Sara Elias concentrates on a self-portrait in front of a mirror at Melissa Kim Mosher Art Workshops.

Learning how to see

An art instructor encourages
students to nurture their
talents as they grow up

Contest seeks entries

Nancy Arcayna

Most children grow up with an affinity for art, enjoying the process of drawing and creating. But it's one thing to create a stick figure and another to create a realistic portrait. Sadly, they begin questioning their artistic abilities as they grow older, ending up as adults who consider themselves "untalented."

Melissa Kim Mosher, who teaches art classes at her studio in Manoa for children and adults, believes that when it comes to drawing and painting, "anyone can pick it up," and there are a whole bunch of children who are proving her right.

Carol Elias is amazed by her 10-year-old son Keith's progress in Mosher's classes. "At first he would only draw stick figures. Now, my kids (including daughter Rachel, 7, and Sarah, 12) really look at details."

Now Keith is working on an elaborate self-portrait accompanied by a poem: "When I look at my self portrait/ I can see the contrast of colors on my face/ Like vegetation on an ash field/ Like one person doing what they think is right/ Against all the odds."

Aspiring artists converge at Melissa Kim Mosher Art Workshops in Manoa.

Mosher claims that while drawing might be compared with learning how to write a sentence in reading classes, painting is like poetry. The only difference is that unlike learning the ABCs from your parents, most people have no such instruction in basic artistic techniques, starting simply by freehand doodling.

The best way for people to learn about art is to look at the work of other people, she said, adding that children's books are a good resource.

Mosher has a few adult students, but her classes are predominately filled with keiki. The children talk about what they learned and critique pieces done by fellow students. "Somebody else may have a totally different perspective. They get a lot of self-satisfaction from helping others to see things," she said.

Learning to draw is often simply a matter of learning how to see. But as busy as most people are, Mosher believes that details often get overlooked.

"I'm trying to get kids to notice things like when there is too much type on a line, it's hard to read.

"We don't really look at things nowadays, especially now that we have computers. We take it for granted because it is so easy to make something," said Mosher. "(Painting is) all about being more deliberate about looking at things."

By teaching art, she believes she's also teaching her students to communicate.

Students get lots of patient attention from teacher Melissa Kim Mosher. Nathan Allman, 9, and Lauren Hirai, 7, are trying their hands at Eastern brush painting.

CONNIE WATANABE is one of Mosher's adult students. She opted for private lessons because she felt intimidated by a classroom setting, saying: "It's something I've always wanted to do. I hope I can keep it up. It is so relaxing."

Watanabe's 7-year-old son, David, also takes classes. "He's pretty active and it settles him down," she said. "He was so proud of his first painting. He came home and showed it to everyone. I caught him just sitting and staring at his painting several times. It really makes him feel good about himself."

And he now lends his expertise in critiquing his mom's work. "I saw some details she was missing, and I told her to put them in," he said. "Sometimes she makes the shadows too dark."

He helps his mom because, he claims, "I'm better at making pictures than my mom."

George Hirai started sending his 7-year-old daughter, Lauren, to classes because he was impressed with her artistic ability. "When she was 4, she drew faces with expressions that could really capture a mood or thought," he said.

Robin Martin also sends her two children to the class. "My children are both interested in art," she said. "(Mosher) really helps the children learn the process from the beginning to end. They do the charcoal drawing, paint the background color and mix their own colors. The children are able to see variations of color, the shadows and the light, what is behind and what is in front, she said.

"That is something that is hard to do when dealing with little children -- to get them to really see things and transfer to the canvas. They are really learning perspective."

Martin said she was totally surprised by work her kids created, especially her 5-year-old. "I'm amazed at what she (Mosher) can inspire in the children. They are very proud of themselves. I think the classes are good for their self-esteem," she added.

With all the children, and even adults, who attend Melissa Kim Mosher Art Workshops in Manoa, it can get a little bit crowded.

