Abrakadoodle offers a hands-on approach to children interested in expressing themselves

Program helps kids brush up on art skills

Business Profile Abrakadoodle


The children started by dipping marbles in bowls of blue, red, yellow and orange paint, then rolling them along a long sheet of paper. Then they used other tools -- toothbrushes, combs and hands among them, to create their masterpieces.

Roslyn Brown, director of Abrakadoodle, an art education program that she recently brought to Howard County, reminded them that their inspiration for the day was artist Jackson Pollock. "Did he paint with brushes?" she asked.

"No!" came the reply from the seven children, going into grades one through three, in the Wednesday evening class at Claret Hall in River Hill Village Center. By the end of the hourlong session, the children had hand-printed, scraped, dabbed, rolled and rubbed their way toward a work that resembled the famous drips and spatters of Pollock.

As they worked, Brown encouraged the youngsters to think about the techniques they were using. About halfway through, she showed them a photo of a Pollock painting. "What do you think?" she asked. "Are we getting close?"

Caitlin Lydon, 8, going into third grade at Dayton Oaks Elementary, a new school opening this year in western Howard County, decided the work needed more pole shapes. She demonstrated how to do it. "Take a toothbrush, and you take it straight down," she said. Caitlin added that she liked the class because "you get to do activities."

Typically, kids work on their own paintings, not a group project, but because it was the first session in a five-week program, "we do something that's very social that gets the ice broken," Brown said.

Brown, a former information technology worker with Sylvan Learning Center, learned about the franchise, based in Reston, Va., from her husband, Bruce Brown, a consultant for FranChoice, a company that matches franchises with potential owners.

"For me, it just fit everything I was looking for at this point in my life," she said. She liked that it was a home-based business, and that it involved children and art.

"I knew there would be a tremendous market for it," she said.

The idea behind it is something called "process art," which means that kids learn by focusing on the process, not the final product.

At the start of each session, the Abrakadoodle mascot, a stuffed pooch named Splat, introduces the artist of the day and talks about the techniques and materials used by that artist. Then, kids use those techniques to create art. They frame it, sign it, talk about it and take it home. They also take home a strip of paper explaining what they learned, including the day's "arty words," in this case action painting, line and texture.

The Browns, who live in Howard County, purchased the franchise for the region of Howard County, Laurel and Catonsville in September. They have five full-time instructors, running classes and camps for kids 20 months old through 12 years old. Classes are held in schools, churches and other locations.

During the academic year, they hold after-school programs at several Howard schools. Bruce Brown said that at least one private school, Resurrection-St. Paul in Ellicott City, has done that, but the public schools would need county-level approval, he said.

Meanwhile, the Browns are hiring instructors for the fall season. Bruce Brown said one big lesson of the past year is that the instructors don't have to be art experts. The franchise comes with 1,200 lessons tailored to children, so the expertise is built in, he said. The key, he said, is hiring people who work well with children.

Last week, instructor Andrea Brown, who graduated from Hammond High School and will be going to University of Maryland, College Park in the spring, was helping her mother, Roslyn Brown, with the class. "I just like to create things," she said.

Madison Wilke, 7, entering third grade at Fulton Elementary School, said she joined Abrakadoodle for an after-school program and liked it so much that she came back for a summer session. Her favorite thing about it? "It's messy," she said, showing off her paint-spattered hands.

Bryson Tullis, 7, a rising third-grader at Stevens Forest Elementary in Columbia, also liked getting his hands in paint. "I have a terrible disease," he joked, holding up his blue-covered palms.

About 15 minutes before the end of the session, the children cut the large sheet of paper into smaller pieces and framed them. Then they arranged their finished products along a wall to create an informal gallery. "So what we have is everyone using the same colors and same techniques, but everyone came up with something different," Roslyn Brown noted.

She invited the kids to talk about their pieces, and several did. The final order of business was voting on next week's project. Would it be drawing, collage, sculpting or painting? Sculpting won, and Bryson said he planned to create a monster.

"Me, too," said Andrea Brown. "We can make different kinds of monsters."

Contact the Abrakadoodle for Howard County and surrounding areas at 410-381-5566, or visit the Web site at http:--www. abrakadoodle.com/md04.html.

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