It started off as a bare hunk of plaster, molded in the shape of a horse's head. I remember the sense of purpose as I dabbed my 6-year-old fingers in paint, slowly transforming this 3-D canvas into a fanciful rendition of Romper, a neighbor's beautiful brown horse.
I brought the sculpture home glowing with pride: I'd created a family heirloom and was on the sure path to becoming an artist!
Or ... not. In the months that followed, the horse's head migrated from bookcase to increasingly hidden bookcase, and I, uh, dabbled in painting before moving on.
The upside, if my decades-old memory is any indication, is that artistic experiences for kids create lasting memories. And sometimes, they stoke creative fires.
The big question for local parents: Where should you go?
At Color Me Mine (coloradosprings.colormemine.com) in the Briargate area, artists actually work with bisque, which, unlike plaster, can actually be stuck in a kiln. (Translation: Pieces painted here can actually look pretty nice, reducing the chance they'll suffer the same fate as Romper.)
Melissa Massey, who's worked at the Colorado Springs franchise since it opened in January, says it's popular for family outings and children's birthday parties, and even among adults looking to make keepsakes.
"It's an experience you pay for," Massey says, "but you get to keep it forever."
To paint here, you'll be asked for a studio fee ($10 for adults, $6 for kids) and the price for your choice of bisque (from $1 up to around $100). Check for promotions on Color Me Mine's Web site, including a mother-daughter tea special in late April for Mother's Day, at which you'll pay $45 to paint a teapot, two cups and two saucers, all in honor of Walt Disney's late-winter release of Alice in Wonderland.
Color Me Mine doesn't have the paint-your-own market cornered. In Monument, the 2-Watts Creative Center (2wattscreative.com) has a range of bisque pieces that kids can beautify, as well as more involved classes in which students use potters' wheels or learn to cut and fuse glass.
Another option if your family is looking for a morning or afternoon of artistry is the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center (csfineartscenter.org/education.asp, click on "family events"). Hour-long "gallery treks" for kids ages 6 to 10 take place about once a month, focusing on themes like drama or ekphrastic writing. (And if your kid comes back knowing what "ekphrastic writing" means, won't it have been worth it?) These treks are free for FAC members; nonmembers pay $2.50 for children and $7.50 for adults. The FAC also offers themed Family Adventure Days, at which participants create art while using museum exhibits as inspiration (free for members, $3 for nonmembers).
Finally, in Manitou Springs, the Business of Art Center (thebac.org) also offers periodic classes for kids.
So your kids have painted, dressed up their bisque figurines, thrown a few pots, and maybe even waxed poetic about a prickly looking piece of glass created by Dale Chihuly. Now what?
Well, how about duct tape?
OK, making wallets, hats and the like with duct tape is the focus for only one of 16 week-long art programs offered over the summer at Studio 101 (studio101.biz) in Old Colorado City. Rhonda Conn-Parent says all of her summer programs, as well as afternoon programs she offers during the school year, aim to help children discover and develop their artistic interests.
"I'm an educator first, and I do it with art," says Conn-Parent, who's taught art at several area schools.
Kids can sign up for a month's worth of classes at Kids Can Draw (kidscandraw.info), inside the Hobby Lobby at the Woodmen Valley Shopping Center. And even farther to the north and east, Monart Drawing Studio (csmonart.com) offers a free trial class, after which you can opt to sign up for a once-a-month class or 11-week "term."
Though some of these places offer programs for younger kids, one spot that really focuses on the 5-and-younger crowd is Gymboree Play and Music (gymboreeclasses.com). It also offers free trial classes and ongoing programming in music, art and school skills, as well as more general playing sessions.
A final arts option in Colorado Springs, Imagination Celebration (imaginationcelebration.org), is harder to categorize. It offers a blend of theatrical programs and art demonstrations at different venues in the city, as well as creative opportunities at its Celebration Place at The Citadel, on North Academy Boulevard; check for information.