since I was a kid, too. I’m a Miami Dolphins fan and Boston Bruins for hockey and Boston Celtics. I joined the Kitson Art Alliance out of Tunkhannock so I can see some different views and art. I did the Wyoming Valley Art League for a few years, but I move around to see different art. I did Wayne County to check it out too, so I’ve been with the Kitson Art Alliance the last two years.
What has been the most motivational or encouraging thing to happen to you personally or as an artist?
Sharon, my wife, was the one who said to do my first show. About seven years ago, I went to my first show in New Jersey. I didn’t even have a tent. I had a colorful umbrella, and I realized I was a little out of sorts there. I thought it was going to be very awkward. It was a really hot weekend, and I only had that little umbrella. They placed me in the best part of town. The town was packed that day, and when I came home, I couldn’t even close my wallet. She inspired me to get my work out of the house and try to sell it.
Do you have anything else to add?
Don’t be afraid to complement people and tell them they’re good. You’re going to run into people who are better than you in the same thing you do. If somebody does good work, you can’t be afraid to say, “You do great work.” That’s how you make a camaraderie and things go well.
Emma Black is a photographer and writes Up Close and Personal, which spotlights people from all walks of life in NEPA who have a unique skill, craft, talent or trade. She is a graduate of Abington Heights High School and University of Scranton, where she studied journalism and electronic media. Emma has been with Times-Shamrock Communications since 2016 and enjoys playing, coaching and following soccer; exploring international cuisine; and doing arts and crafts in her free time. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; 570-348-9100; @emmablack_13