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With the kids

Young masters at work

At the Bowers, kids make their own creations while learning about some great artists.

July 31, 2003|Brenda Rees | Special to The Times

Kids, meet Monet, Van Gogh and Picasso. Way back when, these old-timers really knew how to wield a paintbrush.

The Young Picasso weekend workshops at the Bowers Kidseum in Santa Ana introduce children to the work of Impressionist and Postimpressionist masters. It's a new series of summer sessions that focuses on education and hands-on involvement. The added bonus: Adults get to join in the artistic endeavor.

"I like that I can do this with him," said Don Tran, who participated in a recent workshop with his 6-year-old son, Ian. "When he takes karate, I have to sit and watch. Here, I got to experience the art with him."

In the 1 1/2-hour class, participants get a little history lesson and biography about the featured artist of the day. Most of the time, however, is spent creating original artwork inspired by one of the master's pieces.

At a recent Saturday workshop, groups of parents and kids closely studied and mimicked the contours and shapes of Van Gogh's "Wheat Field With Cypresses." In addition to learning about complementary colors and the ways to mix watercolors, participants got art history tidbits from instructor Margie Tabor Zuliani.

"How do you think Van Gogh was feeling when he painted this?" she asked, explaining that, unlike the realistic artists before him, Van Gogh added imagination and emotion to his art. "These paintings are his 'impressions' of the world around him," Zuliani said as she assisted a participant with creating swirling purple clouds. "What you are making are your own impressions."

The goal is not to reproduce a masterpiece, said Zuliani, but to have budding artists create their own version.

"Even though they are copying for a masterwork, they are making their own art with their own hand," she said. "At the end of class, we have art pieces that are entirely different from one another. It's wonderful to see the variety."

Zuliani structures three sessions, each featuring a different artist and medium. Take the Monet workshop and you will work with pastels. Van Gogh, watercolor. For Picasso, participants get to create a clay mask.

For participants, while it's nice to bring home a finished product, the real delight is in the process. "I learned so much from this experience," said Wendy Navarro, who took the class with her two children, Saige and Quentin. "I realize I need to loosen up and not be so worried about making things perfect."

Indeed, the sketching at first is serious and steady, but by the end of the class, participants are flowing colors with more ease, mixing shades and stroking the landscape with a more comfortable flair. "Just let it go," encouraged Zuliani. "Don't hold back."

As the artwork dried, Zuliani took her class for a walk down the block to the Bowers Museum of Cultural Art to visit the California Impressionists exhibit. Here she explained more about the style of artwork and how it spread from Europe to America. Participants compared these early California portraits of bucolic landscapes with Van Gogh's wheat fields and starry nights.

"I really like that she takes the time to explain things about the artist and gives us background," said Maria Gonzalez, 13, as she wandered the art museum hallways with her 12-year-old sister, Sandra. "These are wonderful classes. They tell us so much."

Indeed, while the workshops gets kids to experiment with colors, textures and forms as the masters did before them, the overriding theme is that art is a means of communication.

"When I first ask the class, 'What is art?,' they tell me all the technical aspects -- it's lines, shapes, colors, what have you," said Zuliani. "But I want them to know that art is a positive way to express themselves.

"If they are angry, sad, happy or however they are feeling, they can bring that emotion out with art."

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