Learning to See: Kids have fun with paint at Art Barn summer camp
It’s summertime, and that means that Ava Jane Newell’s Art Barn is brimming with children learning the joy of painting.
And with first graders, there is one project that Newell heads up every year— self- portraits.
“With first grade I always do the self portrait,” Newell said. “They’re just so funny and cute and usually a couple of the paintings kind of looks like them. They’re just so cute. You learn that the parents will treasure those more as the years go by.”
First graders also completed a painting of flower’s from Newell’s garden. Newell said she often will have a theme for summer camp and this year she is focusing on things found in her garden. First graders are painting flowers, while junior high students created a painting of a mason jar of sweet tea on a table Newell’s garden.
Newell has been teaching art since 1995 and has had the Art Barn studio since 2001. The summer camp workshops run from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. from the second week of June until the end of July. Grade levels are separated by weeks. Over her years of teaching, Newell said she has learned to keep the art lessons fun and not too structured.
“I think that art should be fun,” Newell said. “I think if it’s not fun for you, you don’t need to do it. If you load the kids down with rules, they will not want to do it. Over the years I’ve learned that. I sneak things in as they get older—I try to teach them to see. I know from painting how often the color changes. If a tree trunk is brown, I’ll see purples and pinks and maybe blues in there. I want them to be able to figure out the colors on their own.”
While she focuses on teaching older students to see and understand color, for younger students she drives home the importance of shapes and using them to complete a composition.
“I will break the painting into pieces, into shapes,” Newell said. “I will normally draw the piece on my board, we talk about the shapes, and I’ll erase the board. “They will draw their own, and we’ll cover the canvas with a basic color we’ll be using. I usually try to go darker than it really is than the first coat. Then, we’ll go back and make our lines sharper in some areas but our highlights and shadows in our second coat.”
During breaks from painting, the Art Barn holds many adventures and fun traditions.
“I don’t want it to be too structured,” Newell said. “If I see they are getting bored, we go outside, have a popsicle, go pick blueberries or play with the kitties.”
Newell grows cucumbers, peaches plums, blueberries and more and she said the kids love to pick the fresh produce from her garden. Other fun activities include taking a tour around the Art Barn, adding gum to the gum tree (Newell had the idea for the gum tree after seeing one on a trip to Washington, DC), or reading a book Newell made about the life stories of her cats.
“Kids love this part. I’ve taken a picture of the cats and written a story, like the cat is telling it,” Newell said. “It’s about how the cat got here, if they can pet it.”
One example is the cat Bobby Joe, who “came from Crystal Springs and enjoys being here being he loves strolling through the gardens and chasing butterflies.” Newell said students love to hear the stories from year to year.
Students get a change to leave their mark at the Art Barn, and the floor and other spots of the studio are marked with years of students doing the same. This year students are allowed to paint anything they want on a wooden wall in the studio.
Newell said what she enjoys the most about teaching art is seeing how proud the students are of their paintings.
“Just seeing that they are just so proud of their paintings is great,” Newell said. “There’s times when I have to push them a little bit, but in the end, you know it’s worth just seeing that they are so proud of what they’ve done. It’s so sweet, and just being around kids is a lot of fun.”