Q: When will my child be able to draw independently?
A: Our classical instruction program is based on the time-tested "master and apprentice" system of the Renaissance, where a great master artist would work together with his student, more or less taking turns on an important artwork. At first the apprentice would just watch the master paint, and learn. Over time, he would receive less and less help from the master, until eventually, over several years, the student would paint independently, finally becoming a master himself.
Q: Why does my child trace in marker?
A: Our unique "Touch and Draw" technique becomes a powerful multi-sensory experience, simplifying an image into small, easy-to-see sections, challenging newer artists to "see" shapes, details, and the direction of lines, with ever increasing accuracy. With their left or "other" hand, students trace directly on the image they are copying, while repeating that exact same movement with another tool (marker or colored pencil) on top of their finished drawing. Teachers must observe that each student independently and spontaneously finds and corrects small differences between the two images, before that student may be moved to the next level of instruction within our curriculum. In this way they are learning to "see" like an artist, checking and double checking lines for accuracy. Rather than correct a student's artwork for them, we love to see the "ah ha!" moment when a student independently notices something new, and makes a correction on his or her own artwork, joyfully, and with enthusiasm!
Q: Is art class once a week enough?
A: For elementary aged students, an hour to an hour and a half of art class once a week tends to be the perfect amount of time to lay down a solid artistic foundation. Our program is customized for this amount of time. Coming late on a regular basis, or attending class an average of less than once a week, however, will result in lack of progress, so do be sure to attend class regularly. In addition to classes, elementary students should look at something very simple and copy it once a week.
Starting at age nine, students need to practice rendering skills at home on a regular basis. Have your child do one simple sketch from life per day.
Teens who wish to create a competitive college portfolio are advised to attend class twice a week if they can, and/or plan to devote roughly five hours per week to working independently on projects at home. Talk to your student's teacher about the best plan of action for your teen's unique artistic needs.
Q: Why do teachers draw on students' artwork?
A: Much like learning to cook, dance, or play a musical instrument, fine art is an experience-based, hands-on activity. Students learn best when they can see, hear, feel and practice each technique. With a subject that is purely visual, demos in front of a class can become ineffective if the teacher momentarily loses the attention of young or distracted students; the simple moment of the eyes flitting to another spot in the room can mean a lesson is lost. Short, repeated demos on a student's own artwork capture that student's interest, over and over, as instruction is personal, meaningful, and customized to that student's own unique artistic level. We have found this to be the most effective method of ensuring that students absorb and instantly practice visual concepts. Our program is designed to produce independence over time. Oil painters draw their images with virtually 100% independence.
Q: Why do teachers sometimes touch up students' art to finish it up?
A: This is a form of hands-on learning. We have found that the best way to teach a visual subject is by providing a visual example, and this even extends to the very end of a painting. Without it, students form the artistically harmful habit of seeing their finished artwork partially done, so that's what they learn. When a student sees what "pops" a classical picture (one last review for neatness, final deep darks and a strategically placed bright highlight), on their own personal artwork, over and over, he or she grows to expect to bring home a fully finished piece. Over time, more and more "finished", "popped", "WOW!" artwork comes from students' own hands. We love it when a student exclaims, "It still needs the highlight! I'll do it! I know how it's done!"
Q: Why does my child draw differently at home than in class?
A: Developmentally, the majority of young children have a psychological need to engage in "symbolic drawing" which involves self-expressive symbols for objects. It is important for their mental health as well as their future creativity that they be encouraged in this activity. The natural desire to render something accurately and independently typically does not form until between 9 and 11 years old. At this point, through middle school, art students desire to flex their art muscles, demonstrating ever-higher rendering skills for all to see. Exhibition of skill can become more important to the artist than subject matter. Students who have had previous instruction in rendering up to this point will begin to utilize independently, and relish the advantages of the wealth of tools they possess. Picasso said, "Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain one when he grows up." As fine artists ourselves, we at Art Steps know that we became skillful, expressive artists through encouragement when we were young, coupled with a tangible sense that our skills were growing throughout childhood/early adolescence. We love passing that true artistic empowerment to our students every day.
In our program, students in A, B, C or D books are aiming to be able to render in pencil, independently with little or no teacher instruction by the end of the D books. Still using Art Steps's four-step breakdowns, they begin realism, and begin a process of breaking down imagery into shapes for themselves. By the time students become full-fledged oil painters, at the end of book RIIIC, they can draw, paint, and start classical or photo realistic copies accurately and independently.
Q: Why do art classes need to be quiet?
A: Art is a focused activity. Speaking and listening are not associated with the same part of the mind that sees shapes, tone and color. Most art students require a meditative, relaxing environment, free of disruptions, in order to relax enough to concentrate on instruction.
Disruptive students are spoken with by their head teacher, who will attentively follow a step-by-step method to be sure that student understands that respectful cooperation is expected, and how he or she may take advantage of opportunities to get back on track. Parents are consulted if behavior does not improve. Once teachers, management, parents and students have done all they can, students who cannot or will not improve behavior may be asked by our Director to take a break until such time that the student is able to focus quietly on art-making in class. For students with special needs, private lessons or other accommodations can be made.
Q: When will my child paint?
A: Our program is designed to teach classical, realistic skills, which means that drawing is at the foundation of all painting techniques. Students begin with a pencil and paper, using crayons, color pencils, markers and oil pastels as appropriate. Within around the first three months, students begin learning painting fundamentals with an introduction to watercolor crayon and soft pastel. About three months later, depending on the individual, students practice watercolor painting; About three months after that, they'll try acrylic paint. All this time, the program builds one skill upon the last, creating a strong foundation for your child to become a highly skilled oil painter within a few years. This step-by-step approach is why our students become so technically strong, creating "WOW!" portfolios of highly realistic paintings over time.
