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Hamptons Life

Apr 15, 2014 11:26 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

CMEE Starts Painters Young With New Creative Series

Apr 15, 2014 11:36 AM

Landscape artist Ralph Carpentier stood up from his stool at the head of the table and cleared his throat, breaking nine young painters from their concentration.

He held his hand up, signaling them to put their brushes down on the newspaper-covered workspace inside the Children’s Museum of the East End in Bridgehampton. It was a misty March afternoon and they were gathered for a “CMEE in the Studio” workshop, as part of the museum’s new creative series for children age 6 and older.

Yet this specific group was particularly intimidated.

Mr. Carpentier could tell just by looking at their compositions thus far. Every single painting consisted of stark, geometric line drawings—a sign of trouble, he said.

“Okay, kids. You can make any kind of shape at all. And then you can fill them in,” Mr. Carpentier softly encouraged the students with a smile. “In other words, I’m trying to have some fun here because, so far, it’s pretty boring, isn’t it?”

“Yeah,” the children murmured together.

“Yeah, so let’s see what we can do about making things more fun,” Mr. Carpentier said.

“I have to say, we have an excellent group of listeners,” CMEE Education Coordinator Vanessa Geppert quickly pointed out. “And I can see we’ve got some very creative people here in this room.”
“Okay,” Mr. Carpentier agreed. “But I think they’re a little afraid of the paint.”

The longtime Springs-based artist and former teacher couldn’t particularly blame the 6- to 10-year-olds seated around the table. Before the workshop had started, Mr. Carpentier explained that these are the years young artists develop. And, in turn, many give up.

As children grow out of thinking of painting as play—or “stool smearing,” he said—more often than not, no one teaches them how to create what they see. Their subsequent frustration turns them off from art altogether, he said.

“We must let them know, the primitive thing they do is a legitimate form of art because it’s expressive,” he said. “And this is when you teach them the importance of expression. And you show them what’s expression as adult art and how powerful their art is in relationship to mature art.”

He paused and said, “But these are little kids, so we’ll talk about the color wheel and how to mix colors.”

Right on cue, the first batch of students had shyly poked their heads around the door frame and looked into the room.

“Hi, kids! Want to come in?” Mr. Carpentier had greeted them. “Each of you, take your own set of paint bottles so you don’t have to share. Blue, red, yellow. It’s quite a handful.”

“Can I put it in yet?” 6-year-old Alex Frohlich asked, pointing to his paint tin.

“Not yet,” the teacher said. “First, I’ve got to talk to you about it.”

Using a color wheel, Mr. Carpentier explained how to create secondary colors from the primaries sitting in front of them—and how to avoid making “mud” by mixing all three colors together unintentionally.

Then, he set them loose.

“Yes, painting!” Alex said, quickly followed by, “Uh oh. That was an accident.”

“What happened?” Mr. Carpentier asked.

The boy held up his tin with a tiny dot of blue paint mixed in with the red.

“Oh, that’s all right,” the artist said, holding back his laughter. “Let me wash it out.”

While Mr. Carpentier made his way to the sink, Alex’s twin sister, Mia, patted her brother on the back, sympathetic and serious.

“It’s okay, Alex,” she said. “It’s okay.”

She returned to her seat, adjacent to a line of four girls who found themselves reevaluating their line drawings after Mr. Carpentier’s speech about moving away from strict geometry. The artist leaned over them, pointing to areas they could fill in with color.

“You better get some more paint on that brush,” he guided 7-year-old Maya Leathers, who was scraping the dry bristles against the white paper. “But the shapes you made, my goodness. They’re beautiful. Just let the colors and shapes talk. They’ll tell you what to do.”

She smiled, despite herself, and got back to work on her heart-shaped drawing—perhaps tapping a family gene passed down from her father, animator Chris Leathers.

“My dad, he paints all kinds of things, too,” she said. “Just lines and he plays with the paint a lot. And it turns out really cool.”

“I bet they do,” Mr. Carpentier said, picking up her finished drawing. “Incredible, huh?” he said as an aside, and then loud enough for the class to hear, “I can tell one thing from this group. They hate to paint.”

“I love to paint!” several of the students exclaimed in unison, not catching the humor.

“I was just making a joke,” Mr. Carpentier mumbled, eliciting a few giggles. “I’ll say, these are turning out just fine now. They’re starting to put some of my friends to shame.”

Before the students knew it, the two-hour session was over. They lined up for the sink to wash off while Mr. Carpentier bent down to look at the drying rack.

“They started off as so timid, but when I backed off a little bit and their own imaginations took over, things were happening,” he said of the students. “Gorgeous, you look at some of this stuff. If these were adults or teenagers, it would be hell. They want to paint beautiful masterpieces. For these kids, it’s still about play, especially this little guy.”

He gestured to Alex, busy splashing in the water until his sister pulled him back. “Uh oh!” she said, pointing to his shirt. “That’s a big uh-oh!”

Alex glanced down at the streak of green paint and pouted—likely regretting his decision to forgo a smock.

“It’s okay, Alex,” Mia consoled him again. “It’s okay.”

Ms. Geppert passed out paper towels to the kids and, eying the drying rack herself, asked them if she could keep the artwork to hang in the museum’s lobby.

A resounding “Yay!” was all the answer she needed.

One by one, the children slipped out the door, leaving behind empty tins, paint-stained newspaper and a drying rack full of tiny masterpieces—the only signs that they were ever even there.

For more information, visit cmee.org.

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