Two innovative studios target young art masters
July 31, 2009
BY JENNIFER BURKLOW Kid Zone
Looking for something different to wrap up the kids' summer? Check out...nontraditional art studios in Chicago...The Paintbrush put(s) a different spin on art classes for kids.
The Paintbrush, co-owned by sisters Mindy and Melanie Apel, melds music and art for kids ages 18 months to 10 years old. Mindy is a former kindergarten teacher who taught art to the strains of classical music. Single-mom Melanie was looking for a way to support her kids without being away from them. They hit on the idea of an art studio for kids and opened the Lake View site in April 2005.
"The mission of The Paintbrush is to introduce young children to the wonderful world of art," she said. The goal, she added, is to teach kids to love art and have an understanding of the artists they study and whose works inspire their own creations.
Music -- from classical to modern -- plays in important part in The Paintbrush classes and workshops. So when Jackson Pollock is featured, Apel said, Aaron Copland's "Hoedown" from "Rodeo" is played.
"Kids are 'splatter painting' [a la Pollock]," she said. "It's very energetic music that leads to what they're doing."
The Paintbrush offers a selection of classes geared to different ages along with workshops and summer camp. Classes are ongoing, Apel said, so kids can join anytime. The last two sessions of summer camp run from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Aug. 17-21 and Aug. 24-28 (openings remain). Birthday parties (and adult parties) are also an option.
From this week's Focus
Wooing the young at art
Valerie Bertenshaw enrolled her daughter, Christina, in art classes at the Paintbrush so the 4-year-old could paint, draw and glue without making a mess at home.
What Ms. Bertenshaw didn't expect was for Christina to start recognizing famous works like "Nude Under a Pine Tree" by Pablo Picasso, which the budding artist pointed out during a visit to the Art Institute last year.
"The fact that Christina is learning about artists and art history is icing on the cake," Ms. Bertenshaw, 38, says.
The Paintbrush, a children's art studio in Lakeview owned by sisters Melanie and Mindy Apel, introduces kids to famous artists, then has them do projects inspired by the artists' styles. During a lesson on Jackson Pollack, the kids splatter paint on canvases. To mimic American pop artist Wayne Thiebaud, they create giant ice cream sundaes out of newspaper and empty ice cream pints.
Founded three years ago, the Paintbrush is one of dozens of children's art programs offered in Chicago and the suburbs. For entrepreneurs, who dominate the growing industry, success in this competitive market requires developing a new twist on arts and crafts.
At The Paintbrush, a storefront at 2856 N. Halsted St., that means combining art, history and music. The Apels teach their students about the artists' hometowns, backgrounds and technique and play music from the artist's era or country of origin while the kids work — an idea Melanie Apel got from seeing how much her then-15-month-old son enjoyed painting and drawing while listening to a "Baby Mozart" CD.
"Hayden would always say, 'Put on the painting music' as I pulled out the art supplies, and I thought, 'Wouldn't it be cool to teach kids about Monet and play Mozart to inspire them?' " she says.
Although art classes have always been a staple of childhood learning, in the past five years, they have become big business in Chicago. The niche once populated exclusively by community centers and grammar schools is being filled by for-profit companies like The Paintbrush... As a result, the course offerings have become more creative.
At The Paintbrush, which Mindy, 36, and Melanie, 40, started with $8,000 they inherited from their grandmother, enrollment has grown from 30 students in its first year to 200 last year. They started out offering eight-week sessions for pre-schoolers and school-age kids. Now sessions are 16 weeks (at a cost of $295), and they've added classes for toddlers.
To boost profits, they also host birthday parties, which cost $275 to $675, depending on the number of guests and add-ons like balloons, piñatas and goodie bags.
The Apels decline to disclose revenue but say the business became profitable enough last year for Mindy, who teaches the classes, and Melanie, who handles the administrative and business side, to start taking modest salaries.
To attract more business, they offer incentives like their "March Madness" promotion: a 19-week session for the price of a 16-week session. Last month, they offered a $25 discount to customers who got a friend to sign up.
The duo's efforts seem to be paying off.
Nearly 70% of current students re-enrolled during the March promotion.
©2008 by Crain Communications Inc.
Grand Image Artist Gregory Garrett Inspires Young Artists
An art studio for children, The Paintbrush brings music and art together by introducing children to a variety of musical compositions while they explore various artistic media to create their own unique works of art. The students also learn about the lives and works of influential artists and composers.
Above, Left: Artist Gregory Garrett’s “Swirl Pattern III” served as inspiration for aspiring artists.
Above, Right: A young boy uses the inspiration of Gregory Garrett’s imagery to create his own masterpiece.
For more information, visit www.grandimage.com. ABN