From Student to Shop

July 1, 2021
One young painter has found success by taking the skills she’s learned in school to the real world.

For Sylvanah Wolff, being a painter combines two interests she’s had since when she was little and following her mechanic dad to local car shows in San Diego. That interest in cars, and her passion for art, brought Wolff to Cerritos College, in Norwalk, Calif., to study collision repair in 2013.

“I started with body classes, which eventually led to paint—that’s when I knew that this is what I wanted to be doing,” she says. 

Wolff’s desire to learn and grow her talent quickly made her a top young painter in the shop and online. Throughout her eagerness in school to make connections, she, like all painters in the industry, is continuing to learn and fine-tune her skills and technique in the workforce. Wolff is a painter at Gosch Ford Temecula (Calif.), and has been in the field since graduating. 

“I really enjoy my job and it always keeps me busy, there’s never really a moment that you have to rest unless you’re literally waiting for paint to dry,” she jokes. 

Be an active student. 

For Wolff, going to school helped her build a repertoire of skills and technique, and ultimately, the push to continue on her path. 

“School definitely gave me the basics of what I needed to learn—education, whatever the industry, just lays that foundation,” she says. “My teachers helped me build on that foundation and gave me the confidence of knowing that I can always get better at something.” 

But like schooling for any subject, there may be other students lacking the motivation to succeed. In order to showcase her desire to learn, Wolff put in the effort to stand out and be an active student. 

“My dad always taught me that the squeaky wheel gets the grease, and that’s how I was with my teachers—right at their side, taking notes and asking questions,” she explains. “Don’t be afraid to make mistakes and really show the person who’s putting in the time to teach you that you want to learn.”

Wolff’s hard work paid off, and when it came time for her to transition into the workforce, she was able to lean on her teachers’ industry connections to lock down her first job.“

One of my teachers knew a couple of paint reps and asked them if they were aware of anyone looking for entry-level positions or helpers, and that really helped me out,” she says.

Continue your education beyond school.

While schooling provides a strong foundation, there is always more to learn, says Wolff. A lot of this learning comes from experience on the job, and most of the time, trial and error. 

“It’s not until you actually get into the workforce that you realize that you can’t always go by the book, and you might have to try a different way if something is just not working,” she says. 

But in an industry that’s always changing and progressing, a lot of the challenges that come up can best be solved by staying up to date with further classes and education. 

“I’m still constantly taking I-CAR classes because they have some really good information, especially if I run into specific issues that are covered in a class,” she says.

In Wolff’s time in the industry, she has already been faced with new techniques and materials, pushing her to grow her skills and expand her talent. 

“Learning new methods is what fuels me to keep wanting to learn,” she says.

Form connections in the digital space.

Education is nothing without community, and throughout Wolff’s journey from school and into the workforce, she has been able to form a network with other painters. From her dad, Stan Wolff, to other mentors including Richard Retta, Cecil Hernandez, Brian Ferre, and Randy Ema, Wolff is able to rely on them for any support she may need.

“I’ve found that as big as the industry is, it’s actually a very small community,” she says.

While Wolff has formed relationships through school and work, she’s also made strong relationships through the online space. 

“I’ve gotten to know a lot of good people, whether I’ve met them in person or online through Instagram, who are willing to help out with any problems or questions that I have,” she says. “Having the ability to talk to people if I’m new to something has been very helpful.” 

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