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The Artistry of Summer Camp

Prominent Charlotte artists lead virtual art camps for teens

The first thing that teaching artists at McColl Center want teens to know is this: Teenagers are creative, too. By learning new skills and techniques, young people can acquire new ways to express themselves that they can use all their lives.

Professional artists—many of whom have had residencies here at McColl Center and exhibit regionally and around the country—lead week-long camps for 11 to 16 year-old students. Whether the class is about contemporary landscapes, printmaking, or mural design, they show how to create impressive works of art with materials as common as pencils, markers, watercolors, and even leaves.

“What’s exciting about taking an art camp and being willing to step out of your comfort zone is that you leave with a new skill set,” says Allison Luce, a McColl Center alumna artist. “If you're willing to try something new, then you can take away a lot from just a week-long class.”

Learn about the teaching artists behind our Summer Arts at Home series:

Teaching Artist: Allison Luce
Week 1: Landscapes, July 13-17, 2020

Allison Luce. Photo courtesy of the artist.

During Allison Luce’s 2008 residency at McColl Center, the ceramic artist experimented with another art form: large prints. “It was really exciting because the residency gives artists access to facilities to make artwork that we wouldn’t otherwise make, so I used that time to make a large series of prints.”

Exploring a new form of art inspired her original one. Now, she wants to help teenagers find that same inspiration as they explore a new art: landscapes. In addition to students learning to create landscapes with pastels, charcoal, or watercolor, they also learn about art history. Luce teaches historical artists alongside contemporary artists to show students how timeless principles can be applied in new ways.

Studying contemporary landscapes is especially impactful at times when we’re more affected by our surroundings, Luce believes, like staying home more often during COVID-19. She wants students to wonder: How have our environments changed, and how haven’t they? How can students find art in the mundane settings they see every day?

“Our ability to react to what's around us is important,” Luce says. “Being able to make something out of what we see every day can be interesting.”

Teaching Artist: Chris Clamp
Week 2: Observational Skills and Drawing Principles, July 20-24, 2020

Chris Clamp in his studio at McColl Center, 2019.

As an artist-in-residence in 2019, McColl Center alumnus artist Chris Clamp drew a series of portraits—but not your average portraits. As a realistic oil painter, he captured the essence of loved ones through the objects that held meaning to them. The paintings that were personal to him became personal to others, too. McColl Center opens its doors to local families, out-of-town visitors, and curators alike, and visitors to Clamp’s studio discovered their own families in his portraits. 

“A lot of people who came into the studio really responded to them,” he said. “They’d see the objects, and then tell me a story about their own family members.”

As a child, Clamp found his voice when he found art; it ignited a curiosity that became a career. Clamp now works with students to help them discover something of themselves in their work. Art teaches creativity and problem solving skills, he says, which help teenagers no matter which professional fields they’ll enter. 

“I do want to help the kids find something within themselves: their voice, their confidence,” Clamp says. “There are a lot of opportunities that are missed, I think, because we feel that we have to pursue certain things in life as careers. But [options] like art and design are valid, and if people can build a passion and a knowledge in [art], they might find those things they’ve been looking for.”

Teaching Artist: Laurie Smithwick
Week 3: Gelatin Printmaking, July 27-31, 2020

Laurie Smithwick. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Laurie Smithwick is an artist, designer, and educator—as well as a Charlotte native—who has visited McColl Center since the beginning. Her children took classes here, and she teaches workshops and leads activities with students of all ages. But she has a special fondness for teaching teenagers.

“Teenagers are at the beginning of that class of people who are divided into who thinks of themselves as an artist and who doesn’t,” says Smithwick. “You’d be hard pressed to find a second grader who even knows what that question means. But by the time kids are in seventh or eighth grade, they’ll say, ‘Yes, I’m an artist,’ or ‘No, I’m not an artist.’”

Smithwick wants to introduce everyone to their inner artists. During a week-long class in gelatin printmaking, she encourages students to take items they can find around their house and yard—like corrugated cardboard boxes, fabric, leaves, and pebbles—and create artwork so beautiful that it surprises even them. It’s a fun introduction to complex printmaking techniques, and it culminates in a virtual showcase for students to share their work with each other.

“I think they're going to be surprised at the reactions they’ll get when they hold their art up to the [other participants]. I’m hopeful that there’s a big wow factor, and those wows make them excited, make them feel good, and then make them want to do it again,” Smithwick says. “I like sneakily teaching people that they’re artists without them knowing that that's what I've done.”

Teaching Artists: Arko + Owl
Week 4:
Mural Design, August 3-7, 2020

Arko + Owl. Photo courtesy of the artists.

Chances are, you wouldn’t recognize Arko + Owl if you saw them. The artist duo typically wears masks to public events to keep the focus on their work and not themselves. But, chances are, you’d recognize their art.

You’ve probably seen their murals in South End or uptown or Plaza Midwood or Camp North End. Or you might have seen their installations inside Mint Museum Uptown. They’re active in the city’s art scene, part of Southern Tiger Collective. Charlotte is a brighter, more vibrant city because of Arko + Owl.

During their class, they’ll teach students how to think big: how to design, plan, sketch, and create a mural, using several painting techniques. At the end of the week, students will share their work with each other in a virtual art showcase.

Teaching Artist: Marcus Kiser
Week 5: Illustration and Character Design, August 10-14, 2020

Marcus Kiser in his studio at McColl Center, 2017.

When McColl Center alumnus artist and illustrator Marcus Kiser asks teenagers to imagine themselves as superheroes and to give themselves a superpower, he sees a familiar pattern: These kids want to make the world better. He uses art to show them that they can.

“I was always into art as a kid, but I never knew professional artists or professional comic book artists, and I definitely wasn’t seeing any African American or Black artists,” Kiser says. “I got to the point where I’m a professional artist, and I think of the kids who are kind of like how I was, and who need to see me as that representation.”

Kiser has had a very successful career as an artist. He’s had two residencies at McColl Center, and he’s exhibited and taught workshops around the country. He also uses art in his day job, designing prosthetics for a health center. Kiser uses art to heal people physically, as well as to heal communities emotionally. This native Charlottean uses his talents in illustration, graphic design, and storytelling as a community builder. He’s taught art to at-risk kids who were kicked out of the school system, to second-language kids who feared the deportation of their families, and to adults—many of whom experienced homelessness—at Urban Ministry Center. He teaches art to allow students of all ages to develop their individual voice and to reflect on their own narratives.

“I have a talent to draw and do illustration, and I wonder: How can I use this to serve the people? How does this serve communities, how does this serve disenfranchised communities? How can we use this to help?” Kiser asks. “I've really been on that journey.”

Learn more about our Summer Arts at Home camps and alumni artists-in-residence.