One of the most relaxed, convenient, and fun ways to connect with art at the Smithsonian is the Open Studio Fridays at the National Portrait Gallery. The free event takes place every Friday from 1-4pm and gives museum goers the opportunity to make art without the pressures of registrations, deadlines, or supplies expense. The experimental, low-key environment enhances the public’s interaction with the museum and allows anyone to become an artist. Participants can create a lasting artwork with as little or as much instruction as they desire, while they relax and spend quality family time.
I sat in on this week’s session and was delighted with the enthusiasm of the participants and the popularity of the event. Multiple families participated, including children ages 3-12, and the easygoing and encouraging atmosphere persuaded even the kids and parents most hesitant about “becoming an artist” to pick up an oil pastel and try their hand at it. Understandably, it is easy to appreciate the work of great artists but nerve-racking to reverse the role and produce one’s own work, especially if you have grown up believing you are not an artist. One young boy proclaimed he was “not a very good artist,” and I watched as the instructor gently and successfully changed his mind: “Do you play a sport?” she asked him. “Drawing is not magic. It’s the same as practicing a sport. Some people just need a lot less practice, which makes it look like magic.” The boy relaxed, and eventually the tables quieted as the children – and parents – released their inhibitions and became absorbed by their work.
Because the artists rotate in leading the program each week, participants can expect different materials and teaching styles to ensure a new experience. Today artist Holly Solano, an NPG Weekend Gallery Educator, favored charcoal and oil pastel. The familiar medium’s pliability and sharp contrast was a hit with the children, who also learned about new tools like the tortillon or “blender,” a stick of rolled paper used to soften harsh lines. Even toddlers enjoyed the experience of line making with charcoal on “toothed” paper.
“Kids and adults get shy about art,” said NPG Youth & Family Program Coordinator Geri Provost Lyons. “But this program is a great way for them to think outside the box and do things that they wouldn’t normally do.”
Open Studio Fridays at the National Portrait Gallery is not just about making portraits (while the plentiful hand mirrors allow for this). I recommend everyone take a moment out of their busy schedules to relax, express themselves, and enjoy the many benefits of art offered by Open Studio Friday this upcoming week.
Open Studio Fridays repeats most Fridays through December 21st at the Education Center, Room E151.
Check out more fun and free drop-in events like the Portrait Story Days on Saturday and Sunday.