Creating a Masterpiece caught my eye when they had an exhibit space across the aisle from mine at a homeschool conference. They had set up easels and workspace for children to actually complete a “Baby Bluebird” art project with pastels without any parental assistance. Children who appeared to be as young as about six and seven watched the DVD lesson, following the step-by-step instructions. Every one of them created a beautiful finished art work within an hour. I didn’t see any of the children getting frustrated or having significant difficulties with the project, even though I suspect most of them had never worked with pastels before.
The project was so successful I thought I’d try it with my six-year-old granddaughter. When we started the lesson at home, I discovered that the DVD version of the lesson was actually spread out a bit more, broken into a few sessions to keep children from feeling pressured to do too much in one sitting. My granddaughter, like the children at the conference, didn’t want to stop at the end of the first session but wanted to keep on going until she was finished. She was so pleased with her project that she thought she’d done even better than the instructor!
The artist and creative genius behind Creating a Masterpiece, Sharon Hofer, offers art classes to children of all ages. In those classes, children learn to work with many different art media: colored pencils, acrylic paints, oil pastels, sculpting, ink, silk paint, charcoal, copper tooling, watercolors, and more. Based on her experience with her live classes, Hofer has created video lessons that take children through the creation of one art work on each video. Each project is broken down into a number of sessions that depends upon the complexity of the work. Creating a Masterpiece projects are listed under five levels of increasing difficulty: Basic Level 1, Basic Level 2, Basic Level 3, Level 4, and Level 5. Hofer doesn’t suggest ages for the various levels since children vary greatly in their artistic ability and preference for different art media as well as their attention span and patience.
The “Baby Bluebird” project was very manageable for my granddaughter, but I wondered about the suitability of some of the other Level 1 projects for a six-year old. At Hofer’s urging, I tried the “Rainbow Butterfly” silk painting project with her. I was certainly skeptical about tackling silk painting with her since I had no experience myself. The “Rainbow Butterfly” took two sessions to complete, while it could have taken four sessions. We skipped the steaming process in step 4 to remove the resist at the end because my granddaughter thought it looked “finished enough” for her. She reminded me that the teacher on the video said that she could do it the way she wanted, and she was so anxious to “frame” and take home her masterpiece that she didn’t want to wait. You can see her finished project in the photo. The butterfly was definitely more challenging than the bluebirds. I had to help from time to time, helping to mix the paints and demonstrating techniques after she’d watched the video, but she caught on swiftly. I also had to apply the resist. That required better fine motor skills than she has acquired thus far. She was able to complete the drawing with very minimal assistance as well as most of the painting. I did supervise closely with reminders such as turning the project as she applied paint rather than chancing dripping paint across it—something Hofer also mentions at least once in her presentation.
Hofer encourages children to make their own choices although she demonstrates a particular way to do each project. My granddaughter followed Hofer’s example for the most part, but as she gained confidence, she started experimenting with her own color choices.
The silk painting was the kind of project even adults would enjoy—not something you would normally expect a six-year-old to be able to tackle. Yet, Hofer’s careful instruction made it a success.
Through the butterfly project, my granddaughter gained a tremendous understanding of color theory since Hofer has students begin with only red, yellow, and blue paint, then mix to create a pallet of six colors. In addition, students learn how colors blend beyond our initial palette creation since the paint colors readily “bleed” into one another on the silk within each section within a resist boundary. This is just one example of the depth of learning that takes place with projects of this complexity. While most of Hofer’s projects involve drawing skills, other elements of each project expand the student’s understanding of art principles as well as techniques with various media.
While Hofer's lessons were originally delivered via DVDs, they are now available only through online streaming. The streamed lessons include additional helps that were not on the original DVDs such as teaching tips for parents about potential areas of difficulty and occasional mini-lessons on specific skills (e.g., how to draw a tree) that will be used within the larger art work.
In her video lessons, Hofer demonstrates and explains each step of the project. She has a very warm, friendly manner that encourages children. She covers just about everything that might come up, knowing from her experience with so many children where they are likely to encounter problems. Nevertheless, I watched the “Rainbow Butterfly” lessons in advance because I was unfamiliar with the techniques and wanted to be prepared to help my granddaughter as needed. I was glad that I did because I probably absorbed some of the instructions better that way than if I were trying to watch and assist my granddaughter simultaneously. This might be the case with other complex projects, especially working with a younger child. You can watch three sample videos (portions of lessons) on Hofer’ website by clicking here. Note that Hofer occasionally relates art to the beauty of God’s creation, reflecting a Christian worldview.
Hofer recommends that students work with high quality media. This produces better results and students get a taste of the true potential of each art media. For example high quality pastels are generally much easier to rub to produce a smooth color than cheap pastels that can leave “crayon-like” lines. To help you obtain the correct art materials and tools for each project, Creating a Masterpiece has a link on their website to Blick (art supply company) where there are lists of the items and prices for each Creating a Masterpiece project. You can easily purchase all or some of your supplies this way. The list of supplies for each project is also in each streamed lesson, so you can take that with you to a local supplier if you prefer.
Hofer and her staff are glad to answer by email any questions that might arise as students work on projects. She also encourages children to send in digital pictures of their projects. She tells me that, "each month from August through March we send out sublimated prizes...to 15-20 students who have carefully completed the project."
As I mentioned previously, the lessons are streamed online, with 32 different projects from which to choose. You can subscribe for access for a month at a time or for a year, using one subscription for the entire family.
While you might try one month to see how well you like it, it is more economical to subscribe for a year. There are more projects for the first three levels than for the fourth and fifth levels at this time, but projects are continually being added for all levels. Children of all ages should probably begin with first level projects since none of these are baby-ish or too young, even for teens and adults. Children of varying ages can easily work on the same projects at the same time. Creating a Masterpiece projects are great for co-op groups, but check the website for pricing for use in co-ops. You might consider completion of about six projects to be equivalent to a year-long art course.
With the Creating a Masterpiece series, Hofer’s carefully designed lessons and your use of quality art media will almost certainly result in finished projects that are worthy of mounting or framing for display.