Kids learn masters' styles at Saturday Studio

On canvas, 8-year-old Charlotte Fuselier’s hair is big, wavy and pink and green.

“Mine is straight lines, but I’m imagining,” she said, her blond hair pulled back into a pony tail.

Imagination is encouraged at the Saturday Studio series of art classes at the Baton Rouge Gallery, where kids learn to paint in the style of well-known 20th-century artists.

This time, the second week of the classes, the eight elementary school-aged students were learning about Pablo Picasso and creating self-portraits in his style, drawing popping eyes, prominent noses and multicolored lips. The previous week, they studied Wassily Kandinskey and the abstract artist’s wild use of color.

“It’s Picasso,” said Lauren O’Neill, the 32-year-old teacher who wore a paint-splattered apron. “You can’t mess up.”

They watched a quick slideshow of his work, and Picasso’s first paintings — serious, standard oil paintings — gave way to his blue period and paintings dominated by shades of that single hue. Then they learned about his best known work as a creator of cubism, a style of painting that re-imagines people and objects as fractured and geometric forms.

An example was Picasso’s “Girl Before a Mirror.”

“It looks like she is kind of cut and pasted together, like a collage,” said Jenny Poulter, who manages the art gallery and teaches with O’Neill.

Given Polaroid pictures of themselves, the students had instructions: Draw a self-portrait using Picasso’s continuous line technique, drawing a picture without ever picking up the pencil or paintbrush.

Taking their spots at eight canvasses set on easels behind O’Neill, they set to sketching with pencils on white paper before picking up brushes.

“Remember, with these pictures you can be as goofy and silly as you want to,” O’Neill told them while sketching her own self-portrait. “If you’re a goofy, silly person, you can have a silly face.”

Her main tip for drawing a face? Don’t forget the eyebrows. They help show your feelings.

“Keep that in mind,” she said. “People look kind of funny without their eyebrows.”

Wandering behind the canvasses, Poulter encouraged the tiny artists to take risks.

“Be brave,” she said. “There is no such thing as right and wrong when you’re talking about your art.”

Holding a mirror for 7-year-old Kahlil Smith, O’Neill helped the budding artist see every angle of his face and his wisps of brown hair. He drew a triangle for a nose and kidney bean lips.

“I like to draw and paint because it is so exciting,” Kahlil said shyly.

Teaching children is a challenge and a joy, said O’Neill, who works full time as a youth minister at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Zachary.

“There’s no fear of people critiquing and looking at their stuff and comparing it to other people,” O’Neill said. “They just do and have fun.”

No matter how their self-portraits come out, their parents will cherish them, she said.

“When you get to adults they say, ‘Oh I can’t draw. My art teacher way back when said I couldn’t draw a circle.’ And that’s all that’s stuck in their heads since then,” O’Neill said.

Once the students became engrossed in their work, Poulter began popping popcorn. They listened to oldies on the radio and began filling in their canvasses, adding swaths of bright color and triangles and squares.

Alyssa Williams, a 10-year-old artist, drew herself with large eyes dominating the canvas. She painted her shoulder-length braids blue and colored her lips in blue, yellow and red.

Williams said she liked creating self-portraits the most. “I look different in every one I draw,” she said.