Abstract Expressionism for Kids was inspired by the story and work of Marla Olmstead ~
These art classes are based on age levels, although some classes are integrated. Younger children (typically, four to six year olds) use charcoal, pencil and oil pastels, while older ones (six and up) can use water-based oils. The drawings and paintings will be shown at aMfa gallery at an opening reception. Some students may continue to learn on a weekly basis if they show interest and the skills required for ongoing art training, which involves working from a motif in drawing and painting.
Meditation phase: The first class begins with a fifteen minute, guided meditation. Students lie on the floor and are guided into a state of complete relaxation, from the tops of their heads to the tips of their toes. Deep breathing and imagery, i.e. floating inside of big soap bubbles and on clouds, help them to let go of all tension, and to breath and relax. After this session, students take turns describing their visions. They are much calmer after taking a journey into inner space, and sharing the experience with their classmates.
Drawing phase: Surrounding one large piece of paper on the floor, the young artists take turns making different marks with one charcoal that gets passed around. They each have their own kneaded eraser (they love to pull and squeeze them while they wait for their turns). From black to white and all the shades of grey in-between, they learn how many different marks you can make with a burnt stick (charcoal). Students are encouraged to experiment, copy what they like from each other (called appropriation; “Good artists copy, great artists steal.” Picasso), and work till they feel the piece is competed. Like in art college, the work is put up on the wall for a group critique. Looking at what they like about the drawing, what is working for them, helps young artists learn from each other and learn how the sum can be greater than its parts.
Students are shown his work of Andy Goldsworthy (click on link below) in the library before going outside to “forage a palette” from the surrounding wooded areas. Working as a team to create pieces with elements from nature such as leaves, sticks, pine cones, stones, pine needles, etc … based on the insights garnered from the previous lesson (charcoal on paper) to create a cohesive piece of art. We then photograph the work to post online and make a permanent record of our creation before it returns to nature.
Oil painting phase: To the delight and joy of the young artists, they are met with a full palette of colors, bristle and sable brushes, a canvas, and the ever-present rags and water for cleaning their brushes between applications of color. After two weeks of working together with only black, grey and white, or sticks and stones, as the case may be, students are ecstatic to see the rich colors of the paint, and their own canvasses to use it on. Before the young artists plunge into the densely saturated pigments, they are shown how to coat their canvas with a special water-based linseed oil ground with a dash of earth toned pigment staining it. We call this mud. (kids love mud). It creates a surface that is tacky and receptive to the intense color once we begin painting. As guide, I help them to mix color on the palette, and to clean brushes. They have already learned to look at the work and stop when it is finished. They run the risk of over-painting, caught up in the sheer joy of applying color, and return their canvasses to an even thicker primordial mud. To prevent overworking, we learn to stop to critique the work. We learn from each other and marvel at the finished works together. By the forth and last week, the canvasses are dry enough to take home.
Group painting phase: Students are met with individual palettes, rags, brushes, etc… and one large canvas to mud up. The prep phase allows time for the excitement to build as we smear the surface with brownish slime. Using all the techniques and insights gained from the past three classes of meditating, drawing and painting, students have been producing works of incredible beauty. I cannot replicate this painting experience without the freshness and naivete of the different children, and the energy generated by the whole group. We need each other to produce, and the discovery of our interdependency to create something of lasting value is another benefit of this course. The new invention of water-based oil paint allows painters to safely use a heretofore toxic medium. No turps are needed. We still use barrier cream or a pair of old socks for hands. Sometimes the hands are used to move the paint, so this has a dual function. Wiping and revising is essential. The painting goes through many iterations. Inspired by the unsophisticated, youthful exuberance of the children, I am able to pull together the piece with as little tampering as possible after the class had ended for them. The header at the top of this page is an example of one such work.
Youth classes (12 and up) consist of training in drawing and painting from a motif at the easel. Students will get help with portfolio prep for art school as needed. Critiques and lessons can be done online from emailed photos if the student is working from home.
Samples of my own work: