by Pia K. Hansen
Do you remember that one in kid in your class who was just so good at drawing? It didn't matter if it was elephants, coffee pots, cars or landscapes -- somehow this kid always got it right. You stared. You compared. And you decided that you couldn't draw.
Many a budding artist's career ends this way, and that's why there's a special rule at the Monart Art School: "We tell all our students that they can't comment on each other's work," says Valerie Frey, owner and director of the school. "You can't say anything, even if it's a compliment. You can walk around the class and look at the other students' work, but you don't say anything. The adults break that rule more than anyone else."
Frey started the Monart Art School in February 2001, giving lessons at Spokane Art Supply. In October 2002, she moved the school to the second floor of the building on South Cowley that also houses Allegro.
"I didn't graduate in art. I'm actually a dental hygienist," says Frey. "I'm licensed to teach the Monart method, and I run the school together with my daughter, Neicy Frey."
She has been drawing and doing watercolors since she was a child, when her parents let her take lessons from a Miss Robinson at 29th Avenue and Grand Blvd. It was during a seven-year stay in India that Frey discovered her joy of teaching art.
"When we came back to Spokane, I sat down with my daughter and we thought of how we could best find a way of making money doing art," says Frey. "My daughter sells her paintings, but we always wanted to be in business together, and that's how the idea for the drawing school was born."
The Monart method was developed by Mona Brookes in 1979 in conjunction with a phonetic reading program for preschool and first-grade children. The method doesn't use grids or other lines. It teaches students to see their motif in terms of five basic elements of shape -- for instance, a circle, a square, a kidney-shape, a spiral or a line.
"If you are drawing this chair I'm sitting in, you'll see a curve shape, and perhaps an oblong shape, and another curve here," says Frey, demonstrating the method on a plush old armchair. "The best is to simply forget what you are drawing and focus entirely on the shapes instead."
Frey teaches students age 5 and older. Soon, she hopes, she'll be able to offer an enrichment workshop for local teachers who want to use art as part of their curriculum.
"There's no question about it, art helps kids understand and learn," says Frey. "Unfortunately, art doesn't have as much of an emphasis in the schools as we think it should have."
Students are encouraged to stay with the school for a year, but enrollment is open at the beginning of each month. Throughout the year, students also learn about master artists such as Van Gogh -- whose works they are encouraged to copy -- and they learn fundamental drawing skills like shading and perspective.
"It's a myth that copying the masters is bad. That's how all artists learn and get ideas," says Frey. "Just like when you play the piano and play a piece by Mozart. You are copying something Mozart made. It's not your piece, but you are learning and developing as you play."
Stacks of paintings and drawings done by past and current students testify to the method's success. Classes start this week and run between $45-$65, with all supplies included.
"We create a non-intimidating environment for the students. Every class cycle begins with me telling the students that they are all different artists inside, and that I would be disappointed if all their art turned out looking the same," says Frey. "The main thing for us is that anyone can learn how to draw, even those who say all they can do is stick figures. They can take a class here and not be afraid to 'fail.' Because their art is their art, just as it is."
Publication date: 09/11/03