Happy Earth Day! When I was 16 years old, I painted this watercolor, “Bleak Future” – to warn people of the blighted planet our children may inherit if we don’t take better care of our home. I’ve never sold prints of this piece as it is too personal, but I thought today I’d make an exception. For every $5 postcard purchased, $1 will go to World Wildlife and their important work. God bless & enjoy the day!
Just a little over a week ago, I wrapped my yearly children’s art classes at Artistic Dreams International, and I can’t say enough how rewarded and blessed I feel, to see the changes that occur in these kids when their minds are brought into focus, and their eyes are opened up to their true potential.
Last year I taught an all-inclusive, basics-building drawing class that ranged from perspective to observation, from contour-drawing to self-portraiture, and it was fantastic! We packed so much within 3 short hours a day, that I knew each child found at least one lesson that they could really hold onto, and bring into their future art projects.
This year, however, I was informed that may of the children had shown an interest in learning more technically advanced drawing skills. Thus, I was inspired to take things up a notch, incorporate some mixed media, and truly challenge them.
Drawing Exercise: Photos-to-Drawings Picture Grids.
The results, from kids no older than 8 or 9, and some as young as 4 and 5 (not pictured here), speak for themselves:
Now, normally I’d recommend this exercise for kids ages 10 and up, but with help (especially with the grid construction), even much younger children can get something out of it. I took the liberty of making a video of how I created my own Picture Grid: this one I call the “Surrealist Half-Picture,” because much like in Surrealist art, most of the drawing is recognizable and fairly realistic, but I added a few unusual details (which the kids really enjoyed), to make it all my own.
I showed this video to the children at the start of class, and immediately I could see how it motivated them to get started!
As always, teaching was super fun, but two elements of the class stood apart as my favorites of the day:
1) That golden period where all the kids are eagerly bent over their work, hushed and focused on their pieces, happy & in their own little worlds.
And 2) That magic moment when a child is nearing the completion of their work, and they lean back from it, only to realize that – WOW! It actually looks like the picture! I remember this moment vividly for myself when I was a kid doing a grid exercise; it was one of the first times I realized I could really draw if I put my mind to it, and it was a tremendous self-esteem booster. It is deeply gratifying to see a new generation experience that same revelatory and positive feeling.
So what’s the takeaway? It’s this: Art Matters. Artistic Dreams educates young people with little or no access to the arts. Without ADI, many of these kids would never have the opportunity to learn from professional artists and uncover their hidden talents. Some of these children have learning disabilities, are monitored by case workers, or have trouble in school. In an academic setting, they may be labeled as different; or perhaps just as bad, they might be educated in a classroom so crowded, they receive no individual attention at all.
Not at ADI. The ratio of teachers to students can be as low as 1 to 3 (I had 3 teaching assistants myself!); every child receives individual attention; and every child is treated as though they are as competent and capable as all the others. For example, we had one student who was diagnosed with ADHD, and yet, they were able to sit quietly for over an hour, creating a beautiful, highly detailed drawing that any child would be proud to show a parent. Imagine if they could apply that same focus to a math problem or a reading passage? (Read my recent post: Art Education Matters»)
And I don’t take the credit for this. I may have designed the drawing lesson, but ADI has created a program that is truly unique: incorporating yoga, meditation, leadership skills, and accountability into the art curricula that art teachers like myself, bring to the classroom. I have never experienced anything like it — I was just as happy to learn yoga as the children were — and it is a model that I hope can be utilized in academic and extracurricular settings across the country, because it works!
I donate my time and art materials to ADI because they utilize art and music to transform the lives of students all over the world. It doesn’t matter if we reach 10 students or 10,000 – to me, it’s worth every penny and every effort. But of course, the more kids we can reach, the more lives that can be changed. If you want to learn more, please visit ArtisticDreams.org, or make a donation here», and help ADI expand its amazing outreach.
Special thanks to my fellow teachers, May Nazareno, Jake Menichino, Jessica Perilla & Ingrid Alvarez for helping to keep the kids engaged and focused; their presence was invaluable.
Thanks so much for reading, and until next time,
I learned to love art at a very young age. When I was only 18 months old, my father taught me to move past stick figures, teaching me to draw animals with fully fleshed bodies, arms and legs. I was hooked, and drawing has been a favorite pastime ever since.
Later on my parents taught me to read and write, introduced me to math, and encouraged me to explore the natural world with magnifying lenses and litmus papers. Clearly I have a lot to thank my parents for — there is an obvious correlation between parental involvement in a child’s education, and the academic success of the child.
What is often overlooked however, is the connection between academics and art. While my father taught me to draw, and my mother taught me to play piano, it wasn’t long before the schools I attended made it clear that the arts were not a priority – to the point where in high school, there were no formal art classes available past Freshman year. And when I voiced my disappointment, school administrators reminded me that with my good grades, I had a chance at an Ivy League education and shouldn’t waste time on art. As if my being at the head of the class was in spite of, and not at all due to, a childhood spent holed up in my room drawing and painting in my spare time.