Q: How can I help my child practice at home?
A: Setting up a dedicated art area at home can be the best way to encourage practice. This area should be private, free from prying eyes of adults or hands of younger siblings, and quiet, with the option of classical music playing in the background. Access to a clean drawing surface, art supplies, and inspirational magazines, books, and art materials are enormously helpful. Setting aside a specific time for art-making can help, as well. Every family is different. Do what seems to work for your child. Don't press too hard to have finished artworks in front of you. Students' work at home will almost never match the work done in class. The important thing is that they are doing SOMETHING. Encourage that. Try to avoid corrective comments about specific details in the work. Instead, simply describe what you see, and let your child know that you are proud to have an artist in the family.
And remember, at Art Steps, when your child brings in ten drawings that are copies of something he or she sees, that student is eligible to choose from our art supply basket!
Q: Why is there a limit to the number of makeups my student can take, and the time in which I can make them up?
A: It is important that students attend their regular class with their regular teacher as much as possible. Not only is your head teacher best aware of your student's individual artistic level, preferences, behavior and personality, children need the stability of a recurring scenario in a safe environment they can look forward to each week. In this way, students begin to open up to teachers more about their goals, struggles, challenges, dreams, etc. We believe that this relationship is essential to the best artistic progress. Logistically, it causes too many changes in each class to have students shuffling around frequently between classes. Each change in the classroom represents a disruption that slightly dilutes the focus on the individualized, customized instruction we provide.
Still, we do understand that life can bring about disruptions. Rather than ask that makeups be completed the week of the absence, we have generously extended the time limit to four weeks after a missed class. We have found that extending makeups further causes congestion at certain seasons, with a majority of families wanting makeups seemingly all at the same time, and unhappily competing for limited space. Space for makeups comes about through other students' absences. Time limits ensure that the number of absences and makeups are roughly even, allowing reasonably available space to all families.
For the same reason, if we close for an entire week, we will create special temporary classes the following week, and we will even extend makeup opportunities for six months, This way, there is never a big rush of families competing for makeup classes all at the same time.
Q: Shouldn't scheduling makeups be easy?
A: If you find that you are repeatedly logging absences each month, you might find yourself feeling frustrated. Our program is designed for students who can commit to attending class on a regular basis. Absences should only be logged for reasons of illness, emergencies, or for those rare, unavoidable circumstances that life requires. One helpful analogy might be that students should miss art class for the same reasons that adults should miss work. Some families with extra limited schedules or who drive long distances, choose to skip makeups altogether.
Makeup spaces become available whenever other students log absences. If you are really hoping for a specific class, you will want to check back frequently to snap up a space. Since sick students cancel last-minute, the closer to class time, the more likely a space will open. For your convenience, we have invested in technology that allows 24/7 access to every space that becomes available, from your smart phone. By allowing not one, but two makeups per month, and allowing classes to be made up any time before a missed class, or a full four weeks afterward, we believe that we are providing sufficient opportunity for dedicated students to continue attending art class an average of once per week.
Q: Can Art Steps classes get my child into an advanced program like OCSA?
A: Our art classes can be likened to piano lessons. With patience, persistence, passion, and years of practice, a student can develop enough skills to have a good shot at participating in programs of their choice. Of course, nothing is for certain. While we are proud of our many students who have attended the Orange County School of the Arts (OCSA) as well as other outstanding high school programs following years of dedicated study in advance, there is never a guarantee of admission. We have seen extraordinarily talented world-class young artists not admitted simply due to lack of spaces available. Students who attend in order to "brush up" for a couple of months to gain an edge are almost never admitted. Would you have your child attend a couple of months' worth of piano lessons in order to attend a highly competitive music program? The best course of action is for students to regularly attend classes and study persistently year after year because they genuinely love making art. Many kinds of success will follow from there.
Q: How do you work with children and adults with special needs?
Over the years we have successfully worked with countless students who have had a wide range of special needs. Our studios are 100% ADA compliant, and we gladly provide all additional physical accommodations that we can. Where possible, our dedicated staff also creatively adapt our program to help those with learning disabilities or other intellectual challenges.
However as a small, family-run business with limited staff, we have neither the expertise nor resources to accommodate 100% of all needs. While we wish we were able to work with anyone, we must reserve the right to refuse service if we are ever concerned for students' safety. Also, because quiet focus is fundamentally necessary to run our program, we regret that classes are not a good fit for students who struggle with working quietly.
Every circumstance is different; We try to work closely with parents and caretakers to do all we can to provide individualized solutions such as special reward systems, enlisting the help of a family-provided instructional aide, or private lessons when a trained teacher is available. If you're still wondering whether this program is a good fit, our teachers can provide an assessment of readiness for our program with a free introductory class. We have found that when parents and caretakers clearly and thoroughly communicate special needs to our staff, the students we are able to work with have the best possible experience.
Q: Will my young child be able to sit through a class?
A: While we can teach students as young as four years old, and parents are usually astonished at the level of focus their young child maintains in our program, not every four-year-old is ready to sit quietly for an hour. Just as a piano teacher would, an art teacher may feel that a student needs to wait a few months to a year before continuing. If that is the case, we will let you know. This is rare, but can happen after the first or second month of classes, after the initial novelty of the new environment wears off, for a student who is not quite ready, developmentally, to sit quietly for an extended period of time. Every child is unique, and it is normal for a small percentage of students up to six years old, and sometimes older, to be interested in class for a time, take a break, then return with enthusiasm after maturing for a just few months. Meanwhile, we encourage new students to try a free introductory class, to receive an assessment by the teacher. If you have a pretty squirmy little one, feel free to let us know if you are interested in a Parent and Me class for ages three and four, should we open one at your Art Steps studio location.