ArtReach: Artists mentor students outside Hearst Castle

Elizabeth Espinoza,11, as she paints a watercolor of a Hearst Ranch pond. She is near the Hearst Castle visitor's center.
David Middlecamp
Elizabeth Espinoza,11, as she paints a watercolor of a Hearst Ranch pond. She is near the Hearst Castle visitor's center. David Middlecamp 01-13-10

Young students and established artists worked in small, random groups around the Hearst Castle Visitor Center on Wednesday, part of Friends of Hearst Castle’s first-ever ArtReach mentoring program.

The tutoring cosponsored by the YMCA’s Centennial Park Office paired 15 at-risk, middle-school-age students one on one with art professionals. They shared a castle tour, the Hearst history movie, lunch, a two-hour outdoor painting session and show-and-tell presentation of the finished, matted works.

“At risk” students include those who come from a low-income home and those who do not have access at school to cultural programs such as art instruction.

All the students are enrolled in the Y’s art-enrichment programs after school and were selected by YMCA staff. Eleven of the 15 had never been to the Castle before.

The youngsters were quiet, attentive, observant and respectful throughout the long day. There was no twitching, giggling or hijinks.

“They’re really good kids,” Shelley Dargatz, YMCA’s North County regional director, said, “especially when you spread them out.”

Mother Nature provided picture-perfect backdrops. Fluffy banks of clouds ranged in color from off-white to dove gray. Lush green grass on the rolling hills was accented by a stock pond surrounded by reeds. On the other side of the Visitor Center, steeper green hills led to the Castle itself.

“Take a good look at the shape of the lake,” artist Mike Wilson told Roberto Rodriguez, 12, from Lewis Middle School, “because that’s what it is. A shape. So just draw it like you see it.”

Several students rearranged the scenery in their artworks, taking out a tree here or adding some brush there. A few even included the Castle.

Artist Art Van Rhyn and his student Justin Denton, 11, from Shandon Elementary School, set up in the patio near the theater. Justin — already an experienced artist — drew a plant pot he saw there, then surrounded that shape with a brightly colored, impressionistic landscape scene he pulled from his imagination.

Some youngsters had never painted before, and others enjoy it as a hobby. A few, such as Justin, want to make a living in art-related fields. Harmony Kepins, 13, from Shandon Elementary School completed three artworks in the two-hour period.

Sierra Mosely, 12, from Flamson Middle School, wants to be a professional artist. “I like drawing with colored pencils, doing landscapes” and other art, she said.

Her schoolmate Ana Rokes, 13, said ArtReach would help her refine her artistic hobby, figure painting.

The pro plein-air artists taught their students how to pick a landscape subject and then illustrate it on paper using watercolors, colored pencils, oil crayons or pastels. Some artists painted alongside their students, in a show-and-tell method.

Several adults demonstrated how to block off scenic topics by holding up a pre-cut art mat, or the thumbs and middle fingers of both hands held in a rectangle. They taught the youngsters everything from paint blending and brush handling to how to cope with sudden gusts of wind.

The mentoring program is the second half of Friends’ first venture into the art world. In June, the group sponsored an artists’ paint-in on the hilltop. A silent auction of the artworks brought in more than $10,000 at the nonprofit’s “Twilight on the Terrace” event, 40 percent of which helped pay for the ArtReach supplies. Other artworks can be purchased through Friends’ Web site, www.friendsofhearstcastle.org.