Art Club (on a budget)

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The classes and projects I teach fall under the noble name of Young Artists Guild, a nod to the talents and focus and awesomeness of the kids who participate. But to the kids themselves, who show up weekly in my kitchen ready to create something, it’s simply Art Club. Maybe someday I’ll make them “YAG” shirts, but until then, we keep it simple.

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Art Club began as a way for my kids and their friends to have affordable art classes. In the effort of Spreading the Love, I’ll tell you a secret… Anyone can host an Art Club. Truly. It only requires a waterproof tablecloth, and a supply fee of $5-$10 per kid, depending on the project. If you want to charge a teacher fee, go ahead, but if not—nearly-free art classes? It’s a beautiful thing to put into the world for your kids, your friends’ kids, the neighborhood children—or adult friends who want more art in their lives. IMG_2571

Almost all of the projects shown on YAG comprise a budget of less than $10 per child (some exceptions being photography and rubber stamp carving). Some projects are cheaper if you already have the supplies on hand from a previous class—colored pencils, tube watercolors, and a few packs of colorful fine-tip Sharpies can last through many classes. The supply fee can, class by class, build up your studio and create an amazing place to be creative. You don’t have to find the money to stock an entire studio, simply buy the supplies as needed.

You don’t have to have a proper studio, either—that’s what dining room tables are for. Classes are held in my kitchen at my grandmother’s table, and the studio supplies take up a medium-sized bookshelf. Excess supplies live in the basement, to keep the upstairs shelves clutter-free. Depending on the project, a kitchen counter, patio table, or living room floor could be a perfect spot. Don’t let lack of space stop you.

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If you’re not an artist, taking it one project at a time can be a good way to acclimate yourself to the teaching process and the materials. By which I mean, don’t try to plan an entire curriculum from day one. You’ll get to know what the kids like and what they want to learn as you go. Of course, if it makes you feel better, go ahead and schedule the next dozen classes. Just don’t be afraid to change that schedule as things pop up. (I know of what I speak, because this is exactly what I did.)

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I always do a sample the day before so I have something to show the kids when they arrive, and to know what I’m dealing with if the supplies are new or I haven’t used them in a while. Aaand because it’s fun. Showing the kids a finished project in a book is not always a good idea, because if it made it into a book about art, it’s likely going to look very refined and intimidating. Making your own sample, however stylized and even flawed, is going to make the concept more approachable.

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I choose projects that a teenager or adult would do, even for kids in the 6-10-year-old range. This ensures the art will be challenging and interesting. Most kids have seen the standard elementary-aged art projects time and again, and are longing for something daring and exciting. Traipsing around Pinterest is a good way to find ideas, as is the grownup arts-and-crafts section of the library. Teaching multiple ages at once has been illuminating, and not as hard as I’d have thought. Apparently a “village” structure works for communities, families, and art classes too. I’ve found that when a style of art is fitting for older kids and teens, the younger kids can keep up in their own way and end the class very proud of what they’ve done. Heck, my 3-year-old finally had permission to draw in a book with pictures and then cut it up all he wanted—oh joy! Altered book, toddler style. And I know what you’re wondering. The answer is no, he didn’t then start “altering” all of our other books. He didn’t even try 🙂

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The most important thing is to be encouraging, but not blindly so. If a child is unhappy with the way their project is going, it’s okay to tell them that you think it’s great (please be specific about what you like, it really makes a difference). But also be sure to acknowledge that they’re discouraged and help them figure out what would turn the project in a new direction—using a pencil and eraser instead of a pen; a Dallas Clayton bunny to trace instead of drawing freehand; another new piece of watercolor paper for a fresh start; or some color, even if the project was meant to be black and white. Pretty much the only thing that matters is that the artists are being artists, not critics. You can’t be both at the same time, and if a child is feeling overly critical about their art, it’s probably from seeing their neighbor rocking a detailed Star Wars drawing or the kid on the other side who’s five years older creating an utterly amazing Zentangle. It’s usually solvable by paying attention, recognizing a feeling/need, and letting them know there is a solution to be found (even if you don’t know what it is yet). And sometimes the solution is irrelevant, because after being acknowledged, they feel suddenly better and run back to the table.

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I would love nothing more than to see “nearly-free” Art Clubs popping up in kitchens, patios, and on living room floors everywhere. Feel free to email me any questions, and let me know if you start one so I can cheer 😀

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