An Art Class Makes Strong Impressions

Van Gogh, Monet and Renoir have sprung to life at Montecito Union School, at least in the eyes of the children.

In Rebecca Brand’s after-school art classes, students are painting the French Impressionist masters in a way no other children their age get to do in Santa Barbara: with oils.

“These children feel very special being able to use what typically they can’t get a hold of,” Brand says.

Because oil painting is not water-based, it can leave stains and requires a number of complicated steps to prepare and clean up, not to mention the painting process itself. For these reasons, art teachers have traditionally steered children away from the difficult and messy process, but for Brand, it is because of the process that she encourages oil painting, which is fairly easy to use once you begin.

“The painting experience is so enhanced in a way that pastels or watercolor will never give them [students],” Brand says. “Plus, the product produced will last a lifetime on canvas.”

In addition to learning about oil painting, the children are also taught about the French Impressionist masters themselves. For every eight-week session, the class focuses on one particular master and the students can choose which painting they want to replicate. In the process of creating the replication, each child learns the painting process that the master went through.

Brand first began working at Montecito Union after Kathy Kelley, the director of after-school programs, took one of Brand’s summer art series workshops for adults. When Kelley noticed that Brand’s class began “getting rave reviews,” she decided that adults could benefit as much as the children.

“I was thinking about how cool it would be to offer enrichment opportunities to adults,” Kelley says.

Thus, Brand’s adult sessions started, held once a week at Montecito Union. Like the children’s class, all the adults have to do is show up with an enthusiastic attitude.

“Rebecca provides a service,” Kelley says. “You just pay your fee and show up. She brings all the supplies and because there is a lot of investment in purchasing your own supplies, it somehow feels easier to make the commitment.”

Although Brand – who learned the trade from an artist who had studied for years with Picasso – considers herself a serious teacher, she welcomes beginners as well as advanced artists.

Tracy Conway, whose daughter Crystal also takes the class, had never picked up a paintbrush except to paint a wall when she started the class.

“I am a rookie and really believed when I signed up for the class that I would be putting my artwork under my bed,” Conway says. “Oil painting is a way of bringing beauty into the world; one is never too old to learn.”

Conway says Crystal has been steered to artistic success in the same way.

“Rebecca explains each step in layman’s terms so it’s not intimidating or overwhelming,” Conway says. “Painting is not difficult with Rebecca.”

For Rebecca, the rewards come from teaching what she calls “the artistic journey.”

“I’m really adamant that each child walks away from the class absolutely thinking they have an artist in them,” Brand says. “Everybody has their own artistic voice and style that comes out no matter who they’re studying, and they start to see that their instincts of what to do next is terrific – they’re so capable.”

For more information on the student and adult classes, contact Kathy Kelley at Montecito Union School at 963-3249 or Rebecca Brand at 563-0945, or e-mail Sessions run for eight weeks and cost $325 for children’s classes and $350 for adults.