By Collette Caprara

FOR THE FREE LANCE-STAR

Whether they be pint-size Picassos or student Seurats, area youths and children will have great opportunities to explore their artistic abilities this month at Gary Melchers' Home and Studio at Belmont.

The May sessions of art classes for the youngest set, Preschool Palettes, will be held on Monday, May 16, and Friday, May 20, and will feature explorations of the link between colors and emotions.

Each session typically includes a story reading session, an exploration of related paintings in the estate's galleries (yes, for preschoolers--and they love it), and hands-on art classes from which participants will be taking home their own creations.

This month's sessions will take their cue from a popular Dr. Seuss book, "My Many Colored Days," in which a spectrum of colors evokes a child's emotions, ranging from that of an energetic red horse, to a secretive green fish, to a mopey purple dinosaur.

The children will be looking at paintings by Melchers--including "Cottage in Snow" and "Early Spring Landscape"--and will talk about how the different works make them feel, and how the artist could make a day look cloudy or sunny.

"These are things that preschoolers are learning about--the different seasons and different types of weather," said education coordinator Michelle Crow-Dolby.

As their art project, participants will be using their tactile skills, creating colorful collages from materials such as yarn, tinsel and paper scraps.

"The Preschool Palette programs focus on process rather than the product," said Crow-Dolby. "We don't want to stress that child do things in a certain way, because art is all about exploration and expressing yourself.

"When the children come here to create, not only are they 100 percent happy about doing it, but they create the most amazing things--reflections of life as they experience it as 3- and 4-year olds."

Youths in third through ninth grades will also have a chance to expand and express their artistic skills in a plein air drawing class, instructed by local artist and longtime art teacher Cathy Herndon.

"On a hill overlooking the river, Belmont is such a wonderful place for working outdoors," said Herndon. "We'll be taking in the environment and even sniffing here and there."

Participants will be using colored pencils and charcoal on sketch paper, all of which will be provided in the class.

Herndon will use techniques to strengthen youths' observation skills, such as "framing"--using their fingers to create a viewing window to focus on one element of a scene.

She will also be pointing out nuances of color and value, talking about the importance of proportion and relationships in space, and explaining how to use variations in line thickness and texture.

Students can select the subject they feel most attracted to, be it one of the buildings on the estate, a garden of flowers, or, as Herndon says, "even a car in the parking lot that they find interesting."

"I hope the session will help them to be a little more observant and feel comfortable about going outdoors and working, especially if they haven't done that before," she added.

"They'll see that, as an artist, you can work anytime, anywhere--it doesn't have to be in a studio."

Future classes for youths will include silk-screening in June and mixed-media sculpture in July.

The preschoolers' session in June will feature a Paint Party, as well as an opportunity to take a walk along the estate's wooded nature paths and to participate in an outdoor scavenger hunt.

Individual preschoolers' sessions for groups of six or more can also be scheduled upon request.

Collette Caprara is a local artist and writer.

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