But what if that wasn’t so? What if each drawing I made, carefully observed from the world around me, was actually a math problem in disguise? What if the careful selection of color and texture, was no less than an attempt to create a language more descriptive than the English, Spanish, or even the Latin that filled our textbooks? What if the wild ideas I illustrated on paper – monsters, comic strips, caricatures – were in fact an extension of the creative writing processes begun in the classroom? What if the arts were not antithetical to academics, but an integral part of them?
I am not formally trained in these matters. I don’t have a degree in childhood education, and the classes I teach don’t venture outside the explicit realm of visual art. However I was a child once, and when I was, I knew how to learn: quickly, easily, and in such a way that the information was both fully understood, and fairly permanently retained. Nowadays, I can still do quadratic equations with ease, yet some adults I know can’t even remember how to properly add fractions with unlike denominators! Clearly there was a difference in how we learned and retained information. But what was it, and how did it come about?
So recently I got to thinking about my babyhood years: my father patiently by my side, crayons in hand. He showed me, not just how to draw, but really, how to SEE, and then to REMEMBER what I had seen, long enough to put it on paper. What a concept for an 18 month old! Who can tell what an impact that early art education had on a young, developing mind? Might being taught to think visually & spatially early on, lead to academic achievement later in life?
There are already studies showing causality between high spatial visualization skills and problem-solving abilities in physics 1, and others pointing out how music training helps children process language 2, 3. So why is that when it’s time to tighten our belts, the first thing to go in schools is the arts program? And then we wonder why our children are failing!
Today, when I teach kids how to draw: when I show them the proportions of the face, or ask them to follow the line of my pencil as it traces the complex outlines of a still life, I’m not just doing it to make little modern-day DaVinci’s out of them. I teach these kids how to draw; how to see and remember, because the skill set they are developing is universally applicable: The intense attention to detail, and the thought processes involved in transferring those details from a 3D plane to a 2D piece of paper, are excellent practice for things like the careful collection of data necessary in the scientific method, and the transfer of the literal meanings of literary passages, to the larger metaphoric meanings they reference.
Kids need to learn how to carefully observe, and then they need to learn how to retain, apply, and RECONFIGURE what they have observed: in science, in math, in literature, and in life. And learning how to draw is an excellent introduction to this process. It trains the brain.
With the present ever-increasing infringement upon children’s arts education, I really hope that we can start to make changes in how we prioritize the arts in public schools and in the home. I hope there are more studies, more research, more interest in the arts and in how learning art and music affects the development of young minds. I hope that when it comes time to cut the fat, it’s the antiquated ideas that go, and the art classes that stay. I hope that teachers of all academic subjects begin to learn ways to incorporate the arts into their own lesson plans to make learning easier and more comprehensive. And I hope that parents recognize that a child obsessed with the creative process is a good thing, to be encouraged at any age.
I can’t quantify for certain how much of a difference art has made for me in seemingly unrelated areas of endeavor, but I can say this: I grew up in the Bronx – at the time, the poorest congressional district in the United States. I went to public school, and I am a minority to boot, and female. Yet I LOVED math and science, and aced the SAT’s …And, I was taught to draw when I was just a baby. Coincidence? Perhaps, but this is one brown-skinned girl from the ‘hood, who was able to buck the trends, paintbrush in hand.
And isn’t it every child’s right, to at least be given the opportunity to do the same?
Thanks for reading,
Please check out some of my favorite National & Local Children’s Arts Programs below:
Artistic Dreams International
Free Arts NYC
Another successful auction to benefit charity has been completed!
I am so happy to announce that the February Art Auction to Benefit Room to Read was a success!
The winning bid was placed by a kind contributor from New York, and raised $51 to benefit Room to Read, a worldwide charity that promotes children’s literacy by encouraging children in developing countries to build a habit of reading. They also promote gender equality in education. The full amount was sent directly through the eBay Giving Works program to Room to Read, to support their programs.
Congratulations to our high bidder and thank you so much for helping children reach their potential! <3
I am so excited to start a new portrait for the winner! Stay tuned for my next Charity Art Auction on March 19, and thank you to all who bid and/or spread the word, for caring about those who most need our support.
Watch Video About the Auction Series & my new YouTube Art & Inspirational Interview Series:
YOU voted, and now you can bid!
For this month’s charity art auction, we are proud to be supporting Room to Read!
This is an amazing charity that promotes children’s literacy by developing a habit of reading among children in developing countries, while also helping achieve gender equality in education so that little girls don’t fall behind. Read more about Room to Read on their web site.
If you would like to have a portrait done for yourself, of a loved one or family pet, and would like 100% of the proceeds to go to Room to Read, please go to my live auction here ». It ends on February 26th, 2013 at 1:50pm EST, and more info can also be found on my Causes page.
After successfully raising more than the minimum bid last month for Sandy Hook / Newtown, I am so excited to see what we can do for these well-deserving children! Watch the January auction results video here».
Thanks so much and God Bless you all <3