A Look at the School 33 Children’s Art Program By Diamond Pollard
“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.” — Pablo Picasso. With so many schools losing funding and targeting art programs, it is essential that society nurtures the young artist. School 33’s Children’s Programs do just that. School 33 is located just outside of Baltimore’s Federal Hill neighborhood. It is a public art gallery, currently hosting the work of the following artists: Bobby English, Jr., Renee Redine, Marcus Civin, and Lewis Colburn. It also is the host of a six week narrative drawing course for children.
The course is made up of five (4 girls, 1 boy) 7-9 year old children, who come to the Gallery for 6 consecutive weeks to be taught and to create narrative artworks of various forms. Bonnie Lee Vysotsky is the vibrant artist leading and teaching the course. She holds a Bachelor’s in Painting and a Master’s in Art Education. She also teaches adult painting, volunteers at local schools, and runs her own face-painting business.
I visited “Children’s Narrative Drawing” during week four on April 23 and observed the session. I arrived early so that I could chat with Bonnie while she set-up for the class. She whirled around the lower level of the gallery, searching for and arranging the materials needed for the course. Weeks 1 &2 were spent creating a character parade of “Mrs. Bonnie”-inspired and student created characters. This week and the week before, the students would work on creating a three dimensional collage city, incorporating layered and pop-up elements, out of cardboard.
The students began trickling in just after the 11 o’clock start time. On this particular Saturday, only three little girls were in attendance. They began working independently, gluing cardboard pieces to their nearly completed cities. They finished quickly and ran to the chalkboard, writing sweet messages about Mrs. Bonnie, including “Mrs. Bonnie Rocks” and “I love Mrs. Bonnie.”
Bonnie, then, ushered the girls to the painting table to begin painting their cities. She painted her example, showing how to combine black, blue, and purple colors to create a vivid night sky. The girls eagerly followed her lead, grabbing brushes and colors to liven their cities. Soon after they began painting, Mrs. Bonnie received multiple requests for and questions about snack time. Although she initially told them snack would be at noon, the half-way point of their two hour session, she eventually caved and allowed the girls to have snack while the first coat of paint dried.
When all the girls were calm and (for the most part) quiet, Mrs. Bonnie began the instructional part of the lesson. The girls had forgotten what narrative drawing was so she explained it in the simplest way, “A picture is worth a thousand words”. Then, Bonnie
showed them a book of artwork, a Chinese dragon bracelet, a Pickwick Papers decorative dish, and a Russian scarf, and asked them to describe the scenes and stories they thought were occurring in the art. This allowed them to see and interact with examples of narrative artwork, something Mrs. Bonnie attempts to do in all of her classes with them, often utilizing the Gallery space to show her students the art techniques in the real world.
The final step of the process was to add characters to the scene, making them as dynamic as possible to bring the city to life and tell its story. The girls crowded around Mrs. Bonnie as she created her example, watching in awe as she sketched a little boy whose dog ran away while he was walking it. The girls worked on their own characters and scenes — two mothers pushing their strollers, a crowd of people, a couple holding hands. They had grasped the concept flawlessly and were now putting it to work in their pieces. When one of the girls ran into trouble cutting out her characters, Mrs. Bonnie came to the rescue, not by doing the cutting for her, but by showing her how and letting her learn.
I took this time to ask each of the girls what they liked most about the class and what they wanted to be when they grew up. They almost unanimously said “painting and drawing” was their favorite part of the Saturday sessions. One of the girls, the oldest in the group, stated that she wanted to be a writer and eagerly showed me her composition book, its pages filled with her stories. Another announced that she wanted to create portraits when she was older.
Each girl, no matter how young, proved themselves to be bright and talented artists. I think classes like this one and other programs around the city are the best way to cultivate creative children to become adult artists.