Earlier today I drove out to the Camp Dogwood Summer Academy to hold an hour-long Splotch Monster-making workshop. Despite the sweltering summer heat, it turned out to be a beautiful, sunny day for a drive and some art-making outside. I had never heard of Camp Dogwood before until Chiqui Pineda, who is a friend on Instagram, and whose own amazing Splotch Monster art I featured HERE at the blog, got me in touch with her friend Rachelle Barrs, who is the Director of the Summer Residential Program. Rachelle stopped by the SMUDE Expo earlier this year to check out the Splotch Monster-making workshop I held in March, and asked if I'd be interested in doing one at Camp Dogwood, nestled in the scenic hills of Wolftown, Virgina, located a couple of hours away from Washington, D.C., as part of the AnBryce Foundation.
I thought I had left early enough this morning, leaving plenty of time for travel, but traffic slowed on Rt 28, as a lane was partially closed, causing cars to crawl for a while, putting me back by twenty minutes. Thankfully this didn't last too long, and while I couldn't quite enjoy the morning drive in as much as I wanted to, my stress levels immediately began to fall as soon as I started seeing more and more gorgeous green and blue mountains as I got closer to my destination. Luckily I arrived with enough time to get set up, and I was immediately greeted by such a kind, warm welcome, first from Rachelle, then from the other camp counselors and employees, which quickly set the tone for what would be a truly positive and fun creative experience.
I noticed how the entire place was surrounded by nature, and I told Rachel and some of the others how if they had a camp like this when I was a kid, I'd never want to leave, especially after discovering a big, brilliant yellow moth, who didn't want to let go of my hand when I tried letting her go to a much shadier place under a tree. As a kid, bugs and small critters were my thing, and that's probably still the case today, to a somewhat lesser extent perhaps. I'm glad I got a few minutes to look around some before the campers arrived, and it made me so happy to know that these wonderful kids are being exposed to and experiencing the beauty that is the natural world.
There were about twenty campers on board today, all rising fourth-through-sixth graders, which is always such a fun age to work with. What was so amazing was just how kind and polite everyone was, not to mention how incredibly creative all of them were!
I began the workshop with a brief introduction and discussion with the campers about a completed example I brought. We discussed what was used to make it and how it was made. It was great getting the kids engaged in the conversation early on, as there's nothing worse than having to deal with a one-way conversation. Many of the kids were eager to jump in and contribute, and some of them who were kind of quiet at first, ended up breaking out of their shells a bit more as the workshop continued on. After a brief demo on how to make a paint splotch (yes, there is indeed a method to this madness), I had the group help give me ideas on what to draw onto one that had already been made in advance. Then, folks proceeded to paint their own watercolor splotch. Once the splotch was finished, they came to me to pick up a "mystery splotch", which was basically a dry, pre-painted paint splotch made at another time. As their own paint splotch dried, they worked on the ones I made, essentially working on a collaboration. One of the campers even had me sign the back of our collab, along with her name, which I thought was really cool!
One thing about this age level is that their imaginations are so fertile and uninhibited, and right away everyone began talking about their Splotch Monsters, pointing out what they can do, where they live, even naming them. This is where the next phase of the project comes in - writing about their Splotch Monsters. I deliberately gave campers a choice to grab some paper and do some writing, so as not to pressure anyone in the group who might not be interested. Thankfully, a good majority of the group was receptive to writing as much or as little as they wanted to about their Splotch Monsters. Later, towards the end of the workshop, campers had the opportunity and again, choice to come up and present their Splotch Monsters to the rest of the group. Again, this turned out to be quite popular with the kids, and even the counselors participated, adding even more fun to this lesson! I was so impressed at how respectful everyone was to each other, especially during the brief presentations, and was blown away by the art work and the variety of short stories these guys all came up with today.
Visiting Camp Dogwood made my day today, and I am more than grateful for having the opportunity to work with such a wonderful and amazing staff and group of young, creative individuals in such a beautiful part of Virginia. I know these kids are in good hands at this place and am confident that they will continue to grow and flourish in their future endeavors. Looking forward to visiting again someday soon!