Monart School of the Arts: Inspiring creativity

Master Yoda colored with green pencil, Minnie Mouse meticulously drawn with red-and-white marker and a lizard-like creature painted with watercolors.

These pieces — covering the walls of The Nautical Bean Coffee House and Bistro in San Luis Obispo — are a sampling of the whimsical work of students who attended the Monart School of the Arts in San Luis Obispo.

“Some students have innate ability, but others do not,” explained Caroline Vaccaro, owner of the business located on Broad Street. “But they all learn the language of shapes. We teach them to see the shapes to be successful in drawing.”

Monart students are instructed in a drawing method created in 1979 by Mona Brookes, author of “Drawing with Children” and “Drawing for Older Children and Teens.” Brookes, who owns the Monart Drawing Studio in Berkeley — one of four privately owned Monart schools in the state — identified five basic methods of shape, and said all drawings can be reduced to those five shape families.

The method, now used around the world with children and adults — some of whom have learning difficulties — is designed to help students overcome fears they have about their drawing skills, building self-esteem in the creative process.

Students are encouraged to make choices about what they want to create and how they want to create it, said Vaccaro, who was trained by Brookes many years ago. That’s something that often runs counter to what is taught in traditional art classes in school, she noted.

Moreover, Monart students learn that their art work does not have to be perfect, and that it’s about the “process, not the product in art,” Vaccaro said.Vaccaro, a San Luis Obispo native and graduate of San Luis Obispo High School, opened the Monart school in 2006 after recognizing that the area lacked such an art program.

Vaccaro, who took drawing and ceramics courses at Cuesta College and then earned degrees in economics/business and fine art from Westmont College in Santa Barbara, said she wanted to do something “that would inspire students to follow their passion.”

“It broke my heart that so much art was being cut from public education,” she said. “This was a way to combine my two degrees with a passion to provide art to children before and after school and during summer programs.”

The school offers classes designed for a variety of age levels and skills, as well as spring, summer and winter camps. Students cycle in and out of the school, which typically sees 65 students a month.

Vaccaro recently launched two new programs targeting adults and children. Monart Art & Cork gives adults an opportunity to paint with friends over a glass of wine and a snack. This summer, the studio also has offered summer camps at the San Luis Obispo Children’s Museum.

While Vaccaro is pursuing what she loves, she acknowledged that it is a business with expenses: art materials, rent, insurance and payroll. There are five teachers with fine arts backgrounds.

The school, which gives scholarships and multi-family discounts, counts on repeat customers, word-of-mouth from clients and the support of other businesses such as The Nautical Bean, which agreed to showcase drawings from the school’s art show.

Vaccaro, whose business slowed down significantly in 2009, has had to cut back on some of her programs. But she said Monart, which makes a small annual profit, expanded its summer camps this year. In the next three to five years, she would like to become a nonprofit or be able to expand to a facility in the North County.

“My business is rewarding because I am able to provide art to students and change lives,” she said. “I was blessed to have some really good and some not so good teachers in all subjects. I want to be that great teacher.”