Mosher believes it's important for the students to take pride in their work, Mosher said. Toward that aim, she takes digital photos of finished works and creates wearable art or greeting cards sporting her students' creations. Tote bags, puzzles and mugs are other items used to show off the children's' creations.

Kevin Brewer, of Frame Arts Hawaii, works with Mosher so that students can get their masterpieces framed. "Presentation is so important. It makes them proud when their artwork is treated with respect."

The extra attention is welcome because governmental budget shortfalls have led to deep cuts in school music and art programs. "So it's nice to see someone doing something about it," he said.

"It's hard to have the perspective that you are good when you're a kid," added Hugh Mosher, Melissa's husband, who is also an art teacher at Punahou.

Thirteen-year-old Alex Motoda can relate to such feelings. "I don't like to be different. No one wants to look like they are showing off, " said Motoda. But he does admit that he likes to compare his work with other artists'. "Art is way to express your point of view," he added.

That point of view is eventually what separates artists from those who are simply able to master techniques.

What makes an artist is their life experiences, Mosher contends. "Many of the great artists had a really hard life. Or they viewed the world in a very different way."

Art allows children to relate to the world around them, explained Mosher. It also gives people the chance to "create their own little world," which is important these days, she said, with all the tumult surrounding us.

Sadly, art is vanishing from school curriculums, and that is where Mosher steps in, as a private individual supporting the arts.

A proud Keith Elias, 10, poses before his self-portrait, above. Elias drew stick figures before he joined Melissa Kim Mosher's art classes.

MOSHER SAID it's been "a real privilege to see the students grow and develop," and she's been there, often drawing on her experiences in her classes.

She said she was exposed to art early and was able to visit the Smithsonian Institution and National Gallery of Art when she was a fifth-grader. She later studied drawing and painting at Boston University.

Mosher realized that children were open to techniques it took her 20 years to learn. Typical art classes embrace direct painting methods that call for standard paints to be applied directly to a white piece of paper. The students aren't taught to mix their own colors or use indirect methods such as underpainting -- giving the canvas additional layers of color to give more depth to the finished work. "I didn't learn these things until I went to college," she said.

Although it's important to allow children time to be a child, it's important to give them every opportunity to develop their strengths and do the things they enjoy most, said Sara Armstrong, a Hanahau'oli School teacher.

Camila Chaudron, left, Kelly Martin, center, and Rachel Elias display their works in progress of a vase of flowers on the table behind them.

Armstrong's 10-year-old daughter, Pua, works hard in the classroom, "but when she gets up to dance or play on the piano, or if you put a paintbrush in her hand, you see a different, more confident, happier person."

Children "need to smile and think highly of themselves," she added. "For many children, the arts fill that role.

"My daughter is doing a portrait of me. It feels beyond special to have the queen of your heart staring at you, smiling and painting what she sees on her canvas. What a treat."

If you're interested in Melissa Kim Mosher's art classes, call her studio at 988-0930. Lessons are $20 per hour, which includes all supplies.

Maya Caldwell and Pua Armstrong, above, sketch model Sara Armstrong, Pua's mom, sitting in the background. Below is a card decorated with artwork by Melissa Kim Mosher's student Patty Kim. Unicef is holding a greeting card design contest for children.

UNICEF art contest seeks
children’s card designs

Star-Bulletin staff

Children throughout the United States are needed to share their hopes for children around the world. Artists ages 13 and under are being asked to submit greeting card designs. "Children's Dreams of Peace" is the theme for UNICEF's campaign this year.

A winner will be chosen in two categories: ages 8 to 13, and 7 and under. Two grand-prize winners' designs will be reprinted as UNICEF cards and sold nationwide at Pier 1 Imports and online at The two winners will also win a trip to New York City and $500 cash.

All proceeds raised from the cards are donated to the U.S. Fund for UNICEF, which provides lifesaving medicines, vaccines, nutritious foods, primary education, clean water, sanitation and emergency relief for millions of children and women in more than 160 countries and territories.

Entry forms can be found at or at Pier 1 stores. Submissions will be accepted through April 11.

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