This school system is just outside of Ft. Worth Texas, and they invited me out for a day to do some workshops with all of their students from the 2nd to the 8th grade. It is rare for me to be able to work with such a wide range of children in one day, so I jumped at the chance to go. We sat up in the art department as class after class was brought in for me to paint with. With this type of workshop our goal is to teach the basic principals to the kids of how I paint without using eyesight. We do this by blindfolding the kids and giving them paints with each having a different texture for each color. For example: Blue is runny while yellow is thick and gritty. The paints we prepare for the children are different than the paints I actually use in my artwork. The paints I use are far too caustic and potentially staining for the children to use. Instead we prepare temper paints for them that are much safer for them to use. Each child is also given a raised line drawing so that they can feel their way around the picture as they paint.
Here is the wonderful thing about children: I can spend an hour telling an adult how I paint – answering questions and what not, and at the end they may still not have a clear idea how it all works. I can give a child a raised line drawing and some textured paint and 10 minutes later they are painting, having a great time, and producing some really interesting art. I do workshops with adults and professional artist as well, but I think it is easy to see why I love doing these workshops with kids.
Once blindfolded the kids learn to rely on their imagination, creativity, and memory to work on the paintings and this builds an amazing amount of confidence on their part. It is so interesting to me to talk with the children before we begin to paint, and then talk afterwards and hear how their viewpoints have changed when it comes to art and viewing the world in general.
This was the first workshop that I did with children where Echo was with me. I probably don’t have to tell you that she was a hit with the kids! The children may not remember my name, but I’m willing to bet they will never forget hers. After each child finished their paintings and cleaned up they had the chance to come up and pet Echo, which gave a great opportunity to teach them how to approach a service dog and to always ask before petting. Echo loved the attention, and as we left the school we could hear calls from the playground of kids yelling, “Goodbye Echo! Goodbye John!” It was a great day; I hope we can go back very soon.
I want to take a moment to say how instrumental my wife Jacqi is to these workshops. While they are considered to be my workshops it is Jacqi that makes them truly possible. She instructs the children, mixes the paints, sets everything up, and basically runs the show which allows me to be able to fully interact with the kids. This can be quite a job because every place we go to has a different set up, which we have to adapt to, and volunteers which need to be taught the techniques before we can begin. We have painted with thousands of kids, and without Jacqi none of this would be possible. Thank you sweetheart!