Kidsburgh Learning Guide: All about art
Do you have a child who likes to make art? Or would you love to see your child get more excited about the fun of art making? There are so many free or inexpensive ways for Pittsburgh families to bring more visual art into their lives and help their kids build a lifelong passion for creating.
WHERE TO BEGIN
Harrison Smith discovered visual art as a teenager, and it’s been at the center of his life ever since. Today, he’s an artist and arts educator at Hatch Art Studio in Wilkinsburg. But he remembers vividly how it felt to be a young student learning about art for the first time.
Smith attended Falk Laboratory School, the K-8 school at the University of Pittsburgh, where the goal wasn’t to draw a perfect picture or create the same work of art as other students. The focus was on getting comfortable with processes like drawing, painting or sculpting, and then having fun experimenting with those skills.
He came to love art because adults let him joyfully create things that weren’t meant to be perfect or flawless. That same mindset is taught at Hatch, says the studio’s director, Shannon Merenstein.
Often when adults introduce kids to art, “there’s sort of this push to create something specifically,” she says. But that isn’t necessary. To get kids excited about art, simply focus on the process and don’t worry about the final product.
“Children are full of creativity and full of wonderful ideas,” Merenstein says. They just need to be introduced to the basic process of making art in a particular way. Then they can be let loose to create whatever they can imagine.
Artist Casey Droege found this same process-over-product approach when she began making art as a teenager at the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild. “They let me have creative freedom to explore what I wanted to explore, and they valued that I had a voice,” Droege says. “That was really powerful.”
We hear a lot these days about stress among kids and teens, especially after more than a year of pandemic. Making art is a fantastic outlet – a relaxing hobby that can help children feel calm and build confidence. It’s also a great way for parents and children to connect, even if the parents don’t have any training as artists.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Parents don’t need expensive materials or any art experience to help kids fall in love with art. Instead, begin exploring, experimenting and embracing the mess.
Begin your art journey by creating a space in your home – even just a single kitchen drawer – where kids know they can find paper, crayons and other basic art supplies whenever the urge to create strikes. (Hint: Look over any paper you were thinking of recycling to see if it can be saved as scrap paper for art projects.)
You can also collect art supplies right outside your door. Flowers, leaves, stones, acorns and sticks can be used to make beautiful collages or dioramas.
In some Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy programs, young children use these materials (and their imaginations) to build tiny homes for animals. “It doesn’t need to be the exact habitat that an animal would need” or even be realistic, says Jen Schnakenberg, the Parks Conservancy’s assistant director of education.
In fact, it’s even more fun if the imaginary habitat is unlike anything in the real world. “Kids love to build in opportunities for the animals to play,” so they even include things like swimming pools, Schnakenberg says. “Kids are free to use their imaginations.”
This kind of art-making at home can involve a bit of mess, especially with younger kids. So consider picking up a shower curtain liner at a dollar store to spread out on a table (or on the floor) to create a space to paint or work with glue or clay without worry.
Dollar stores can also be good places to pick up a bucket of sidewalk chalk. A driveway or stretch of sidewalk is a perfect canvas for drawing and coloring with chalk. (One option: Encourage your child to make a daily sidewalk chalk drawing that you’ll share on social media with family and friends!)
Although the pandemic put many art programs on hold, it also inspired local museums and arts organizations to create online resources that remain available. The Children’s Museum, a remarkable resource for Pittsburgh families, offers a slew of free art activities and workshops as part of their online museum@home program. You can also check out the Children’s Museum’s early learning offerings online.
Another digital option: The Warhol Museum offers a series of “Making It” videos on their YouTube channel that teach families how to use some of Andy Warhol’s favorite techniques, including Rorschach painting and marbleizing. And they offer online art lessons at their website.
Local artists like Jena Schieb also began offering virtual classes and boxes of materials that come with an online tutorial during the pandemic. And Little House Big Art has also pivoted to offer art kits for home use, and they’ve also reopened their studio for visits by one family at a time.
Go See Art
The Pittsburgh region is filled with art galleries and museums. The city is a great place to start, but you can also find inspiring art at the Westmoreland Museum of Art in Greensburg, Pa., which offers take-home art kits for families. Spend a day roaming through these galleries and museums, then go home and talk about your favorite discoveries.
Our city is also filled with an incredible array of public art. You can take a self-guided walking tour of the many murals and sculptures that dot public places in the city, including some of the newest works that were inspired by calls for social justice.
Work has also begun to expand the sculpture garden at Hartwood Acres park in the North Hills.
Try a Class
Along with classes at Hatch Art Studio, families can check out Artsmiths of Pittsburgh, now located in Carnegie, which has begun offering in-person classes again. The Union Project and Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild also offer ceramics classes.
Pittsburgh’s museums also offer art-making opportunities for kids. The Frick Pittsburgh does free monthly art workshops for kids during the school year and has summer programming including online artmaking workshops and art camp for kids entering grades 2 through 5.
The Warhol has lots of family-focused programming, including free Pop Art Pop Up events this summer where families can experiment with Warhol-inspired artmaking, including painting, collage, stamping, silkscreen printing, photography.
The Carnegie Museum of Art’s summer camps are also back this summer, offering the chance to work alongside professional artists and blend art-making with dance. These camps can cost as much as $300 per student, but scholarship applications are available to students with financial need.
You can also find classes and workshops in Shadyside at the Pittsburgh Center for Arts, on the North Side at the Mattress Factory (including a free summer workshop series for teens), in Sewickley at the Sweetwater Center for the Arts, in Wexford at Dots & Doodles Art, and in Friendship at the Pittsburgh Glass Center.
Looking for even more artistic inspiration? If your child is in preschool or K-12 school, one of the best places to start is with their teachers. Many art teachers are artists themselves and are tapped into the art community in Pittsburgh. And they may have noticed what sorts of art projects have appealed to your child.
And here is one last tip from the experts: The best way to inspire your kids to make art is to make art yourself. You don’t need skill or experience. You just need to get enthusiastic about creating for the fun of creating.
Whether you’re a child or an adult, “the skills you learn through the process of making art apply to all kinds of creative pursuits and innovative thinking,” says artist and art teacher Cheryl Capezzuti.
So go ahead and make something. Trust your instincts and let yourself focus on the process of making, rather than the perfect outcome. Who knows what work of art you might create… or how it might inspire your child?
QUICK LIST OF LINKS
Here’s a directory of resources mentioned in this guide:
Cartoon Academy with Joe Wos presented by WQED
Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild (MCG Youth & Arts)
Museums and Public Art
Visit Pittsburgh directory of art galleries and museums
Self-guided walking tour of Pittsburgh’s public art
Looking for performing arts options? Pittsburgh has many great theater and dance schools and music schools for kids and teens. Be on the look out for additional Learning Guides about maker learning, science, technology, outdoor learning and youth voice.